Old-school whiteboards: a key tool in warfighter readiness

By Natalie Skelton DLA Aviation Public Affairs

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Advancements in technology are critical to the ongoing success of military operations here and overseas, and this need is evident to the thousands of men and women in service who rely on technology to help them accomplish their missions. But one analog staple survives — and even thrives — alongside the high-tech gadgets in service today: the humble whiteboard.

The whiteboard is more than a bit player in strategy and mission execution at Defense Logistics Agency Aviation; it is an integral part of examining the critical assets that have an impact on mission readiness. So how, with an abundance of digital aids at their fingertips, did the whiteboard become such an indispensable tool?

Ann Poythress, chief, Materiel Planning Division, Planning Process Directorate, DLA Aviation, explained. “Several years ago, Mr. Lilli [deputy commander, DLA Aviation] asked the materiel planning community to set up and outline the earliest form [whiteboard] of our fundamental processes, and at that time we were focused on our crown jewel items.” 

“Crown jewels are the 6,300 items that drive 40 percent of the aviation supply chain demands and, therefore, have a significant impact on material availability,” she said.

“Over time, the whiteboard briefings evolved and expanded to include our counterparts across the DLA Aviation family. Today, we primarily focus on our diamond crown jewels [top 500 most active DLA Aviation items] and not only are we able to focus on improving the status of the items that have the most impact on material availability, but also our team can see the importance of their individual roles and how each one fits into the overall process,” Poythress said.

In the briefings, each team member represents a functional job role required to solve an item’s support problem, she explained.

“Examples of those job roles include materiel planners, weapon system program managers, buyers, product and resolution specialists, demand planners and contract administrators.  For each item briefed, the materiel planner introduces the item and its current asset posture, along with the root cause problem statement with a projected “get well date.”

In lieu of briefing sheets, the whiteboard is also used to record the national item identification number, problem statement and latest status.

“The other key players will discuss the status of all open actions [for the item] including, but not limited to, open purchase requests and contracts.  Often the WSPM will interject readiness concerns and needs of the customer.  The team as a whole works to expedite a recovery plan,” Poythress said.

A current problem-solving venture involving the whiteboard is the planned replacement of the UH-60 sensor flame detector, on which DLA Director Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams was recently briefed when he visited in February for our Dynamic Operating Plan review, Poythress said. “Demands have exceeded the contracted supplier’s initial capacity, but as a result of the efforts of the team, the supplier is working to increase capacity and move the ‘get well date’ to the left [to an earlier date].”

That’s not to say they haven’t tried other methods, nor do they eschew additional tools to help carry the message further and ensure greater impact on readiness.

“In years past, we have conducted backorder briefings with command [officials] that included briefing sheets,” Poythress added. “Those briefings were often performed by the leadership teams and took an incredible amount of time to prepare.”

But the details are what make the big picture, and this is where the whiteboard comes in. On a whiteboard, Poythress said, the information “is transparent to the warfighter. They are the recipients of the goodness and of what I call the ‘power of the board,’ but they are not direct participants. Our customer-facing teams provide their requirements, concerns and any special needs, and the team works to get the items supportable so that warfighter needs are met.”

Analog technologies are not without their Achilles’ heel. Computers can crash; PowerPoint presentations can mysteriously disappear; and power surges can obliterate hard drives. So, too, could the innocent whiteboard become the victim of a careless, long-sleeved gesture made too enthusiastically.

To protect and preserve the information on a whiteboard, Poythress said her “phenomenal” administrative assistant updates the board when briefing items are identified. “Those who are responsible for an item will document the details on the board, and then my admin captures those notes at the end of each briefing. And honestly, we haven’t had any problems with erasures!”

For better or worse, the old-school approach is decidedly timeless and, therefore, worthy of preservation at DLA Aviation.