AFSO 21: How long will it last?

  • Published
  • By Maj. Kevin Schultz
  • 382nd Training Squadron
March 2009 marked the third anniversary of when former Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne challenged Airmen to seek opportunities for increased productivity and eliminate waste in all operations. 

Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century is a multi-disciplined, common-sense approach to process improvement and integrates tenants of Lean, Theory of Constraints, Six Sigma, and Business Process Reengineering. 

Air Force history is rich with the employment of innovation: Berlin Airlift, stealth technology, aeromedical evacuation, unmanned flight, etc. Each of these examples is supported by hundreds of innovative efforts by junior Airmen. 

These efforts are valued so much by the Air Force that it aims to formalize this trait into our culture and amplify process improvement. Ultimately the goal is to significantly increase the amount of innovation and resource savings, all the while providing greater oversight for senior-level decision making. 

AFSO 21 is not the Air Force's first venture into formalized process improvement. Quality Air Force brought us noteworthy gains in the mid-90s, however more people remember it as an exercise in futility that produced more metrics and PowerPoint slides than it did actual improvement. Was it worth the effort? QAF did not reach its 10th birthday. Will AFSO 21 follow the same path? 

To answer these questions, it helps to know why QAF failed. 

First, it never achieved full buy-in from Airmen. The junior ranks perceived the program as an inspection requirement rather than for its true potential. 

Second, QAF incorporated cumbersome reporting requirements which were often more time intensive than the gains from the process improvement. Despite noble intentions, QAF penalized innovation with more work. 

AFSO 21 can succeed, but first we must achieve buy-in from our Airmen. This should not be hard as innovation is in our Air Force DNA. However, many senior officers and enlisted harbor negative attitudes toward QAF and perceive AFSO 21 as more of the same. In order to foster a culture of process improvement, we must reward innovation and outside-the-box thinking to the greatest extent possible. The training environment is a fantastic place to start. 

Process improvement and innovation are in our Air Force blood, however AFSO 21 will only survive if you embrace it. There are numerous tools available that will facilitate your quest to make your operation better. This "program" really has evolved beyond QAF and deserves a few more birthdays. 

Contact your group AFSO 21 representative for more information or contact the 82nd Training Wing AFSO 21 Program Manager, Dave Toms, at 676-9035.