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AFSO21: It's time for everyone to get onboard

  • Published
  • By Lt. Gen. Jack Hudson
  • Commander, Aeronautical Systems Center
By now you have probably heard or read something about Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO21. The time has come for everyone in Aeronautical Systems Center to get educated and start implementing it.

Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne introduced it in his "Letters to Airmen" in December and March, describing it as "a dedicated effort to maximize value and minimize waste in our operations. He also said "AFSO21 is about working smarter to deliver warfighting capabilities." 

Our mission of providing warfighting capabilities has never been more important, and we must continually find ways to do this more efficiently and effectively, despite manpower and budgetary constraints. AFSO21 will help us do that.

Senior leaders in the Air Force are attending training events and getting the ball rolling. Here at ASC, I hosted an AFSO21 meeting with my wing commanders and senior staff members earlier this summer to start off our effort and a two-day off-site in late August to kick-start it even further.

At the first meeting, we identified five initiatives to start with: civilian awards nominations; unit in-processing; comprehensive cost and requirements system, or CCaRS; civilian employment plan management; and funding of single-program-manager and development-systems-manager programs.

Dedicated teams were tasked to map the processes involved in each activity and then use the tools AFSO21 provides to improve these processes. We've already seen successes in some areas, most notably the civilian awards nomination process; recent submissions for one award went through the full approval process in about one-quarter of the usual time. Other initiatives are still in their early phases.

You'll be hearing more shortly about the eight processes that center leaders and I worked on at the end of August. I'm expecting great things to result from that effort. Some of the processes we expect to improve, such as better managing our training requirements and reducing the volume of weekly reports, will favorably impact the daily work we all have.

So what is it? 

AFSO21 has support at the highest levels, but it's not just a tool for commanders to use. It's a culture change that involves everyone. 

AFSO21 is all about process improvement; it's a different mindset we all need to embrace. It means looking at all our tasks to determine which steps, processes or entire jobs add value and which do not. 

AFSO21 provides the tools -- like Lean, Six Sigma and Theory of Constraints -- to make the improvements, but I want to be clear that they are just tools. The revolution is in the way we look at everything we do with an eye toward doing it better. 

We are using our very successful balanced scorecard work as a launch point for AFSO21. BSC has identified key processes that lead to accomplishing our mission, so we're in a good position to use AFSO21 to analyze those key processes, eliminate waste, focus on the value-added parts of the processes and further improve them. You can expect to read more about the synergy between AFSO21 and BSC in the future. 

I need your help; continuous improvement is not something I can do alone. Like anything worthwhile, this will take a true team effort to achieve, and I'm counting on you to step up to the plate and help us move forward. Now it's your turn to take the training and start down the path of continuous improvement. 

While I firmly believe that everyone here -- whether military, Department of Defense civilian or contractor -- is working hard to accomplish the Air Force mission, I also know we can look critically at just about any process and find ways to improve it. AFSO21 provides us with the tools to assess our work processes and continually improve them.

I'm challenging everyone in ASC to embrace AFSO21 and the mindset of continuous improvement. You can start by getting trained in Lean, the primary process improvement tool of AFSO21. Training will be available during focus weeks. I encourage you to sign up for one of the computer-based training modules. Two good ones are the Air Force Institute of Technology's LOG 117, Process Improvement Team Member Course; and Defense Acquisition University's CLE 015, Continuous Process Improvement Familiarization.

Once you've got that under your belt, look at everything you do at work and ask yourself how it can be done better. I want you to think bigger, too. How is your organization supporting the mission of the U.S Air Force, and how can we do that better?

Above all, open your mind to change. Resist cynicism and embrace the process improvement that's coming. I promise you that the results will astonish and please you and, most importantly, allow us to better support our Airmen in the field. I know you're working hard on unit compliance inspection preparations, our acquisition programs and all that we do on a daily basis. Let's see how we can work even smarter.

Our secretary of the Air Force and chief of staff's top priority is to fight and win the global war on terrorism. They depend on us. As always, thank you all for everything you do for ASC, our Air Force, our joint services, our allies and our coalition partners. You are making a huge difference!