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AFSO21 team exchanges Lean practices with industry officials

Air Force senior leaders take a tour of Boeing's 737 Production Facility March 14 in Seattle as part of the AFSO21 industry exchange. The site visit gave Air Force representatives a first-hand look at how Boeing incorporates Lean processes into its business practices. (Courtesy photo)

Air Force senior leaders take a tour of Boeing's 737 Production Facility March 14 in Seattle as part of the AFSO21 industry exchange. The site visit gave Air Force representatives a first-hand look at how Boeing incorporates Lean processes into its business practices. (Courtesy photo)

SEATTLE (AFNEWS) -- Air Force officials, looking to industry Lean experts for best practices and lessons learned to apply to Air Force Smart Operations for the 21st Century, got a first-hand look at Lean in action during a recent three-day industry exchange here. 

The team of 30 Air Force leaders visited Boeing Corporation and Virginia Mason hospital, recognizing leaders in continuous improvement and watching Lean business practices in use. In addition to the site visits, the group also met with senior representatives from Amazon and Starbucks. 

The Air Force's journey to improve processes and eliminate waste is difficult, said Dr. Ron Ritter, the secretary of the Air Force's special assistant for AFSO21. The leaders involved in the exchange can take their experience with industry and go back to their units and execute, he said. 

In the past, AFSO21 has worked with other companies including Toyota, Sysco Corporation, Hewlett-Packard, Applied Materials, Proctor & Gamble, and the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force, Dr. Ritter said. 

"We're trying to build relationships with the best in industry, and by visiting their facilities we gain insight in solving the same types of problems," he said. "Hopefully one day we'll be able to turn back around and invite these businesses to come see us in action." 

During the industry exchange, the group had the opportunity to see Boeing in action as they toured Boeing's 737 production facility to observe how Lean has improved efficiency and employee productivity. 

"It's all about imbedding Lean in the way you do business," said Bill Schnettgoecke, a Boeing corporate initiative leader. 

However, sharing experiences is just one part of the process, said Mike Hescher, a Lean Enterprise Office leader for Boeing. 

"Once we learn [best practices], we have an obligation to share it," he said. "We can teach and share the principles, but the implementation must fit the culture. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it." 

It all begins with leadership, said Marc Onetto, Amazon's senior vice president for worldwide operations. 

"Leadership is the fundamental building block," he said. "Strong people, partners and operating mechanisms are vital. Lean is a journey of continuous improvement, not a destination. You must accept you can do better tomorrow than today." 

"The five desired effects of AFSO 21 are strengthening combat capability by improving productivity of our most valuable resource, our people; improving readiness and availability of our equipment; increasing response capability and agility; maintaining and improving safety; and improving energy efficiency," Dr. Ritter said. 

"Training is still evolving, but what matters is the impact on these five dimensions," he said. "Air Force senior leadership recognizes how difficult and challenging this transformation is, and we're grateful and impressed with the work people are doing operationally." 

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