Dealing with Complex Problems

If you were to make a list of things that irritate you, I’d bet that “waiting in line at an airport TSA checkpoint” would be in the top ten. Sandwiched somewhere between “slow drivers in the passing lane” and “broken wheel on a shopping cart.”

Well, this past spring, TSA wait times went from “irritating” to “insane” overnight, with some passengers waiting in line for hours and missing their flights.  The TSA reported that the cause of screening delays was a greatly reduced staff.  Which sounded plausible.

But how many people had the TSA lost in the past year?  And how many more travelers were they screening?

Since 2015, the TSA had only lost 51 of its 42,000+ screeners.  And the number of passengers traveling had only increased by 5%.

So why the dramatic increase?

Back in 2013, the TSA went through its first round of major staffing cuts, losing over 1500 screeners.  To account for this and other factors, the agency began a process called “managed inclusion,” allowing screeners to randomly send “regular” travelers through the TSA Pre-Check expedited screening lines to reduce wait times.  This “Band-Aid” fix kept wait times at an acceptable level, with 44% of travelers receiving some form of expedited screening.  Unfortunately, this also led to a handful of cases where a high risk passenger (such as a convicted felon) was allowed through.

Due to the increased security risk, the TSA disbanded the bulk of their managed inclusion program last September.  They knew this decision would likely increase wait times, but the affects weren’t immediately felt, because the decision was made after the busy summer travel season.  It wasn’t until the peak travel season began again that passengers noticed a huge difference.

Since that time, the TSA has increased staffing by 750 screeners, and the airlines have stepped in to add headcount of their own to handle the non-security related jobs such as bin replacement and line management to allow agents to focus on their main task – keeping us all safe.  In addition, the TSA continues to use trained dogs to pre-screen passengers for the expedited lane.  The result?  Wait times are back down, as is traveler irritation.

This complex scenario resembles those faced in countless organizations today.  There is a “surprise” change in performance, and there may be multiple root causes for the performance gap, and leaders must act quickly to implement improvements.  If you are faced with a similar situation, here are some techniques to help:

  1. Document Changes: Bottom line: changes cause deviations. So, if you aren’t capturing all of the changes to your people, process, equipment, materials and environment, you are likely to miss the root cause of your problem, delaying the solution.
  2. Identify Restraining Forces: If your problem is the result of a variety of causes, list each one and use data to determine which are most negatively impacting your performance. When time is of the essence, you can focus your solutions toward those that are most detrimental, rather than wasting energy on causes that don’t have a huge impact.
  3. Identify What Could Go Wrong: When applying “Band Aid” fixes, think ahead to any potential negative affects of your actions.  Often times, you can com up with ideas to prevent the problems in the first place, or at least minimize the effects if the problems do happen to occur.

At Action Management Associates, we have over 35 years of experience helping our clients quickly identify the root cause of problems and implement effective solutions.  So, what are you waiting for?  If you would like to explore strategies to get to the bottom of your own mysteries, give us a call!  We’d love to help.


 

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