Automate once it hurts.

Automate only after repeating a task many times, and understanding its complexities and bottlenecks.


October 11, 2023


Steve Berry

Automate once it hurts.

In the digital transformation era, where automation is often hailed as the panacea for all efficiency problems, it's understandable to find people clamoring for high-tech solutions from the get-go. However, the rush to automate can often lead us down a tricky and costly path.

Tendency Toward Technological Solutions: Too Early, Too Often

With technology seeping into every aspect of our lives, it's no surprise that people often gravitate toward technological solutions. The belief in the transformative power of technology can make it seem like the ultimate solution to any problem. Yet, it's critical to understand that technology is a tool, not an end in itself. In business, in particular, it's important not to be swayed by the allure of technology for its own sake but to consider the practicality and costs involved.

The Tech-First Fallacy of Startup Founders

Startup founders often believe that automating their processes early will pave the way for unprecedented success in the future. While this notion isn't entirely unfounded, it tends to oversimplify the complexities of automation. Building technology requires considerable resources and is about more than initial development costs. Pivoting, adapting, and evolving technology can be exceedingly expensive and disruptive.

Repetition Before Automation

Businesses should first focus on honing their workflows through repeated execution. By doing something many, many times – to the point where it becomes burdensome – businesses can gain a thorough understanding of the task at hand, its complexities, and potential bottlenecks. This deliberate and somewhat painful process will provide invaluable insights, creating a foundation for successful automation.

Worn-in Workflows: The Value of Manual Processes

By repeatedly performing a task, the workflow gets "worn in." Like a trail in the woods that becomes clear and easy to navigate with regular use, a well-worn workflow will reveal its inherent strengths and weaknesses. This process allows businesses to identify and tackle edge cases, providing solutions in the manual process before automating it. Repetition will enable you to troubleshoot before you code.

Automation: Not a Moment Too Soon

With a solid understanding of the task and a clear path defined by a well-worn workflow, you are now in an ideal position to consider automation. This doesn't mean you should rush to automate, but rather, you should strike when the iron is hot – when the pain of repetition has reached its peak and the understanding of the workflow is thorough. At this very moment, the cost and effort invested in automation will likely yield the most effective, efficient, and lasting results.

It's about doing it right – once, many times, and only then, automating when it hurts.

Steve Berry
Principal, Thought Merchants

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