POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 28, 2010
Due to the introduction of new TSA security procedures, many travelers have been filled with angst and concern this holiday season. Many of us in the information technology industry, however, have let out empathetic chuckles at the response of the traveling public. On the face of it, airport security and software seem to have nothing in common. But the fact of the matter is that the TSA probably could have adapted methods typically associated with software deployments to ease the introduction of their new procedures.
Those of us tasked with implementing new software (or any other change in an organization, for that matter) have been through this drill many times. Unfortunately, whenever you have a disparate group of human beings involved, all with different agendas and personalities, every experience is different. But there are certain guidelines that should always be kept in mind.
The key to a smooth introduction of new software is to get an endorsement from the user community that a change is needed. This includes line staff and all levels of management. In the case of the new full body scanners, it is apparent that the TSA did not do a good job of convincing the user community (the traveling public) that such changes would provide any significant benefits prior to its introduction.
Certainly easier said than done, but with the budget afforded to TSA, some kind of public promotion would have been beneficial. While we understand that we can't give away all the secrets of homeland security, the need for scanners and pat-downs definitely could have been publicized in more detail. For example, a few national TV ads during popular shows such as "Hawaii Five-0" or the UH vs. Boise State game (OK, maybe not the later part of the UH game) would have gone a long way toward getting the message out.
Next, identify who might be your most influential, visible and vocal supporters and detractors. Meet with these people to demonstrate the benefits of the new technology. Supporters should be encouraged to continue their cooperation and provided with information to fortify their positions. When local-grown President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton don't provide their unadulterated support, you've done something wrong. And if you can't get such endorsements, then maybe the new technology isn't such a great idea.
Detractors should be made well aware of the potential benefits, but their reasons for opposition need to be heard and examined.
This can be helpful to identify possible pitfalls that might not always be foreseen by enthusiastic supporters, such as touching one's junk. Hearing out your detractors, especially influential, visible and vocal ones, helps to mitigate any negative feedback.
Finally, pick a slow time to introduce such changes. Don't do it at fiscal-year end, month end or the just before the most heavily traveled day of the year. There will be much less uproar, and people will generally be more cooperative.
One thing we learn from implementing new software is that in the end, as long as the system isn't a complete nonfunctional disaster, complaints usually get fewer and farther between. We suspect this will be the same with the new TSA procedures. But it sure seems like this change could have been done a lot better.