Hello, my name is Hayashi from the Marketing Department.
In my previous blog entry, I discussed the spread of remote work, and along with that there seems to be an increasing number of cases where “black-boxing” of work is becoming a problem.
In this article, I will explain the causes of “black-boxing” of work and how to improve it.
The Individualization and Black Boxing of Business Operations
The term “individualization” in this context refers to a situation in which only a specific person knows about a particular job.
There are a variety of causes of individualization, but for example, it is not uncommon for a particular job to be left to the person in charge, such as one sales representative being responsible for a particular client. Also, when the work is highly specialized and requires specific skills, such as when only a certain person can perform a certain task, it is easy for this type of work to become dependent on one specific person.
On the other hand, black boxing of operations refers to a situation where the people around the person do not know what he or she is doing. It is a situation where the business is almost literally hidden in a black box while it is with that person. Since the process of how the person is handling the work is completely unknown to the outside world, there is nothing to do but wait for the results and deliverables to come out of the black box.
If left unchecked, work tends to turn into a black box and become increasingly unknown to those around it. Especially with the recent spread of remote work, there are more and more cases where managers have difficulty in grasping the details of employees’ work.
First of all, for your information, in the next section I would like to describe an actual example of the individualization and black-boxing of operations that I have experienced.
Examples of Black Boxing I Have Experienced
More than 15 years ago I was assigned to a company’s advertising department as a newcomer. I was to take over the job from a person named Mr. S, however, from my first day at the company I was faced with a difficult situation. I was shown to Mr. S’s desk, which was overflowing with documents and product samples, and even he did not know where anything was.
Mr. S. is what is called an “untidy person”. Whenever he needed a document during a handover of work, he rummaged through his desk for more than 10 minutes, wondering “Um, where did I put that?” Then, five minutes after he found the document, he would ask, “Where’s the next one?” and it took another 10 minutes. (Sometimes he couldn’t find the document he was looking for even after searching for it.) Moreover, Mr. S was scheduled to leave the company in three days.
On the day of his last shift, Mr. S suddenly took a day off from work. He left the company without explanation, leaving me and my desk, which had turned into a garbage dump, behind him.
I had no choice but to start cleaning up the mess on my desk. Then, among the papers on Mr. S’s desk, I found a stack of overdue work and overdue circulars, one after another. The work I had taken over from Mr. S was the production of advertisements to be published in newspapers and magazines, but since Mr. S was working on his own, there was no one else in the company who understood his work. Therefore, if Mr. S suddenly took a leave of absence, no one would be able to take over for him.
Of course, when a manuscript was completed, it was supposed to be checked by the supervisor or the sales manager. However, no one was aware of the deadline for Mr. S’s work, so no one would notice if a circular was not sent out.
So this work had been “individualized” and “black-boxed” by Mr. S.
However, having taken over Mr. S’s work, I still had to proceed with my duties. After all, I had a project in front of me that had already passed the deadline for submission to the ad agency. I contacted the advertising agency that had outsourced the work and informed them of my situation. They told me that I could still meet the deadline for publication in the magazine just in time. I managed to produce the ad page by diverting a past manuscript and submitting it in time to meet the magazine’s deadline.
How to Prevent Black Boxing
The above may be an extreme case, but it is surprisingly common that no one except the person concerned (or in the worst case, not even this person) knows what is going on in the business.
Therefore, we will now explain the effects of operations becoming a black box and how to avoid it.
The Downside of Black Boxing
As mentioned above, a black box situation can cause serious problems if the person in charge quits the company or takes a long leave of absence. In such cases, in the worst case scenario, operations may come to a grinding halt.
Also, when operations become a black box, fraud is more likely to occur. When no one knows how the person in charge is doing their job, it is difficult for those around them to notice irregularities, such as ignoring manuals, violating rules, cutting corners, or committing crimes.
So, how can we prevent the work from becoming individualized and black-boxed?
The Basics are “Manualization” and “Standardization”
In order to prevent operations from becoming black boxes, it is first important to prevent them from becoming demarcated.
For this purpose, it is necessary to create manuals as much as possible for work procedures that are understood only by the person in charge. Of course, there may be some tasks that are difficult to manualize, such as highly specialized tasks. However, even in such cases it will be easier to take over and keep track of the progress if the flow of how the work progresses is manual.
When preparing a manual it is necessary to interview the people in charge and extract the best procedures from them. This process may be tedious and painstaking, but it is indispensable for standardizing operations.
Standardization of work means creating a system of work that allows anyone in charge to achieve the same results. In the process, it is necessary to create manuals and establish rules regarding the quality of work and the standards of deliverables.
It is also important to always improve business processes and keep manuals up to date so they do not become outdated.
BPM Tools to Open Up Operations
Now, measures to keep operations open are necessary to prevent them from being placed in a closed box.
Creating a manual that allows everyone to share procedures is one such measure. If the work process is graphically depicted, it will be easier to share the entire flow of work in a form that can be easily understood by anyone.
Questetra BPM Suite is a BPM tool that supports these tasks.
In reality, it is a painstaking task to create manuals and business flow diagrams, but with Questetra BPM Suite, you can easily create business flow diagrams by arranging icons on a computer. The work progresses automatically according to the created flow diagram, and the progress status is clearly visualized by moving the icons called tokens.
When building business processes in Questetra BPM Suite, the rules required for the business must also be set at the same time. The business rules and procedures thus set up will be automatically shared within the team through the business process.
Manuals may be necessary for detailed parts of the work, but by using the Questetra BPM Suite, the entire work flow and procedures are open, so there is no need to create manuals for them again.
If only we had Questetra BPM Suite, then…
We are of course making full use of Questetra BPM Suite in our business. Thanks to this, our business processes and progress are open, and we are able to smoothly manage work progress and attendance for remote workers.
Even in the company where the above-mentioned operations have become a black box, if Questetra BPM Suite had been used, the desk would not have been a garbage dump and projects would not have been left unattended. Above all, the handover of business would have been much smoother…
Well, it’s not too late to start, so to avoid turning your business into a black box or a garbage dump, please take advantage of Questetra BPM Suite for the manualization and standardization of your business operations. You can try it for free.
▼ You can also apply for a free trial here ▼