How to Automate Your Wasteful Processes
Over the past six months, we’ve heard a lot about recession concerns. The impact has been stark — belt tightening, hiring freezes and cost reduction through vendor consolidation, headcount reductions and more. But despite this, dev and IT teams are still expected to do more with less.
However, much like a car, the same amount of fuel (or battery) can’t go farther without making the motor more efficient. Teams, people and processes are the same. One way teams can help eliminate wasteful processes, though, is through automation.
In my last piece I wrote about how you can identify waste. But once identified, how should you go about addressing and reducing this toil for the team? Organizations identifying waste have an opportunity to implement efficiencies across the business and improve collaboration, which will also create a byproduct of employees doing higher-value, more fulfilling work and reduce costs.
Can We Really Be Expected to Do More with Less?
Tech teams are under pressure. Dev and IT are inundated with manual processes. This is time-consuming and distracts from high-value work.
If we take onboarding and offboarding employees as a single example. You have to set up their email, payroll, specialist accounts for software they use, set up their Teams/Zoom profiles, procure a laptop and more.
When you add it all up, there could be as many as 50 steps you need to do for a new hire, depending on the role. It’s the same for offboarding — manually updating the on-call schedule, code check-in processes, service ownership and permission provisioning.
It’s a lot. And that’s just one example. Clearly teams need some support in becoming more efficient. We hear the phrase “do more with less” a lot in relation to this. But realistically, employers aren’t going to ask you to take on the jobs of three people. So when we talk about doing more with less, we’re really looking at how to become more efficient in our roles and help the business scale better.
So taking the above example, how can we make the onboarding and offboarding process more efficient and less toilsome on overstretched tech teams?
Rarely do we get the chance to take a step back and think: How could I do this differently?
We need to escape the giant hamster wheel many of us are stuck on, simply trying to run faster, which leads to faster burnout. We’re constantly working on the next deliverable and completing the next task.
Rarely do we get the chance to take a step back and think: How could I do this differently? Is this as efficient as it could be or how can my colleagues and I collaborate to come up with solutions? We need to get much better at stopping and thinking, or rethinking in the case of existing inefficient work.
This is especially true when we identify wasteful processes. But once you’ve identified a wasteful process, what should we do?
How to Implement Automation
Implementing automation isn’t a simple task. There are three steps I recommend organizations follow once they’ve identified wasteful processes.
The first step is to ask yourself, your teams or the wider business whether the organization has outgrown this process. You don’t want to automate anything that the business has no use for. So this first step serves as a means to eliminate, as many as possible, wasteful processes that may be identified.
The second step is to think about what the ideal process should be. Automating the process is just one tool and won’t solve every problem or wasteful task. Nor should it. If a carpenter is having a plumbing issue, he’d probably go to a plumber to fix it instead of chiseling away at the issue himself.
The third step is to work through how automation could improve the process. Automation comes in many shapes and forms. It’s important to understand not only the process you want to automate, but what type of automation you need and for which parts of the process. This allows you to be very specific and intentional about how you use automation to solve the problem.
Putting this into practice, in my previous piece we had the example of trying to rearrange a job interview, which involves a lot of waste. There’s a lot of back and forth and manually trying to find the right slot.
We can definitely work harder to do more with less, but it’s about using automation and AI to become more efficient.
This is certainly a wasteful process that the business hasn’t outgrown. You’ll always be on the hunt for new talent and arranging times to interview candidates. And the ideal process shouldn’t involve manually emailing or calling individuals to find times. Automation can certainly improve this process. There are tools like Calendly that can help to find slots and drastically improve this process.
Automate Your Way to Success
Once implemented, automation and artificial intelligence can complement dev and IT workloads. Over my career, I’ve seen the benefits of this firsthand. An example is in image classification and annotating pictures for neural net training. We had to manually color code images to help the AI learn how to recognize certain things — so “paint” pedestrians red, the road yellow and the sidewalk green.
But over time, we used automation to give us a best guess at what it thought was right. This significantly cut our workload to simply editing the work of the AI, rather than doing the entire annotation from scratch.
But we didn’t come up with that process until we got off the hamster wheel and identified the problem and brainstormed ways to improve it. We can definitely work harder to do more with less, but it’s about using automation and AI to become more efficient.
By identifying and implementing improvements in our wasteful, inefficient processes, we can do more critical thinking and expand the influence of automation beyond our workflows, to the benefit of everyone in the organization.