If you run an RPA capability and you frequently lurch from too many processes in your pipeline, to not enough, then you may be stuck in the feast or famine cycle.
It’s not uncommon for early RPA programs to experience this problem. With initial efforts put into process discovery, the next stage of building, deploying and running the digital workers takes all your energy. This means you aren’t out prospecting for more processes. Soon you realize that the pipeline is looking empty and the cycle starts again.
I’ve been through this myself and I’ve also seen other organizations experience it. The good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. There are some key steps you can take to break the cycle and have a well-fed pipeline of top-quality processes for automation.
- Generate interest
- Avoid the black hole
- Qualifying out
- Building the sausage machine
- Pin, don’t bin
Raising awareness of RPA across an organization is often well-executed in the early days. It’s shiny and new, and people are keen to see what it can do. It’s also critical in the early days to raise awareness so you can find some processes to automate, so you do it. The key, however, is maintaining this drive infinitum.
Creating a communication plan, plus a calendar of activities, will let people know that you are still there and delivering for the business. Of course, general messaging to everyone in the organization is important, but it shouldn’t be the whole sum of your strategy.
You should think about who your ideal customers are – i.e. which areas of the business could most benefit from your services? How will you add value to them? How can you prove you can deliver what they need? Knowing this will help you target your messaging to get the results you are looking for. This should be the focus of your communication approach.
Avoid the Black Hole
Generating interest is relatively straightforward, but over time no one will care about what you are doing if they can’t see what you are doing. Nothing kills interest in a new initiative like a black hole.
What do I mean by a black hole? In a company I worked with previously they had a great innovation project. You could submit ideas to it that would either improve the business internally or help customers externally. Ideas would get up-voted, everyone would get some form of feedback and the best would be selected for implementation and a prize. Except they weren’t.
It flopped. The first year it ran it was a success, but then feedback started drying up. People submitted but heard nothing back. The result? No-one submitted new ideas anymore. Of course, that wasn’t the worst of it. People also talked about what a failure it was. People were emotionally attached to their ideas and they had spent time submitting them. Hearing nothing was worse than being told their idea had not been selected. They felt like their submissions had fallen into a black hole.
In whatever form it takes, whether it’s providing everyone with visibility of the pipeline and keeping the status updated or just emailing status updates to anyone who has submitted processes for automation, make sure you have a feedback loop in place.
It can be tempting, especially during a famine phase to accept all processes submitted to you for automation. While this can seem like a good idea at the time as it keeps you busy, it can have some big downsides.
Firstly, at a high level, focusing on building unsuitable processes will fail to get you closer to your strategic objectives. They are unlikely to help you deliver your vision. Secondly, while you are spending time on inappropriate prospects, the right opportunities – the ones that help you get where you want to go - might be passing you by.
Of course, this is not to say that you shouldn’t pick up some minimal value work if it’s likely to become strategically important in the future. Automating a process to help a new department, or to prove your value to a senior executive is worth the time spent over the long term. Just make sure to qualify out of any processes which don’t serve the overall vision of your RPA capability as early as possible.
It’s easy to say that you should qualify out, but how do you actually do that confidently?
Building the Sausage Machine
You may have heard reference to the sausage machine in sales. You fill the hopper with sales opportunities at one end, the barrel is the sales process and the handle is the sales activity that pushes the opportunities through. Out pop the sales at the other end.
In our version of the sausage machine the processes with automation potential go into the hopper, the barrel is the process discovery framework and the handle is the discovery activity. Out the other end come fully analysed processes approved for automation.
What’s the process discovery framework? It’s a three-stage process for identifying the best opportunities to automate: Triage>Assessment>Analysis. Each stage helps to filter and prioritize the processes that should be automated based on whatever strategic objectives need to be met. Of course, you might want to create your own version of this, but the key is to have a formal approach based on what you are wanting to achieve as an RPA team.
Pin, Don't Bin
As your hopper fills up with potential opportunities, there will be some processes that don’t make the grade just yet. A process may require an element of OCR or a web form to standardize input, neither of which might be available to you yet. Don’t dismiss these processes. If you break them down there may be elements you can automate already. Even if that’s not the case, the likelihood is you will be able to automate the process in the future when you do expand your capability. Pin them for future reference and move on to the next opportunity.
A consistent approach to filling and maintaining the process pipeline will help you keep the work flowing and your goals on track. Don’t be afraid to keep promoting the service when you’ve already got a backlog. As long as you’ve got the feedback loop in place and a formal discovery framework to properly prioritize, you can’t go far wrong.