Is this “Like Lean?” TSA Explains the "Explaining Why" Program


TSA: Why? The Reasons Behind TSA Security

As much as I complain about the TSA, they do some things well. You might remember my blog post from 2006 about a sign put up by the Transportation Security Administration what explained why a policy was in place.

I thought that it was a good idea and it was an example of a principle used by Toyota — explaining why to employees and how that helps get “buy in” instead of just saying “you have to do this because I'm the boss and I said so.”

So the TSA is expanding it's program into something formal. You can read about the TSA program here or their blog post about the program. They explained why the why program is in place (I love it):

Passenger feedback has shown us that people are more willing to comply with security procedures if they understand the “why” behind the measure. It's true that for every security protocol there is a relevant security concern.

How would this work in your workplace? Would employees follow standardized work more readily if they understood “why”? The Training Within Industry methodology for standardized work has a column in work instructions that explains “why” it's important to follow a key point (see the outstanding Toyota Talent for more on this approach). I've used this method with really nice success in healthcare settings, this principle of explaining why (for standardized work or even for signs that are posted for family/patient communication).

For example, why should you not bring food into the radiology waiting room? Because there are children present who are fasting because they're going to be sedated before their MRI. The kids might accidentally grab and eat some of your food. Or, it's worth realizing that it's just mean to have them smelling McDonald's when they've been fasting.

Have you used this method of explaining why?

Now, with the TSA you can question (as this person did) if there's a valid security concern behind each rule. For instance, it's really not a legal requirement that you show ID at the line, but that's a different discussion altogether. This guy complains that they are explaining “because the TSA says so” and they are using more “how” than “why” in the videos. Oops… I guess this isn't such a good example after all (and you can watch the videos yourself on the TSA website). The “why do I have to take off my shoes?” video isn't that bad, really.

This blog commenter says:

While I wouldn't quite call the videos propaganda, they're misleadingly titled. They explain what's expected of travelers at airports, which might serve a useful purpose. But they do nothing to explain the rationale behind the mysteriously arbitrary rules and procedures. The assumption seems to be that everyone already buys in to the “fact” that the rules and procedures are necessary and highly effective, it's only a matter of telling inexperienced travelers how to be good docile sheep.

And this writer complains that the TSA has instilled fear in travelers so we don't question things and don't speak up. That's certainly not a “Lean” mindset (nor has anyone said the TSA is “doing Lean.”) Dr. Deming said we need to eliminate fear in our organizations. Are your employees comfortable about speaking up and asking why a procedure needs to be followed?

So the TSA isn't a perfect example. But we can learn from their approach and their errors?

Good luck to all of you who are traveling for Thanksgiving!

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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. “Why” is one of my favorite words. We usually know who, what, when, where, and how, but why becomes elusive, yet is one of the words that can help overcome resistance to change. Though I can’t speak to the TSA’s use of the word, I always applaud people or organizations who are thinking about the use of “why” as a means to help change come about.


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