Wednesday, March 16, 2011

No Black Box Processes

Over the last month or so I've come to the realization that there are a lot of "black boxes" in the world of technical support. And, I submit, that's where you lose lots of money.

What's a black box? Basically, it's an analogy for a process or procedure that you don't understand, or that's not defined. For example:

1. I say "Install SBS 2011."

2. A block box appears.

3. You return to me with a machine that has SBS 2011 installed.

Sounds good, right? Wrong

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

How are the drives partitioned? Hardware RAID or software RAID? Is the data separated from the operating system? Is the Exchange Store on a separate drive? Is the swap file on a separate drives? Have the users already been created? Is DHCP on the server or the firewall? Did you create a self-signed security certificate, generate a third-part cert with the wizard, or purchase one?

etc., etc., etc.

You see, there are hundreds of details that experienced technicians take for granted. I have often said in my presentations: Every one of us can install a server. But every one of us would do it differently. That's fine for one server per person.

But in a business that makes money installing servers, you need a process that's documented and repeatable. Every technician must do things the same way, whether they like it or not.

I have been shocked to learn that most companies in our business -- even the large ones -- use a "black box" approach to tech support. In other words, they hand a job to a technician with no guidance regarding processes, procedures, tools, or even documentation. At best their process looks like this:

What the . . . ?

They have no idea how the job is done, the order in which tasks are completed, how success is determined, etc. They have absolutely no way to know how long this job will take or the quality of the work that will result. They can't repeat it if it's successful, and they can't avoid failure on the next job if this one fails.

They can't reliably make money because they don't have a process. Their process is to throw a technician and a problem into a room and see what comes out.

Why do I say "at best" this is what the process looks like? Because at least it has documentation. With some kind of after-the-fact documentation you can begin the process of building a successful, repeatable process.

And what does the world look like when you have No Black Box? Well, it looks like an organization with documented processes, procedures, approved tools, and repeatable success:

Much Better

That non-black box doesn't have to be perfect. But there should be something there. You can start small. Checklists are amazing tools for making your business more profitable. They are short (1-3 pages). And they make sure that everything is done in a uniform manner, no matter who the technician is.

For example, when you set up a new computer at a client's office, you should have a checklist. It should list everything you do from opening the box to training the user. All steps should be performed in the same order. Nothing should be skipped. All decisions should be recorded.

That way you know exactly what it takes to do a job, you know the job is done right, and you don't have to worry that some technician decided to do their own thing.

Why You Can't Just "Do Your Thing"

I wasn't kidding when I said that we can all install SBS in our own way. You CAN do that. Absolutely. But don't. Even you yourself personally should have a documented process for the things you do.

Here's why: Money.

I started all of this by saying that businesses that make money installing servers need to have processes, etc. It's the "making money" part that requires a process. You might make money one some jobs and not others. But you should make money on every job. That will allow you to stay in business and serve your clients in the future!

Without a process, you are really stifling your own growth because you can't get better. You can't improve a process if you don't have one in the first place. You can't fine-tune a checklist that doesn't exist. And you can't even duplicate success if you don't know which tools were used!

No two jobs are alike. Nothing's perfect. And maybe there will always be some "unknown" elements. But the more processes you have, the less uncertainty you have.


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