Air Force leaders emphasize AFSO21



by Carl Bergquist
Air University Public Affairs


9/28/2009 - MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala. (AFNS) -- In a joint June 2009 memorandum, the secretary and chief of staff of the Air Force pointed out the importance of Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, or AFSO21.

"AFSO21 represents a fundamental transformation in how Airmen work," Michael Donley and Gen. Norton Schwartz said in their memorandum. "We must take advantage of every opportunity to use A FSO21 principles to improve the processes we perform."

They said the AFSO21 program, a process very similar to the Department of Defense's "Lean Six Sigma," has shifted the focus of Airmen beyond applying unique skills to getting the mission done to continually improving mission performance. They also said AFSO21 identifies performance gaps; allows Airmen to find innovative and effective ways to accomplish the mission; and brings everyone together to solve problems, exploit opportunities and maximize efficiencies.

General Schwartz went on to say in a separate memorandum that throughout the Air Force's history the service has implemented innovations to establish its position as the world's premier air, space and cyberspace power.

"The Air Force has committed to AFSO21, a critical and enduring journey of innovation that we must all embrace across our total force," he said. "We must make difficult decisions to meet future technological advances and the asymmetric methods of our foes."

Gen. Stephen Lorenz, commander of Air Education and Training Command, said the AFSO21 program has generated improvements throughout the Air Force, and in some cases, the improvements have been dramatic.

"As I have said on a number of occasions, AFSO21 is about efficiency and effectiveness," he said. "I feel strongly that a core desire each of our Airmen has is to improve their processes and work environment to make them more efficient and effective. AFSO21 brings Airmen tools to do this, and that is why I'm 100 percent behind it."

Lt. Gen. Allen Peck, Air University commander, echoed General Lorenz's view on AFSO21 that the program is about improving efficiency and effectiveness in the Air Force's day-to-day work processes.

"We simply must get past thinking that the structured problem-solving tools, such as the 8-Step Problem-Solving Model, are something we do in addition to doing our real jobs. Process improvement is a core component of our responsibilities," he said. "I challenge all Air University Airmen to use this problem solving process and adapt its tools to their own work processes as an integral part of their current jobs. As we get more and more familiar with these tools, we will devise new and better ways of applying them."

Dr. Phil Chansler, director of Air University's Lean Six Sigma Business Office, identifies the eight steps to problem solving as: clarify and validate the problem; break down the problem; set an improvement target; determine the root cause; develop countermeasures; see countermeasures through; confirm results and the process; and standardize successful processes. He describes "Lean" as a mindset that strives to remove waste from processes, while "Six Sigma" is a quantitative procedure to reduce variations in processes.

General Peck said the improvement tools of AFSO21 are "dismissed by cynics" as not being applicable for the educational environment at Air University, but he feels they should reconsider that position.

"Structured problem solving leveraged with tools like lean process improvement, Six Sigma and theory of constraints are powerful in any venue," he said. "It just takes some creative and critical thinking, sometimes with the assistance of expert consultation, to adapt and use these tools in the transactional business of teaching and learning."

Dr. Chansler said Air Force members and employees should remember that AFSO21 and LSS are here to stay and are becoming more institutionally a part of Air Force culture.

"We are trying to make the Air Force a culture of problem solvers, and the foundation for this is the 8-Step Problem-Solving Model. What we do at Air University to assist Airmen in their work is to provide them with professional military education," he said. "In the curriculum of each school is AFSO21-LSS information to help develop a compliance with these processes."

Dr. Chansler said while AFSO21 and LSS are practically the same program with few differences, Air Force officials have found the AFSO21 approach works better than LSS. He said Six Sigma allows for repeating a process over and over and getting the same result each time, and Air Force officials do get involved in some of that, but the "lean" aspects of LSS are better suited to the needs of the service. He said DoDI 5010-43, Implementation and Management of the DoD-Wide Continuous Process Improvement/Lean Six Sigma (CPI/LSS) Program, will provide an "in-depth look" at what they want from the AFSO21-LSS program.