AFSO 21 is a journey of excellence

ANDREWS AIR FORCE BASE, Md.-- -- Having served in our wonderful Air Force for quite a while, I've come to realize the words "smart operations" are not new buzzwords, but words that represent a system by which we can transform an entire enterprise. It is about smart changes in the way we think and how we operate in times of rapid transformation. It is about creating an environment where all Airmen can aspire to improve their daily operations by eliminating waste and optimizing efficiencies. This is what Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO 21 is all about--a journey of excellence through continuous process improvement.

     Today, more than ever, AFSO 21 is extremely important in understanding the asymmetric threats and challenges our Airmen face with the Global War on Terrorism and future wars. Our top priorities remain - win the global war on terrorism, develop and care for our Airmen, and modernize and recapitalize our aircraft. With dwindling resources and expanding requirements, we must continue to ensure our warfighters have the combat capability necessary to win our nation's wars--this leverage must never be underestimated. AFSO 21 is key to our success and will help us meet the demands and constraints levied as we continue to sustain our efforts and preserve our strategic capabilities as part of the joint warfighting team.

     To help in this endeavor, the Air Force embraced a combination of process improvement methodologies and tools known to be effective in the business world with primary emphasis on Lean principles and tools. Lean tools focus on eliminating waste--work steps or procedures that add no value to the production of a product or service required to accomplish the mission, for example: defective products, over-production, poor customer service, long wait time(s), non-usable space/facility, excessive motion and transportation, to name a few. Simply put, AFSO 21 is a program designed to encourage all Airmen to eliminate waste by maximizing value in work processes; in time, that action will generate savings of time, money or both. It is about achieving results in daily operations while integrating continuous process improvement in all operations--making good processes better and then standardizing them.
AFSO 21 is a continuous journey of improvement that infuses our passion for excellence in everything we do with a structured way to address problems we encounter everyday.

     To begin this journey of continuous improvement, one must understand AFSO 21's five desired effects to help identify improvement areas in the work center. 
  • Productivity-Increase productivity of our people  (doing more of the right things with the same of less effort)
  • Assets Availability-Increase critical equipment availability rates (all assets available at a greater rate, from aircraft to information technology to range space, etc.)
  •  Response Time-Improve response time and agility (quicker response time to the warfighter)
  • Safety-Sustain safe and reliable operations (reduce injury rates, increase people's safety and the safe use of material assets)
  • Energy Conservation-Improve energy efficiency (make energy conservation a consideration in everything we do)
     These desired effects guide improvement initiatives at every Air Force level to contribute to the demands of the warfighter--our most important customer. In other words, linking mission and customer together may encourage you to do more things the right way, with the same or less effort that increases output and performance. Remember, every Air Force process can be improved and no process is immune from critical reviews. Using these desired effects as a point of reference will help identify opportunities for improvement that will have the greatest immediate effect for the Air Force--think globally, but act locally.

     Today, the two most common methods of process improvement being used are "Just Do Its" and Rapid Improvement Events". JDIs are quick and easy fixes that can generate immediate results. Examples include lowering the temperature by a degree or two and turning off lights in common areas to save energy; or perhaps, simply rearranging the shop for better flow and customer access. It does not require a formal process review or improvement event.

     On the other hand, an RIE may take several weeks of preparation to tighten the focus and gather data before the event is held. It requires strong leadership buy-in, knowledgeable participants with a vested interest in an improved process, an implementation plan, and good follow-up to ensure traction. An RIE is a great way to value stream map your current process to determine the root causes of problems, target waste for elimination, set improvement targets and establish clear performance measures to reach desired effects--it requires a start to finish process review with strong emphasis on effectively using AFSO21 eight-step problem-solving process.

     Once improvements are realized, standardize the process, share best practices, and continuously measure to sustain high productivity and performance. As you can see, from simple processes such as using sound energy-saving habits, improving flow and customer service in the workshop to complex Air Force high value initiatives requiring cross-functional teams, Airmen can identify improvement areas and incorporate them into day-to-day operations.

     As you go through each of these desired effects, think of how you're achieving the best results for your operation and those you serve. Are you working smarter to reduce redundancy and inefficiency? If you're not looking for innovative ways to use scarce resources more effectively, ask yourself if you're really attaining excellence in ALL you're doing? Perhaps, you could be hindering and contributing less to the larger Air Force mission. As former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. T. Michael Moseley said of AFSO21, "We must fundamentally change the culture of our Air Force so that all Airmen understand their daily processes and eliminate things that don't add value to the mission. For such a comprehensive effort to be successful, it has to be led by commanders at all levels."

     The mandate is crystal clear, commanders and supervisors, individuals and teams alike must exhibit effective, responsive AFSO21 leadership! The challenge is for all Airmen to know and understand AFSO21 principles and tools and successfully apply them in daily operations, and for supervisors and commanders to enable and support the improvement effort. Remember, every small, incremental improvement made will potentially generate more savings and capabilities when rolled up at the Air Force. Now, what can you do to improve our Air Force today?

     For more information on Air Force District of Washington AFSO 21 initiatives, please contact AFDW AFSO 21 program manager Senior Master Sgt. Ish Mohammed at (240) 857-2126.