“Why TSA Security Lines Aren’t as Bad as You’d Feared”, covered recent changes that have been made in order to address the long lines and the amount of time spent to clear airport screening. The results they quoted were staggering and much better than I expected. At O’Hare, the wait “fell from 105 minutes in early May to just nine minutes in the two weeks before the Fourth of July.” Three major changes described in the article appear to be right out of lean and agile playbooks.
- Daily meeting – Daily meetings were instituted with the airport security directors of the 5 largest airports. Initially the meeting focused on status. However, the meetings provided visibility and transparency to the TSA and enabled sharing of best practices. They also helped the airport security directors shift from reactive to proactive approaches. The daily meeting has been expanded to include over 30 airports. Daily meetings are a way to ensure better transparency and accountability, improve communication, and manage handoffs.
- Offload work to other resources – Additional resources were added to perform non-security related activities, such as shuttling bins or directing passengers on how to prepare for screening. This allows the trained security personnel to focus on their safety related activities. Enabling critical resources to work uninterrupted on the most important work helps speed up the entire process.
- Modify the process at bottlenecks –Specific sources of delays were also addressed. For example, screening would be delayed when travelers had containers with too much liquid (e.g., water bottles, coffee cups). Adding a barrel at screening checkpoints enabled people to dispose of the liquids quickly. In another example, delays due to waiting for equipment repairs were impacted by creating a maintenance desk to dispatch repair teams versus writing a ticket and waiting. These are examples of simple process modifications that made a large impact. Both lean and the theory of constraints drive reduction in queues through bottleneck identification. Next, they seek to increase the flow through the entire system by identifying a constraint and systematically making changes to optimize the throughput.
While I don’t know whether TSA meant to use lean and agile methods as part of improving the screening problems at the airports, you can see that they are applicable in many different situations and provide significant value to organizations.