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NEWS | July 16, 2008

Air Force Smart Operations, A Journey of Excellence

By Senior Master Sgt. Ish Mohammed Air Force District of Washington

Having served in our wonderful Air Force for quite a while, I realize "smart operations" are not new buzzwords, but a system that can transform an entire enterprise. It is about intelligent changes in how we think and operate in times of rapid transformation, resulting in an environment where Airmen aspire to improve daily operations by eliminating waste and optimizing efficiencies. 

Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO 21, is a journey of excellence through continuous process improvement. Today, it is extremely important to understand the asymmetric threats and challenges of the Global War on Terrorism and future wars. With dwindling resources and expanding requirements, we must continue to ensure warfighters have the combat capability necessary to win our nation's wars. AFSO 21 is key to this success and helps meet the demands and constraints levied as we sustain our efforts and preserve our strategic capabilities as members of a joint warfighting team. 

To this end, the Air Force embraced a combination of process improvement methodologies and tools, with primary emphasis on Lean principles and tools. Lean tools focus on eliminating waste--worksteps or procedures that add no value to the production of a product or service required to accomplish the mission. Examples include: reducing defective products; preventing over-production; correcting poor customer service, to include long wait time(s), identifying non-usable space/facility; and eliminating excessive motion and transportation. Simply put, AFSO 21 is designed to generate savings of time, money or both, and achieve results while integrating continuous process improvement--making good processes better and then standardizing them. 

AFSO21 infuses "Excellence in All We Do" with a structured way to address problems. To begin, one must understand AFSO21's five desired effects to help identify improvement areas: 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 that contribute to the demands of the warfighter--our most important customer. In other words, linking mission and customer may encourage doing more things the right way, with the same or less effort. Every Air Force process can be improved; none is immune from critical reviews. These effects help identify opportunities that could have the greatest immediate effect for the Air Force. 

Today, the two most common methods of process improvement are "Just Do
Its" and Rapid Improvement Events". JDIs are quick and easy fixes
that can generate immediate results. Examples include lowering the temperature a degree or two and turning off lights in common areas to save energy; or perhaps rearranging the shop for better workflow and customer access. It does not require a formal process review or improvement event. An RIE may take several weeks of preparation to tighten the focus and gather data. It requires a start-to-finish process review; strong leadership buy-in; knowledgeable participants with a vested interest in an improved process; an implementation plan; and good follow-up to ensure traction. 

Once improvements are realized, standardize the process, share best practices, and continuously measure to sustain high productivity and performance. From simple processes such as using sound energy-saving habits, improving workflow and customer service to complex Air Force high value initiatives requiring cross-functional teams, Airmen can identify improvement areas and incorporate them daily. 

Are you 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. 

Commanders and supervisors, individuals and teams alike must exhibit effective, responsive AFSO21 leadership! Airmen need to know and understand AFSO21 principles and tools and successfully apply them, and supervisors and commanders need to enable and support the improvement effort. Now, what can you do to improve our Air Force today? 

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