We started preaching automation almost two years ago now. In MINDs usual human-centric style, we embarked upon our Automation For All mission with a post titled 5 Things Not to Automate. The advice still holds up.
Our automation team has learned a lot from the market over the last couple years. Companies often feel pressure to launch an automation initiative, or they are anxious to take a certain platform out for a spin. But automation isn’t a project or a technology. Automation is a mindset. It’s approaching work with the goal of reducing human intervention in business processes in order to amplify the value humans bring to process outcomes. Less human energy expended on busywork means more human energy devoted to improving end results.
When we pitch automation, we’re not encouraging you to adopt a certain technology. We’re encouraging you to change the way you think about work. Work is the interplay of people, processes, and technology. Whenever you optimize that interplay in ways (or WAEs, to use our lingo) that free up your human employees to learn and/or innovate, you are automating. Sometimes that involves technology; sometimes it doesn’t.
“Less human energy expended on busywork means more human energy devoted to improving end results.”
It All Starts with Process Documentation
I say it a lot: Processes get lost in the rush of everyday operations. We’re so focused on outcomes, we ignore the processes that get us there. It’s human nature to gloss over the minutiae of rote tasks. For example, one of my clients initially selected a simple, 10-step process for automation. But by the time we’d completed the process documentation, we had a Visio doc that was 8 feet and over 100 steps long!
Most employees only need to see one process documented to gain a whole new understanding of work. Observing how our MINDs document the As Is process and engineer its To Be transformation fundamentally changes how people see the work they do. I come in at the very beginning of an automation project to capture every click of the process. I ask the employee who runs this process all day, every day, to run 5 records (orders, invoices, claims, whatever they are). I watch like a hawk. Then, I have them run 5 more, and this time, I ask all kinds of Why? and What if? questions throughout. We usually find ways to optimize the old routine. We cut steps, eliminate inefficiencies. Whether a client ultimately chooses to build a bot or not, cutting steps is a form of automation. This kind of simple task restructuring frees people the same way automation technologies do.
Adopting the Automation Mindset: A Mini Case Study
One healthcare client was battling a 2- to 3-year backlog of claims denied for technical reasons. Four employees chipped away at it, each putting in 5 hours a day. But there are hundreds of denial codes, and each requires a different workflow. So, when you opened the next claim, you never knew what you were going to get.
On the way to building an RPA solution, Mind Over Machines suggested the client have their EHR platform filter the claims by type (easy, existing functionality), allowing each employee to specialize in a different kind of denial. This specialization bred ownership and expertise, reducing per-claim processing time. More importantly, it changed the way the team thought about their work. Now, they understand where their data is coming from, how it’s delivered, and whether they could easily change that format to improve the process. Front-end users became citizen developers who naturally seek out hacks, filters, simple ways to automate parts of processes.
Power Automate Further Democratizes Automation
Process documentation gives employees an enlightened understanding of the workflows they use to accomplish everyday tasks. They start to see how they can manipulate applications to make their lives easier. Just as end users are beginning to appreciate automating daily drudgework, Microsoft swoops in to meet demand, announcing Power Automate Desktop is now free for all Windows 10 users.
With 370 prebuilt templates, the low-code/no-code Power Automate enables citizen developers to automate all kinds of personal workflows. Just set up a trigger event to initiate a sequence of actions:
“If I get an email from X, do Y and Z.”
“If Power BI sends this alert, message these people in Teams.”
Watching this video is probably the quickest way to grasp the concept.
Still Stumped? We’ve Got Fresh Eyes & Mad Skills
There are two common roadblocks to mastering the automation mindset. We can help you hurdle both.
1. What’s wrong with this process?
Like I said, you’ve been working it so long, you don’t see it anymore, even with your new process-oriented eyes. This is where business analysts like me come in. Run the process for our fresh eyes. We’ll help you determine where you might be able to cut a few steps via task restructuring. If we see greater efficiencies to be had, we may recommend a complete overhaul known as business process reengineering. It’s an opportunity to reimagine dated processes in the context of modern tech solutions. Bring us in to focus on one problematic process or to conduct a more comprehensive process inventory.
2. I have an automation vision, but the technology isn’t cooperating.
Global pandemic has rocketed automation to stardom, but this is still very much a developing field. We’ve been studying it since the beginning (which wasn’t really that long ago). We know the current limitations of various products and tools. Fortunately, our MINDs have been coding creative solutions for even longer than we’ve been automating. If your automation tech isn’t working for you, we can diagnose the problem and find or build a fix.
My favorite recent example here is a client who was struggling with their optical character recognition (OCR) software. This is a common problem in more advanced automation projects that incorporate less structured or analog data. We determined it was red text that was throwing off the OCR. The vendors involved couldn’t come up with any quick fixes, so we simply wrote code to convert all red text to black. I love being part of a team that is equally comfortable developing high-level business strategy and technical troubleshooting.
Automate to Work Smarter
Automation isn’t a must-have tech platform. It isn’t Pega, Power Automate or UiPath, although those are all excellent tools to collaborate with digital workers. Automation is empowering human workers to take control of and optimize their processes. It is re-envisioning work so people can reach their full potential. Workforce Ascension & Enhancement begins with adopting an automation mindset. It’s the WAE forward.
Justin Dubreuil has been solving business problems since he was 13. His mom managed a medical office where he helped the good doctor build his IT network and install workstations in each exam room. “I’ve always had an innate sense for what a business needs, and if it isn’t obvious, I’m driven to figure it out.” That’s probably why his older brother was successful in persuading Justin to switch his major from environmental science (park ranger career track) to business management.
As a business analyst, Justin has painstakingly documented and optimized countless processes across several industries. His affinity for working with healthcare providers continues. In the national push for electronic health record adoption, he helped a thousand different Maryland providers achieve “meaningful use.”
When he’s not reengineering business processes, Justin unwinds by rising to any and every cooking challenge presented. He’s known statewide for his ribs, smoked pork and pit beef. On the weekends, he gets to fulfill his park ranger dream, enjoying the great outdoors with his wife of 12 years, their 9-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter, and three dogs.