Lean is not mean

  • Published
  • By Chief Master Sgt. Donna Knevitt
  • 388th Fighter Wing
Every day people ask me what Air Force Smart Operations 21 is and how it is related to Lean Manufacturing. AFSO21, or how Air Force smart operations for the 21st Century is built on the principles of lean manufacturing. 

In fact, about 80 percent of AFSO21 comes directly from lean principles. The remaining 20 percent or so comes from Six Sigma, Theory of Constraints and Continuous Process Improvement. 

The aim of AFSO21 is to increase effectiveness and efficiency by improving processes, and eliminating waste from those processes. 

Co-author James Womack, PhD, of Lean Thinking, Banish Waste and Create Wealth in Your Corporation eloquently explains the goal of lean. 

"The biggest benefit of lean is that it frees resources by using less human effort, less space, less capital, and less time to provide a given amount of products and services and to make them with fewer defects to precise customer desires, compared with traditional management ... by freeing resources, lean management turns waste into available capacity." 

AFSO21, or lean as it's known in corporate America, is not about finding ways to cut personnel. It's not as focused on metrics and data analysis as Quality Air Force of the 1990s. Instead it uses management practices of team building, problem solving, project management, and change to identify processes for improvement. It's a way to figure out how to improve the process and then, most importantly, develop and implement an action plan to improve the process. 

Where can you start to implement AFSO21? I like to quote the adage, "Lord, give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the strength to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." 

Focus on processes you own. Look to your own work center for ideas of what can be improved.