Why every organization should maintain a #blacklist

A few months ago, I wrote a fairly comprehensive post on explaining the various types of red lists that professionals in the natural and built environment industry might encounter. Essentially, red lists can symbolize things at risk such as flora or fauna, or it can be used to highlight things that are harmful, such as certain chemicals. In this post, i want to briefly make the case that all organizations should maintain its own blacklist. I’ll first start by providing a working definition, and then offer some case studies to convince you to adopt this policy.

Just like red lists, the term “blacklist” comes with many connotations. It was used pervasively during the Cold War, and is now used in the IT industry to identify untrusted sources. A person’s smartphone can even be blacklisted if it was reported lost or stolen. According to the Collin’s English Dictionary, if someone is on a blacklist, they are seen by a government or other organization as being one of a number of people who cannot be trusted or who have done something wrong. Once put on the blacklist, that person or group is then blacklisted. For the purposes of this post, I’m going to slightly alter this definition under a knowledge management lense:

Josh’s definition of a blacklist in knowledge management:

A blacklist is a list or database maintained by an organization to track and record products, businesses, and people that should not be consulted or trusted for any future organizational and business operations. Products, people, and businesses can be blacklisted by an organization based on subpar or negligent past experience, or at the recommendation of peer institutions. These blacklists should be fully transparent and available to all staff interacting with such resources.

My favorite example of a blacklist is the ongoing theme used by the publication Consumer Reports to warm consumers of various products to avoid. Every year, for example, it pushes out a list of cars to avoid due to poor reliability ratings.

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Just the other day i learned about the value of an organizational blacklist in real time. The architecture firm i work at ran into problems with an aluminum-based assembly for one of their designs, as the component ran into a lot of durability and quality problems not too long after installation. After experiencing this, everyone on the team knew that they’d never use this product again unless it was reformulated. Unfortunately, they forgot to inform the rest of the office. Just a few years later, another project team in the office initially specified the same aluminum assembly on one of their projects. Luckily, we have excellent QA/QC controls and standards for quality management, and a senior staff member responsible for reviewing these technical components caught the error and disaster was averted. If the office had a dedicated list of products known to fail, or have failed on past projects, such knowledge and information would bring tremendous value to the office.

A classic example is creating a blacklist of vendors who your organization can collectively agree to never do business with again based on past experiences. All companies have probably had a bad caterer, or a poor experience outsourcing large format scans or printing materials. Appointing someone in business, purchasing, or finance services that can maintain such a list to consult before approving any purchases would be a great way to ensure that a blacklist is sustainable. Generally, the knowledge should be available and transparent to those in charge of making key decisions. With the case study of the product selection above, those specifying materials should have access to the blacklisted materials.

You can probably already imagine the value of maintaining a blacklist for your organization. In short, it can prevent repeated errors and mistakes, save money, increase communication between units, and promotes a heightened awareness about quality control. Something to also consider are variations of a blacklist to help monitor and analyze past performance. Why not just single out the bad things when you can also highlight the good products, or vendors who you would recommend again. That’s for another post!

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