By Keith Anderson
Small business owners hear the word “automation” and think high cost, high pain to implement, and confusing high-tech solutions, but they interact with simple automations like email alerts and phone trees every day. These smart automations just come down to a control system for operating a process with minimal or reduced human intervention. Outcomes can be placed a continuum between limited intervention — with moderate business impact and low risk — to full automation with higher business impact, and much higher risk.
As a small business owner there are many ways to implement limited-intervention automation; simple, small fixes to grease the wheels of human-data interaction. All automation solutions are highly situational, but I think you can complete a successful automation process with these seven essential steps:
- Involve your team. Get input and feedback from the people on your team that use the process and/or are directly impacted downstream of the process.
- Start at the Problem (not the Solution.) Resist choosing a solution. Focus on the perceived issue, then dig deeper into the issue. Ask your team why a challenge exists, and keep asking why after each answer, until you get to the core issue. Once at the core issue, then you start the process of crafting solutions.
- Divide and Conquer. Divide the process around the core issue into the smallest parts possible. Identify the steps that will provide automation. Sometimes creating a visual map of all the steps is helpful when you are trying to communicate changes to the process.
- What is success? Once you’ve identified the real issue and broken the process around into parts, determine how you will measure the success (or not) of the proposed changes.
- Create a Refinement Loop. A refinement looks something like this: Plan -> Implement -> Measure -> Adjust -> Implement. The loop should have a time frame, “…we are going to measure results for one month before making more changes.”
- Prioritize new developments/information. When you go through an automation process you’ll discover inefficiencies tangentially related to the process you are working on that feel like they need to be acted upon and improved. Make sure to note these changes, but determine if they can happen after your original implementation is completed. Attempting to force too many changes at once will increase your time and cost, and decrease your chances of adoption and success.
- Communicate often. Your team (and the greater company) needs to know what is happening, and when. Update as you go.
Keith Anderson is the CEO of Trinity Applied Internet, a company that has been building smart technical solutions that result in improved performance and increased profits for their clients, for over a decade.
Learn more about leveraging automation for your business at NCET’s Tech Bite luncheon on August 26. NCET is a member-supported nonprofit organization that produces events to help individuals and businesses explore and use technology. For more information, or to register for the event, visit ncet.org. This column first appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal – RGJ.com