Vance uses AFSO21 to work smarter, not harder

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. David Carroll
  • 71st Mission Support Group deputy commander
A group of Team Vance members recently sat down and put their heads together to figure out if there was a better way to do business. In three days, the team streamlined a process, saved themselves many hours of duplicated work and trimmed more than 75 percent of the waste from a process. That's Air Force Smart Ops 21, or AFSO21, in action. Now they generate the same outcome with only 25 percent of the original effort required. All it takes is a little LEAN thinking.

LEAN is a business practice that strives to eliminate all non-value-added work from a process. It doesn't matter what kind of process. From depot maintenance to enlisted performance reports, processes across the Air Force were and are being streamlined with AFSO21.

Now, those of us who survived the Quality Air Force years have an immediate negative reaction when we hear "quality improvement." AFSO21 and LEAN, however, take an entirely different approach. The old QAF programs focused on trying to improve the "value-added" portions of a process. Fortunately, we in the Air Force got that part down to a science in most cases. It's not those parts that are "broken," it's the waste in between those parts. In many cases, that amounts 80 percent or more of the total process.

Some non-value-added steps, such as moving a piece of equipment in repair from one station to the next in the phase line, are necessary and can't be eliminated. Moving the equipment doesn't "add value." Nothing gets done to the equipment while it's being moved. It is necessary, however, since the next step can't be completed until the equipment is moved. Many steps, however, are unnecessary. An example would be moving that piece of equipment to a storage area while it waits for the next step in the process. Doing so does nothing to facilitate the process. It's wasted work, that's non-value-added and unnecessary, to move that equipment to the storage area and then back to the work area to resume the repair process.

Another way to think of it is this: AFSO21, by using LEAN concepts, strives to let you produce the same amount of output by doing less work.

To achieve this goal, LEAN brings in a team of experts to analyze the process and find those non-value-added and unnecessary steps. Who is on this team? The short answer is you are the expert on your process and you know what works and what doesn't. You know where the waste is and how best to eliminate it. But to do so, you need to take a step back so you can get an objective view of the process. That's why AFSO21 events require the team member to put aside daily duties and focus solely on the process for the duration of the event. As you step through the AFSO21 event process, you'll gain an appreciation for how simple the concept really is. Quite often, the biggest skeptics at the start of the event are the staunchest converts by the end.

What does AFSO21 ask of you? First of all, take a look at the processes you're a part. If you see some of that non-value-added work going on, and if you can get rid of yourself, get rid of it. If it's outside your authority, find out who has the authority and let them know about it. When you're asked to participate in an AFSO21 event, go with an open mind. Remember, the idea is to stop doing work that doesn't really do anything for us. Get the same output while doing less work. It is working smarter, not harder!