From a practical standpoint, it’s hard to see why today’s businesses wouldn’t invest in automation. Benefits include saving precious time and money, keeping knowledge in-house, improving quality, and maximizing efficiency. In fact, Gartner predicts that 69% of managerial tasks will be automated by 2024.
And yet, if you Google “Automation Failures,” you’ll find plenty of horror stories too – enough to make even the earliest-adopter nervous! So how can you invest in the future of your business by automating routine processes and ensure that it won’t end up as an epic failure? Here are 13 automation pitfalls that people often run into. And also how to fix them!
Automation Pitfall #1: Not Getting Buy-In from All Stakeholders
We once built an automation for a financial consultant who was basically a sole proprietor that paid for some admin help. Upon his request, we automated part of the admin’s job – some mindless busy work that took up a decent amount of time for her. But the consultant forgot to bring the admin into the automation conversation. Once it was done and ready to use, she refused to use it. She was the one we worked with directly, but she continued to go back to her old way of doing things, communicating frustration, but not being willing to work with us to get things working properly. The consultant eventually decided it wasn’t worth fighting the battle, and dropped the automation (after having invested in it financially). Don’t fall for this automation pitfall – bring stakeholders into the conversation early!
It’s easy for owners or CEOs to get excited about new technology and make plans to head in an automation direction without ever bringing along those who currently run the process. Instead of asking for insight and help from the stakeholders, they are kept in the dark until BAM! A new edict is sent down. The stakeholders become worried about their jobs and dig their heels in. And any automation that isn’t fully supported by those who will be using it is bound to fail. There’s just no way around it.
Fix it! Include anyone who actually runs the process early on, inviting them to meetings, etc. Make sure they are on board with the decision! If they are unable to adjust to the idea, you may need to consider changing stakeholders and redefining responsibilities.
Automation Pitfall #2: Automating an Immature Process
Writing an initial automation is a costly and time-intensive process. You absolutely don’t want to put time and budget into automating a process that is likely to change in the next few months. So does that mean a process can never change or get tweaked once it’s been automated? Absolutely not. But you do want to make changes carefully and thoughtfully, knowing that you are likely to incur some cost/time by modifying the implementation.
So make sure you choose a process that has been used consistently and is likely to stay the same before you start automating. That way, if changes are made, they are likely to be small – things that can be tweaked quickly, rather than making massive changes that require coders to be brought back in.
Fix it! Avoid this automation pitfall by waiting six months or so. Make sure you’ve been running the process long enough to know that it’s something you’ll continue to get value from and that the steps for running the process are fairly fixed.
Automation Pitfall #3: Treating Automation as Task Replication
Automation software companies are quick to tout that automation can be accomplished with just “citizen developers,” or people that don’t have any formal development training. While that is technically true – anyone who is tech-savvy can watch tutorials and create a basic automation in UI Path, for example – those without development training will often replicate the process exactly. Sounds ideal, right?
Wrong. Those with development training will streamline and take stabilizing shortcuts when possible. For example, you absolutely CAN train a digital bot to complete a series of steps on a page of a web application, but that’s a fragile solution. If the software gets updated, changing the placement of buttons or fields, the bot will falter or do something unexpected. If you can use the software’s application programming interface (API), your automation won’t get thrown off by things like that. Your solution is much more solid. And someone without programming knowledge would rarely think to look for these less fragile solutions (or know how to implement them).
Fix it! If no one on your team has a development background, bring in an expert – even just for consultative purposes. Avoid this automation pitfall by making sure to have someone help you think through the best way for a computer to run the process, which often isn’t the same thing as the best way for a human to run it.
Automation Pitfall #4: Not Understanding What Processes Automate Well
Start with a relatively simple process that meets the following criteria:
- The process must be rules-based. In other words, you have to be able to set rules that tell the bot what to do. For example, if an email comes into this inbox with this particular subject, do X. If it comes in with a different subject, leave it alone.
- The process must be mature. Because a development team is involved in “training” the bot, every change costs money. So using robotic process automation software on new business processes that are likely to be tweaked often doesn’t make sense.
- The process must be digital. Obviously, software bots can’t do things like file paperwork.
- The process must be used often. The more time team members spend running a process, the higher to return on investment. So if a process only runs once a month, it may not be a good fit for RPA.
If your process doesn’t meet these criteria, it might be a recipe for disaster. Make sure you start with a process that will be simple – you can always move on to more difficult processes later.
Fix it! Take our free process automation assessment to discover if your process is a good candidate for automation.
Automation Pitfall #5: Failing to Take the Time for Testing
You have your flow all mapped out, and you think you’re ready to go, so you set your bot free on live data. I’ll tell you that probably only one in five automations we’ve written for clients has worked that very first time. Usually, the automation just needs quick tweaks to get things working correctly. But if you had set that first automation loose on real data, you’d have a mess on your hands.
Avoid this automation pitfall by always ASSUMING that some tweaking will need to be done. Set up a test environment and plan to watch while the process runs for the first several runs. Expect things to go haywire at first – just make sure you’re protected, so when it does, it doesn’t mess with live data.
And then know that once the bot gets stable, it will be reliable. Sure, things will change in the bot’s environment from time-to-time, so you’ll have to make tweaks. But generally speaking, your bot will be steady once you get through the testing phase.
Fix it! If you think it will take you three weeks to get the process automated, tell everyone else 4-5 weeks until it’s ready to go. Leave yourself a week or two (or longer for a larger process) to truly test things out in a modified environment.
Automation Pitfall #6: Expecting Perfection Immediately
To go along with that, don’t be frustrated if the bot seems like it will never get through testing. True, as we’ve learned, some automations will never work well. But in general, bots take some time to train and test, but eventually are stable. If you expect them to work correctly immediately, you’ll be disappointed. Just like you wouldn’t expect a brand new hire to immediately be efficient and to never make mistakes, your automated processes will also need “training” time to attain the level of success you’re expecting.
Fix it! Avoid this automation pitfall by setting low expectations for the first month. Know that it’s likely that your automation won’t run reliably until several weeks of tweaking and making adjustments.
Automation Pitfall #7: Not Thinking about ROI
Sometimes, automation isn’t the right answer. Are you one of these people – you know who you are – the early adopters, the ones that love technology for technology’s sake. Although we firmly believe that ANY business could find ways to save time and money through automation, some processes aren’t the right ones to automate. Sometimes you get so caught up in the thought that something could be automated that you don’t stop to think if it should be. (See the bullet-point list above for some reasons a process might not be a good automation candidate.)
There’s another aspect to thinking about ROI: sometimes people forget to factor opportunity cost into it. And opportunity cost is where automation really shines. For example, automation may cost more upfront than training a new team member. But what if that team member leaves in six months? Or even a year? You’re starting from scratch. With automation, small tweaks may need to be made over time, but generally, your cost is fixed. Another opportunity cost to factor in: you were going to have to hire someone to do a different job, but now you have internal resources available (because the bot freed up someone’s time). Sometimes looking just at the hard numbers leads to missing out on the opportunity costs.
Fix it! Make sure the ROI makes sense before choosing to automate a process. And when you’re calculating ROI, remember to include opportunity costs.
Automation Pitfall #8: Trying to Automate Everything at Once
Have you heard of the concept of hyper-automation? It’s the concept of trying to automate as many processes as possible within a business. Basically, if it can be automated, we do it. The concept is strong, but the problem comes when a company embraces automation and digs into several processes at once. This will inevitably lead to a big, big mess. There is a lot to be learned about automation – especially if you are just learning and doing it internally. Each company works slightly differently, so much will be learned on a company’s first automation. Avoid this automation pitfall by waiting until that first one is running smoothly. Then and only then is it time to start embarking on the second and third.
Fix it! Just don’t do it. Start with one simple process – the low-hanging fruit. Once that automation is working well, then (and only then) delve into the next one.
Automation Pitfall #9: Failing to Plan for Error Handling
Error handling can be sophisticated or basic, but there needs to be a plan. Here’s the question: what happens when something fails? Often, people forget to think about it when automating.
It might be as simple as making sure an email notification goes out to a distribution list. It may be much more sophisticated with sub-processes built right in that show the bot what to do when things don’t go right. Just like a human, bots can be taught back-up methods of dealing with something when the usual path doesn’t work. No matter how you decide to plan for it, error handling needs to be an important part of your automated process.
Fix it! Make sure to build in a plan for error handling from the beginning to avoid this automation pitfall. If you need it, consult an expert.
Automation Pitfall #10: Not Getting Expert Guidance
Remember our “citizen developers” we talked about above? Again, it’s true that they can write automations without expert guidance. But they are likely to want to bounce ideas off of someone to make sure they aren’t missing a simpler solution.
The other option? You don’t have an internal person to take on automation, and you want to just not worry about it at all. Very few of the companies RoboSource works with have chosen to dabble with automation software on their own. Instead, they choose to stay focused on their strategic advantages and leave the automation to the experts. They outsource the automation training, the testing, the support – all of it. And they don’t have to think about it, unless they get an email from our team asking follow-up questions.
Either way, getting advice from an expert is an important part of automation.
Fix it! RoboSource is always happy to help! We offer automation consulting as well as process-automation-as-a-service. Want to know more? Request a free consultation.
Automation Pitfall #11: Thinking You Can Truly Replace Humans
If your team just isn’t cutting it, it can be tempting to ax them all and replace them with digital bots, right? Wrong. Computers (bots) are excellent at doing the same thing over and over again, and doing it exactly the same way each time. But they aren’t good at making judgment calls. Or using data to figure out how to increase efficiency. Bots never “make a decision” without a user inputting what criteria should enable what decision. So while automations enable humans to do what they do best – think strategically and solve problems creatively – they are best kept to what they do best: that annoying repetitive job that no one wants to do.
Fix it! Remember that the bot will likely need a human to keep an eye on it! Pair your new digital assets up with your human ones for a best-case partnership!
Automation Pitfall #12: Automating Only the Happy Path
The first step in creating an automation is making a solid decision about what exactly you are trying to automate. For our clients, we generally make a video of them running the process, so we are sure to include all the steps. But one common automation pitfall people make is to stop there: they reproduce exactly what someone was doing and forget about ALL the edge cases. We refer to this as the “Happy Path.”
Yes, when all is right, this is exactly how we run the process. But what about when the site does that wonky thing it sometimes does? What if the name you’re inputting has a hyphen and the software doesn’t handle that? What if the internet hiccups and the page reloads? What if, what if, what if?
As humans, we’re used to solving problems like this on the fly. But again, we are capable of strategic thought. The bot is just doing exactly what you tell it to do. So take plenty of time to think through the many “unhappy paths.”
Fix it! When you’re in the planning phase of automating, make sure to think through all the “what ifs” that could happen. Make a plan for each of them.
Automation Pitfall #13: Not Planning for Change Management
One of our favorite clients is great about always thinking about this. Last week, he said, “We have to roll this out slowly, because if we do it all at once, everyone’s brains will melt.” He’s being factious, obviously, but he’s right on the money: change is hard. And introducing too much too soon is an avoidable automation pitfall. Remember that even though you are excited about the time your automation will save and how it will simplify others’ lives, the others may not see it right away. They may not trust the automation. Or they may be worried about what this means for their future at your company. Frankly, human beings don’t even need a reason to not like change – some people just don’t. And you’ll need to create a plan to get everyone on board. If you don’t, they won’t use your automation or they won’t be patient while the quirks are getting worked out. Even worse, they might actively campaign against it. Taking time to bring everyone around is the right choice.
Fix it! Start early! While the automation is being written (or even while you’re considering it), start bringing people along with your plans. Educate on automation to get the whole team excited.
Are you ready to take the automation plunge? If you’d like to talk to an expert, sign up for a free consultation here.