USAF Warfare Center perspective on Air Force Smart Operations 21

  • Published
  • By Maj. Gen. Stephen Goldfein
  • USAF Warfare Center Commander
For those who were around in the mid 1990s, you may remember Total Quality Management or TQM. This was a business practice that was being applied to the Air Force in an era of force reductions. TQM was successful in the business world, and many of its concepts promised improvements and efficiencies for our Air Force. These efforts involved looking for better and more efficient ways to achieve success.

While the basic idea of TQM was sound and often produced great improvements, the implementation left many of us concerned about whether it was worth the effort.

Today as we fight the Global War on Terror and adjust for the future, it’s important to look critically at our practices again to ensure we are as efficient a service as we can be. To do so, we are following Secretary of the Air Force Wynn’s leadership on Air Force Smart Operations 21, commonly referred to as AFSO21. This process uses the best parts of several highly successful efficiency programs to develop an Air Force-unique process-improvement program with an eye toward increasing value to customers, saving time and money, reducing waste and improving quality.

I have personally had the opportunity to see programs like this in action recently when I visited with employees at the General Mills Corporation. It is amazing what has happened in their food-production plants when the folks doing the work assessed and fixed things that didn’t make sense to them.

AFSO21 is all about doing our day-to-day business smarter, better and faster. It is a method that challenges everyone at every level to look around their work environment, to see if there is a better way of doing business, where all ideas are welcome. We all have a stake in making our operation better. Instead of measuring lots of metrics or having Quality Air Force Assessments, like in the days of TQM, we are instead focused on finding issues and sharing the best practices so that our whole Air Force improves.

So what exactly should we do? The answer is self-evaluating the processes we take to complete our objectives and re-engineering them to be more efficient while instituting quality-control measures. In this practice, all components of an organization are evaluated against their essential mission elements. Steps that add no value to the end product are then eliminated, and other steps are combined to save time.

The effort involves eliminating wasteful or time-consuming processes. In manufacturing, these processes are called “batch and queue.” An example would be where raw materials pile up in a warehouse while awaiting further modification on their way to becoming a final product. These raw materials are of no value to the organization while they exist in this state and are a liability to the company. In a perfect world the materials would go through an assembly line that moves without interruption as the raw materials become a finished product.

Recently we started down this path, questioning utilization of the Nevada Test and Training Range. All the great folks who deal with the problem did some terrific work, and we are now getting the mission accomplished using two fewer hours of range time per day, and everyone benefits as a result. We started because our instincts told us we could be better, and then an interesting thing happened…users of the range (our customers) and producers (those who provide access) talked and figured out how better to meet each others’ objectives. When everyone gets better, life is good! Virtually every organization in the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center has already self-generated initiatives, and I’m proud of every one of them.

The bottom line here is that we are engaged in combat with the worst of humanity, and we will be for some time. We should count on being the last ones out, and it’s a very expensive activity. We also have old equipment that must be upgraded or replaced within a finite budget. With that in mind we need to put our efforts into doing things smarter and faster because there won’t be enough funds to do it all.

AFSO21 is simply a way to formally recognize great ways to be more efficient than usual. The program is all about continuous improvement and respect for people. Through these efforts we must be committed to the task of eliminating waste while increasing productivity and readiness.

I believe in you and your great ideas. Let’s join together and make a difference.