"Lean Across the Air Force"


There is a memo circulating, dated 11/7/05, from the Secretary of the Air Force, Michael W. Wynne, and General T. Michael Moseley, titled “Lean Across the Air Force”. Here is a link to an image version of the memo (fixed link 2/21/06), it should be readable, I hope.

It's quite an ambitious agenda — using lean concepts throughout the Air Force, not just in logistics. Basically, they are defining lean with two core concepts:

1) Do it right the first time
2) Eliminate non-value-added activities (waste)

They call it a “comprehensive effort to to improve our work processes throughout the Air Force.” They are right to emphasize the top-to-bottom leadership that will be required to drive lean thinking throughout the Air Force. Imagine individual airmen acting like production workers in the Toyota Production System — following standard work but also driving continuous improvement, waste reduction, and kaizen.

The memo authors emphasize that “all airmen” must participate and that many Air Force leaders are to attend a two-day seminar to kick off the lean program.

One question I have, not being a military person — how will the Air Force make kaizen and airmen-driven improvements work in a command-and-control environment? Will the culture really allow airman to make suggestions and drive improvement, even if that means questioning their superiors? Click here for an article on command-and-control vs. lean management.

I'm glad to see the Air Force take this approach. I truly hope they can make it work. Anyone else have thoughts or perspectives on this? Click “comments.”


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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. The Airforce has had some past sucess with lean techniques. Check out the book, The Five Pillars of TQM : How to Make Total Quality Management Work for You
    by Bill Creech, a retired Air Force General


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