Lessons learned in AFSO 21

Staff Sgt. Jaimie N. Clark
86th Maintenance Squadron

Last week I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in an Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century value stream analysis at the 86th Maintenance Squadron. I want to share our lessons learned to illustrate how AFSO 21 can help you more effectively accomplish your mission.

AFSO 21 refers to the process of analyzing current processes and identifying what steps of the process add value to the final product and those that do not. The original intention of the VSA was to identify how to make the process of repairing aircraft engines better.

There were a few of us on the team who started the project with a very skeptical opinion of AFSO 21. However, by the end of the week my team members and I knew this was a completely different program than we had initially thought. AFSO 21 is not only feasible, it just makes sense.

Before this analysis, I thought of AFSO 21 as a program designed to pass off more work, create more “other-than-actual-mission” work, or as the Air Force’s version of a corporate layoff program. I initially believed the AFSO 21 program was the Air Force’s way of cutting costs by cutting people. I have also spoken with some people who believe that this program will be nothing more than an additional duty. There are some who remember previous improvement attempts, and therefore see it as an extension of those programs. Now, I firmly believe that these assumptions, especially my own, couldn’t be further from the truth.

I now consider AFSO 21 to be an extremely practical approach to solving the problems we are facing in this generation. It is the embodiment of the “keep it simple” motto we all learned in basic training. It is a departure from the current way we do things, and from our current mindset about how we should operate.

During the VSA, I watched as maintainers encountered the old “it’s always been done that way” attitude regarding engine maintenance. It was in keeping with the other motto a lot of people believe in: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” My team members soon overcame their old way of thinking to begin building a new mindset of how to get the mission accomplished. That was because we realized today’s Air Force literally cannot afford to accept things as they are until there is something wrong with them. We have to approach everything we do with a mindset of improvement.

This will inevitably take some time because it will mean more than just changes in the office, or out on the shop floor. This will be a change in our culture. This change is not something that will happen from the top down; it will start with our newest members and spread upwards.

That is to say that we must listen to our Airmen and consider what they suggest when they have ideas, instead of silencing them with “that’s just the way it’s always been.”