TBM 224: The Black Box
Your team is burnt out. They are not getting anything done. Work is "low quality". You can see and feel those things. But what you are seeing is an output of something—the downstream effects of other things happening.
In some companies this is a black box:
There’s no visibility into what’s happening. But it is not that simple (of course). The outputs are inputs into the black box. And the outputs input into the inputs.
Say the team reactively addresses quality issues. This creates more “work” (the output inputs into the input), but it also leaves the team more burnt out and they make less-good decisions on whatever is going on in the box.
An executive walks in and says “we need visibility of what is going on in the box, give me a status check on everything!"This doesn’t tell you what’s really going on in the box though—it doesn’t explain the traffic light indicators.
You still can’t see what is happening:
In fact, it creates more inputs (more “work”), and stresses the people out working in the box—which becomes another input to what’s in the box:
But now another person gets involved, they say “we should shine a light on what is in the box!” This takes some explaining, because the executive already had their red, green, and orange. They had managers giving them status updates.
But the flashlight idea sounds reasonable:
So they shine the light! And Shit Gets Real:
First, this is another input into the box (which isn’t a black box anymore), and that adds stress. When people see what is inside the box, they find it incredibly overwhelming. Seeing the mess causes high cognitive load, which creates yet another input into the box. The people in the box have been saying this for 18 months, and no one ever really listened!
So in comes the flashlight shiner, they shine the light, and all it does is bubble up all that accumulated resentment. What happens next? Guess...
They bring in a new manager with low context. The manager comes to the conclusion that better planning (new managers, packing even more work, and relying even more on estimates) will solve the problem.
And our flashlight shiner leaves. And we go back to our black box.