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Procedural Improvement, then Automation

This photo starts the story; where the two cogs of process and automation meet.

A few months ago, we published an article that spoke about the top trends that will influence organizations heading into 2018. As you could imagine, automation was one of the trends. Many businesses are shifting towards automation to minimize costs, mitigate human error, streamline processes and allow human capital to focus on creative/innovative improvements for the company.

Now don't get this mistaken - we suggest automating processes when the proper situation calls for it, but what exactly are we automating?

We first need to look at our processes that are currently in place. The call for automation beckons when dissonance occurs. Someone realizes that a given task, project, etc., can be preformed in an easier manner because something doesn't seem to be clicking.

But do we confuse what we believe to be wasting time with a broken process?

Sure, you can automate away your whole enterprise, but we have a bit of advice... automating a broken process effectively produces waste with greater turnover - clearly something sought to be avoided.

Let's think about a practical example: you notice that it takes a large amount of time for an employee in a management position to collect and produce weekly inventory reports from workers on the manufacturing factory floor. It comes to mind that this would be a good process to automate so that the manager can focus his time in other ways. A software system is implemented so that employees from various stations on the factory floor can login at the end of the week and enter in their inventory values, and the system would consolidate the information and create custom weekly reports that will be sent out to overseeing managers.

Great move right?

After a few weeks, there are some inconsistencies noticed in the report that contrast from actual inventory quantities, resulting in a hold on production due to low inventory volumes. It is later noticed production varies on a daily basis depending on which employees were operating the machinery. This variance is rather significant, as the difference of output between new employees and tenured workers diverged greatly.

So what went wrong?

Collecting inventory reports only on a weekly basis did not account for weekly changes in quantities. Thus, when the employee at each station logged inventory numbers at the end of the week, Monday - Thursday output was not accurately measured and recognized.

Automation saved the managing employee time so that he did not have to collect and produce report information, but resulted in waste due to a fundamentally defective process.

Before we look to implement a new system, always take an empirical and holistic view of the processes that you seek to automate and ensure that they are not the root of the problem.

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