Until now in this series of articles we’ve been focussing on what to do before you automate as well as what to look for after we automate. What about how we go about automating?

Tool selection is a moving target. Depending on what you want to do, what you have right now and what is your pain level you to can do pretty much anything you want.

So where’s a good place to start with your tools selection?

There’s a five step plan to automation:

  1. Understanding your organization and communication structure
  2. Organizing your existing systems and processes – understanding and documenting the most repetitive tasks.
  3. Planning for scalability, connectivity and growth
  4. Selecting and Implementing Tooling
  5. Run and Measure

Tool selection is one of the last things you do when working out best fit for your business. Before you get there you need to work out where you are with your organization – you baseline your processes.

Building or Buying a Better System

Your company has a lot of systems in it already. Even if you’re a one-person company you have a way of doing things. They won’t all be automated (yet) but you have a way.

These are variously known as Standard Operating Procedures – SOPs – or just “How We Do Things Here”. These ways of working enable you to work efficiently, and most importantly to not forget all the steps that you need to get it right.

When you decide to buy or integrate that new labour saving software system, you want to build your way of working into that tool. SOPs can help capture that.

Now imagine you sit down with a fresh sheet of paper to design the perfect system to help you with your work.

You make it simple, you make it obvious, you make it ideal, you make it just work.

BUT – and you knew there was a BUT coming didn’t you? – your ideal doesn’t stay ideal for long.

Why?

Because there is always a compromise needed.

There is a system that will do almost everything you want it to but won’t be able to do that one special case. Or it can but it will be prohibitively expensive or make other parts of the job too inflexible.

I’m sure you can even think of a few examples of these type of compromises off the top of your head.

The compromise comes about because there is always a high level of detail in any business process. No system can ever fully represent it – we have to learn to work with the limitations and assume those into our SOPs.

So when we onboard a new system, we adapt to it.

Why do we settle?

Why do we adapt to the new system? Why do we settle for it?

For human reasons:

  • We think the system knows better
  • We think we’re not the expert (c.f. Imposter Syndrome)
  • We think that someone else knows better (the vendor, the project manager, the project sponsor)
  • We think we should learn something new

These are all invalid reasons for accepting a new system. If you are the expert and you need your system to do your job then it needs to work the way you expect it to.

Expanding your System

Everyone works differently. Give two people the same instructions and even if they reach the same result, they will very often get there via slightly different routes.

People see certain things as more important than others.

Why?

Because everyone is unique. Everyone is sitting with a different sum of experiences in their head, with different expectations, with different thoughts, distractions, concerns.

When we work with others we have to find a compromise in order for our way of working to make sense to everyone. Organizations have a way of working which is “How We Do Things Here”.

This is an agreement.

Sometimes you might not even know where this agreement has come from. It might be a way of working or SOP that a prior employee created. Perhaps they no longer even work there.

So when you automate a system built on these agreements there is an inherent expectation that “How We Do Things Here” will be supported. The system should do what you expect and work with you.

Don’t Compromise

So when you are confronted with a tool choice – think again.

When you are confronted with a decision – back away.

Yes, decide what you are trying to achieve in your business but don’t be swayed by salesmen, by pushy project managers, those seeking a quick fix or automation. Decide on your business process before you buy into a system that supports that process because it’s likely you’ll change your mind.

The best answer with automation is to move slowly.

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