According to Wikipedia, “dark matter” is an unidentified type of matter that explains a number of otherwise puzzling astronomical observations. It is basically un-seeable. Scientists think it’s there but it is hard to observe and quantify. That makes it almost unscientific but, generally speaking, scientists think it’s real.
We see a similar phenomenon in business fairly often, especially in heavy, process-oriented industries like manufacturing and distribution. In those context, Dark Matter is the time that goes unaccounted for, and is usually time spent waiting. For example, in one recent engagement, our client was dutifully measuring the time to process a widget from end to end using a barcode scanning system that dutifully tracked the metrics: receiving, putting away, picking, packing and shipping. It totaled about six minutes on average. What was missing was the time in between those steps, when the client was daily transferring data from paper into the barcode scanning system. It amounted to almost three hours per person per day! In this case, roughly more than $200,000 a year in profits was lost to Dark Matter (15 percent of total labor costs).
We see it in manufacturing throughput times as well. Process times are on a per unit basis, but when processed in batches, there is a waiting time for every widget while the rest are processed. Simply put: While one widget is processed, one waits. When the second one is being processed, the first one waits. A one-minute process for two pieces actually takes four minutes. It goes much farther and much faster if there is downtime between orders and with scrap that has to be reprocessed or replaced. In a worst case scenario, all of your profits could be destroyed by processing something twice!
The solution for profit-destroying Dark Matter is to measure it. Then it becomes scientific and you look at processes to determine which can be made faster, eliminated or at least better understood. For the pick and pack company I gave as an example, there was actually paperwork processing orders that accounted for roughly half of the time. It helped make the case to invest in better tech to eliminate the paper and send orders directly to the handheld scanners. It also allowed the warehouse manager to understand true capacity and better create an incentive program for employees to make more money.