AFSO21: Map to a better way

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Michelle Vickers
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
When thinking about "getting lean," the first thing that comes to mind may be shaping up in the gym or cutting fat from a diet.

The facilitators of Hurlburt Field's Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century program want Airmen to think outside the gym; make your work processes lean.

AFSO21, the Air Force's continuous process improvement program, can help you find the way.

"It's about improving your processes on a daily basis," said Debora Tran, Air Force Special Operations Command AFSO21 facilitator. "Who doesn't want to be better?"

The program borrows concepts from industry leaders, who have been practicing CPI programs for years to make corporations more efficient.

To spread knowledge of AFSO21 concepts and tools, facilitators conduct three different classes on a regular basis. AFSO21's 101 and 201 courses cover the program, as well as the topic of productivity. An eight-step problem solving workshop offers a detailed look at how to effectively solve problems.

"AFSO21 is about respect for people's time," said Lt. Col. T.J. Foster, Air Force Special Operations Command AFSO21 facilitator. "If you're a commander or supervisor at any level, you think, 'Am I giving my people the best tools they can work with?' Here's an AFSO21 course; it takes four hours and it's free. We're not going to make anything worse, and these are tools students can go back and start using, whether Airmen work fixing tires or in the hospital."

The classes aren't just the traditional "death by PowerPoint." Course designers worked to incorporate efficient AFSO21 concepts into the courses.

"We have a lot of exercises that hopefully get our point across," Tran said. "We try to keep people engaged with examples and stories."

The goal of the classes is to equip Airmen with information they can use to improve anything, from how they process travel vouchers to how they organize their garages, according to Foster.

"I tell students when they first come to the class that I'm excited you're here because I'm very confident at the end of class you're going to be able to go back to your office and implement the things you're learning today," Foster said. "It's just opening the door for a different way to look at things."

AFSO21 not only equips individuals with the tools to implement change back in their organizations, but can also be used on a larger scale for an organization looking to improve processes.

"It's not just about the classes and trying to teach people how to do this stuff," Foster said. "The main purpose of our program is to work with organizations to improve real processes they are currently working on. Sometimes it's solving a problem and other times it's just improving on what they already have."

Using creative tools, like value stream maps, AFSO21 helps an organization map their processes so they can see room for improvements. Even without technical knowledge of what an organization does facilitators enable organizations to find solutions.

"It's important to know when an AFSO21 facilitator goes in to work with an organization, they aren't going in there as experts in what that organization does," Foster said. "We understand processes and we understand how to use a team. First we know how to put the team together, but then we know how to take the team through a series of steps that allows the team to solve their problem in a new way that might work for the first time."

The methods of AFSO21 empower Airmen of all ranks to improve processes in their workplace.

"As an Airman you have good ideas of how things could be better in your area," Tran said. "Sometimes you don't have an avenue to get those ideas out, but when we get the team together and the leaders already said, 'Hey I'm looking for anything that comes out of this that we can implement,' that opens up the Airmen. Anyone who works on the process already has good ideas in their head, and we just get those ideas out."

Program facilitators look forward to that "light bulb" moment they see when Airmen understand AFSO21 and how it can work for them.

"Who doesn't want their work to be easier, produce a better product, or be faster, or more flexible, who doesn't want to be better," Foster said. "Even if you're the best squadron on base, that doesn't mean you can't be better. It's kind of like finding a shortcut on your way to work. All of a sudden you realize this road gets me there four minutes quicker. It's kind of exciting to realize I just found a better way to do things."

For more information on Hurlburt Field's AFSO21 program or their classes, call (850) 884-7600.