Lessons for the Supply Chain from TSA

The long Transportation Security Administration (TSA) lines at airports is in many ways similar to supply chain/logistics issues. Many we will say that TSA is government therefore incompetent, as though the for-profit sector never had a major bankruptcy or a failed supply chain program. The problems TSA has had, certainly have occurred in the supply chain sector. So let us look at their failures to see what we can learn.

This is one of those cases where the issues that causing the problem distracts from the fundamental problem.

The issues that are causing the long lines apparently are:

  1. If audits in 2015 found failures to catch contraband  and led to longer and more detailed searches, lengthening the time for each individual to processed.
  2. The there are roughly 15% less agents in airports today than last year
  3. Stories about high turnover at TSA because of poor management treatment as well as poor treatment by people going through the lines of TSA workers. New people learning the task cannot be as efficient as experienced workers.
  4. The number of airline travelers are increasing.

However the fundamental problem is not understanding who their customers are and putting processes in place to handle its mission. The organization acts if their only customer is the their organization the Homeland Security. They are directing service and paying the bills. But the real customers are the people being screened. They have the influence to affect the service through Congressional and other political entities in the process.

In a supply chain it is easy to become transaction based.  The actual end user the supply chain serves, may not seem to be a part of the process as a third party may be the paying the bills in the process. The end user preferences, though, will decide ultimately decide the success of the business. If the end user does not timely have the product or its frequently damaged in transit, the end user will avoid the product. Your costs and service and seem impeccable to the third party buying the product, but an dissatisfied end user can end your business success.

If the TSA looked at its process to serve its end use customers who have two objectives, travel safely and get through the process quickly, it would have designed the process differently. It would have set goals for time in the line necessary to meet its clearance process. These goals should be public and it is important to make goals clear to all.  TSA would look to eliminate waste in process.  For example, TSA pre-clearance passengers only receive TSA Pre about 60% of the time. It probably should be more likely 99.9%.

My guess is that if the top managers of the TSA headed to their employees’ lounge and listened to the people actually doing the work, they would have known that signficant problems were going to occur before they did. Part of any effective supply chain, is to get such information up the management ladder.  My guess is management never thought about listening. Again, this not only a government problem, this is frequent in the for profit sector.

Successful supply chains are about breaking silos for the overall good of the organization. Look at the process holistically and not on a transaction basis.  Unfortunately I am not hearing these type of words coming from public comments the TSA management has made. And yes, not heard these words in for profit organizations also.



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