AFSO 21: Why should you care?

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Paul Titus
  • 916th Air Refueling Wing
Misconceptions about Air Force Smart Operations 21 are everywhere. Do you have them?

AFSO 21 isn't the same as "Lean." Lean is just one of many process improvement tools we can apply.

AFSO 21 is not the blind search for metrics without logical application, or the ceaseless quest for "great" performance-report bullets.

It's not a chance for leaders to get promoted or show their face on Air Force News.

And, for those older folks among us, like me, it's not Total Quality Management, and shouldn't bear the "scars" of the Air Force's metrics-driven, top-down, non-customer-focused implementation strategy.

But why should you care?

If you're working overtime and weekends, you should care. If you're a customer who sits in a queue frustrated, you should care.

If you finish the day and wonder, "What did I achieve? There had to be a better way," you do care and are empowered to talk to your leaders. If you're a supervisor or commander and want to make life better for your people, you can.

If you're stressed, you can make work easier and more productive for yourself and your team. If you care about the future of our Air Force and its members, you care about AFSO 21.

So what is AFSO 21?

It's the long-term journey to implement a culture of change and empowerment. It's a delivery driver, asking why the airfield entry point can't be moved 20 feet so he doesn't have to get out of his van six extra times a day.

It's a vehicle mechanic questioning why he has to walk 200 feet to dispose of oil filters, and then taking the initiative with his supervisor to move the hazardous-material container closer. And, it's the operations group captain asking how we can reorder checklists to speed up the pre- and post-flight processes and get the poor crew chief out of the cold.

It's a senior master sergeant and his team changing their work layout at no cost, eliminating the expeditor process, reducing their delivery times from 19 to two hours and transparently exceeding all customer needs.

All of those changes and many more can happen at your base right now. You can make a difference.

Everyone reading this article has the power to make positive changes and to have his or her voice heard. In fact, the key to AFSO 21 success is a culture where every Airman is thinking about improvement, and is empowered to communicate with his or her supervisor, commander or change manager.

Notice that I didn't say this is a culture where you're expected to have all the answers, but it is a culture where you're empowered to ask why and where. The strength of teamwork can seek the answer.

You'd be surprised how many problems are within your organization's control to change -- what we call the "Just do it" projects -- but it first takes an operator or customer, like yourself, to ask "why?"

I've found that even skeptics, after they participate in an AFSO 21 event, alter their mindsets, leaving convinced and enthused that change can be implemented, improvements achieved and their impact felt.

I truly believe that if you get the people -- suppliers, performers and customers -- who are impacted by a process, have them define the changes necessary, give them control to make change and make them responsible for its implementation, improvements will happen.

Success will then breed more enthusiasm and the desire to grow the culture of change and improvement, one person, one shop, one team at a time. Each of you is the "Smart" in Air Force Smart Ops 21, and every day you need to ask, "What have I improved today?"

I guarantee you will find asking "why" is worthwhile.