Requirements for Automating a Business Process

Automating a process in your business starts with understanding the process as it currently functions. When you know (and have documented) your current business processes like the back of your hand, you will be able to understand the pieces that aren’t working, aren’t there, and/or people wish weren’t there.

You can uncover these issues by interviewing people along the way as you construct your initial process map, or by returning after the fact with more pointed questions. The “5 Whys” method also works well here.

The goal here is to find the minimum number of steps to get to the most desirable end. Ideally your end point in an automated system is even better — not just equivalent to — your existing process.

Pay particular attention to the following:

  • Errors in the current system, and what level of error (if any) is acceptable. One way to frame this inquiry is to ask what would happen if a given piece of information was incorrect or a step was performed incorrectly.

  • Boredom in the current system. What tasks do people loathe the most? What do they procrastinate doing (managers can usually give good insight into this) most often? What tasks seem misaligned with an employee’s other responsibilities (for example, a senior manager spending time normalizing spreadsheet data)?

  • Waiting in the current system. Are there points when inputs sit around waiting for a human to move or interact with them?

  • Any manual manipulation, entry, or transmission of data — or anything handwritten. The need for a pen is usually a good sign of something that should be automated.

  • Missing pieces. What do the current process participants wish happened or came out that does not? For example, perhaps the customer service manager wishes she had a way to filter all one-star product reviews out the rest of the submissions so she could address them first.

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