TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. — A group of five Art of the Possible subject matter experts and several senior leaders from across the Air Force Sustainment Center gathered for an Advanced Level Workshop and to discuss the implementation of Art of the Possible.
“The intent of this session is to further emphasize how Art of the Possible is our way of doing business,” said Steven Alsup, director of Logistics for the AFSC. “We are not just applying these principles to production, this is a leadership model that applies to all business done within AFSC and how we approach improving that business.
“We have come a long way with AoP, but it is time to take the model’s application to the next level,” he added.
The Center AoP team, which includes the AoP SMEs along with members of AFSC/LG and AFSC Directorate of Personnel, focuses its efforts through a four-element cycle comprised of doctrine, training, operations and knowledge. This cycle is: 1. Explaining what AoP is, 2. AoP training 3. Operationalizing it, and 4. Continually gaining knowledge to further improve it.
The AoP team has drafted two publications, AFSCI 60-101 and AFSCH 60-101, to provide doctrine on AoP. AFSCI 60-101 is an instruction and is directive in nature. It defines the inspectable requirements for implementing AoP down to the squadron and division level. AFSCH 60-101 is a handbook and is the keystone AoP document. It is instructive in nature and can be thought of as the AoP “how to” publication.
AoP training is broken down into four tiers, each focusing on training for a specific level of the workforce.
Basic-level training consists of elemental AoP familiarization. It is comprised of the New Employee Orientation-level pamphlet training, which pertains to all new employees.
Intermediate-level introduces the science behind the philosophy and is provided through a four-hour block of instruction.
Advanced-level provides in-depth methodology exploration coupled with practical application exercises and practical wall walk examples. It is delivered through a two-day Advanced Level Workshop and targets first-line supervisors up to commanders who have not received expert level training. ALWs rotate across AFSC locations and take place four times a year.
The expert-level incorporates robust analysis of foundational concepts and leadership’s role in enterprise implementation. It is delivered through a three-day Senior Leader Course that is given annually at Tinker Air Force Base and targets incoming commanders and directors.
Doug Keene, an AoP SME from the Warner Robins Air Logistics Complex at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, said these training tools were not in place prior to the reworking of AoP.
“There was training, but it wasn’t standard,” Keene said. “There was a book, but not a formal publication or directive document. We’ve taken the last year to create and implement the training, as well as put the AFSCI and AFSCH in place.”
The instruction and the handbook have been approved by leadership and are currently in the publication process, which is estimated to take 30 days.
The AoP SMEs described how AoP is operationalized around units’ Mission Essential Task Lists. This concept is used to help identify the most important tasks an organization executes. What does the organization have to do to accomplish the mission? In order to be compliant with the new AFSCI, organizations have to identify their METL and develop a plan to implement AoP on all their Mission Essential Tasks.
Simply put, workers pick something upon which to implement AoP; then they implement AoP and move on to the next Mission Essential Task.
According to Keene, there has to be a semblance of a plan and there has to be commitment and signs of progress.
As for the knowledge aspect of the cycle, the five AoP SMEs were named by AFSC Executive Director Jeff Allen. The AoP SMEs are also in place to determine what is and what is not AoP. They are the deciding authority for AoP and assist organizations that are implementing AoP.
Every AFSC complex, wing and staff directorate has an aligned AoP SME to coach and mentor all levels of AFSC leadership on the implementation and institutionalizing of AoP within their respective organizations.
Together, the AoP SMEs established one system with one common approach.
“Over all the years with Air Force Materiel Command, we’ve had a myriad of different technology and production processes we used, and really each organization picked whichever one they wanted to use,” Keene said. “If you look at world-class organizations, they have a single process. So, that’s what we did.”
The goal is to stay with one system and continue to improve. With one common approach and common language, the constraint-based system was designed to create the environment for success.
Oklahoma City Air Logistics Complex AoP SME Janis Wood expanded on the power of demanding one system. In a constraint-based management system, she said, you focus on one constraint at a time. Of all the problems you could have, there’s one constraint you devote your resources and energy into resolving – that’s where you focus your continued process improvement.
“The problem over the years has been trying to attack all the problems at once,” Wood said. “We’ve now developed a methodology to focus resources on one area of constraint at a time. That constraint represents the highest return on the investment efforts.”
Though AoP SMEs are in place to help institutionalize AoP throughout the entire AFSC, its origin is not organic to the U.S. Air Force. Rather, it’s based off the Theory of Constraints. According to David Mann, an AoP SME from the Ogden Air Logistics Complex at Hill AFB, Utah, the theory was then standardized uniquely to the AFSC.
When AoP was first introduced, there was less consideration for administrative applications and more assumptions that readers understood flow days, work in progress and other elements of the science of throughput. Though the goals have remained the same, AFSC senior leaders have said there needed to be a more inclusive approach to allow for areas beyond maintenance to fully comprehend and digest.
Maintaining a culture that creates solutions for constraints affecting the critical path during execution, AoP has demonstrated its value in shrinking aircraft overhaul, engine repair and supply component turn times, while simultaneously experiencing cost reductions. Now it is being successfully employed in administrative areas.
Military and civilian Airmen will continue to be guided by the principles of AoP, but now will do so with a sharpened sense of how to best institutionalize the content taken from the doctrine, strengthened through training, and providing the feedback to further the knowledge to improve.