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AFSO 21 team uses 'Lean' lessons learned at Dover AFB to energize Airmen throughout AF

DOVER AIR FORCE BASE, Del. -- An Air Force Smart Operations 21 team from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., visited Dover recently to gain valuable insight into how to "Lean" a work process. 

The Air Force is training 72 AFSO 21 Master Process Officers through a six-month certification program administered from the University of Tennessee in Lean management. As part of their curriculum, the MPOs take part in current Lean procedures in progress at different installations and take the concepts they learned and teach Airmen throughout the Air Force how to make the process work for them. Dover AFB is one of six stops in their training program.

Lean is a tool workers can use to break down each step of a work process and seek out areas of waste, or non-value added work. After the process is dissected, process owners and the customer work together to brainstorm ways to eliminate inefficiencies. 

"Any time a wrench turner has to walk 10 feet to pick up a tool, that's waste," said Ed Bezdziecki, Manpower and Personnel director for Head Quarters Air Force, Washington, D.C., who is the MPO to help energize more than 25,000 members to implement the program at the Pentagon and various agencies. 

AFSO 21 tackles a common gripe, "Why do we do it this way?" It empowers workers by providing them a proven method to figure out how to modify their processes to work more efficiently for both them and the customer. 

"The wrench turner knows how to do their job. But until you do an end-to-end analysis, they don't see that they are walking 10 feet to pick up that tool," said Mr. Bezdziecki. 

The thought-process behind training the MPOs in Lean, and other recognized AFSO 21 implementation methods, is that a fresh set of eyes looking at the process can spark ideas and reduce the common knee-jerk reaction of "It's just always done that way here." 

After a Lean event, the interested parties brainstorm ways to increase efficiency, like ordering more technologically advanced equipment or reconfiguring tool storage to place them closer to the worker. 

"The focus of AFSO 21 is to eliminate waste and productivity will increase as a result." said Mr. Bezdziecki, who is a retired colonel and dealt with manpower challenges throughout his career. 

While in uniform, Mr. Bezdziecki weathered Total Quality Management, a business practice adopted by the Air Force in the early 1990s to improve work processes. TQM was heavily matrix-driven and many felt it caused more work than it solved. Mr. Bezdziecki is quick to point out AFSO 21 isn't a re-run of TQM. 

"There were some good components of TQM that we kept," said Mr. Bezdziecki. "We addressed those issues, and I think we are better postured now. 

"The main difference between TQM and AFSO 21 is the value added and non-value added concept. TQM focused on making the value of the work better. AFSO 21 focuses on eliminating non-value added work." 

Mr. Bezdziecki said one of the biggest changes between the two programs is buy-in. "Our leadership believes in this program. Both the Secretary of the Air Force and the Chief of Staff are behind this program." 

The creation of the AFSO 21 office at the Pentagon in February is proof of that support. The office provides top-level guidance to implement AFSO 21 initiatives Air Force-wide under the guidance of Brig. Gen. S. Taco Gilbert III, director of the AFSO 21 office, who also visited here last week. 

"We have found that even skeptics, after they have participated in an AFSO 21 event, come away convinced there is real possibility here, that there was a return on investment and that they had an impact," said General Gilbert. "AFSO 21 is about a mindset for the 21st century. This is not a short-term program - it is a program to fundamentally change the culture of the Air Force for the long haul." 

The 436th Maintenance Group here has been using the Lean concept and has reaped concrete results. Last week, they took the opportunity to once again refine several processes. One Lean event focused on reducing the manufacture time to create a C-5 hydraulic tube. 

"We saved four hours...that's four hours I have to work on the plane," said Staff Sgt. Samuel House, 436th Maintenance Squadron C-5 crew chief. 

Sergeant House said one of the best parts about the visit was the objectivity from the MPOs. 

"I liked the fact we had outsiders come in to see how we do it," said Sergeant House. "They catch stuff we miss." 

AFSO 21 incorporates a more inclusive team-oriented approach by asking the customer what product they want to receive. 

"We all had the same goal - to get the parts routed through (the repair shop) and back to the customer as soon as possible," said Sergeant House, who is the customer in this scenario. He depends on the expertise of the back shop to manufacture the part, so he can fix the aircraft. 

Throughout the Air Force, personnel billets are being cut and career fields are merging to funnel the resulting money saved towards modernizing aging weapon systems and capitalizing on new technologies for the warfighter. Senior leaders urge Airmen to embrace AFSO 21 concepts to reshape the way they do business - and "cut the fat" out of redundant or archaic practices and processes. 

"The less people we have (in the Air Force), I think it's a good program to have to manage our time better," Sergeant House said. 

Mr. Bezdziecki warns that people shouldn't just view AFSO 21 as something that only works on a manufacturing line or in a maintenance work area. 

"AFSO 21 can be successfully applied to any process in the Air Force." 

Some information obtained from the Air Force Print News service