It’s easy to understand automation in the context of a factory or manufacturing, where machines and people follow the exact same series of steps over and again to churn out products. But outside of producing something in the physical world like a car or a widget, automation takes on an air of mystery. Sure we know what it means, but do we know what it means for us?
Every activity you perform in business has a process. Some may be better than others, but there is always a series of steps one goes through to complete a task. Whether it’s how you prepare for a meeting, the agenda in that meeting, your process to collect bids, or even what to do when a homeowner calls in, they are all processes.
The key to implementing automation in your organization is to map out your processes first, so you can understand and identify which steps can be automated, improved, or even eliminated.
Mapping Your Processes
A good exercise to do for every aspect of your business is to map out the various processes you have. It can be something as simple as asking your team, “What do you do when this happens?” or it can be a formal meeting to build a process map. Either way, you need to identify 5 key pieces of information to build your process map:
Define the goal of the process This is where you identify what you are trying to accomplish with this process. Is the intent to shorten a meeting, or to win a new client, or to prevent a future call from that homeowner? Knowing your goal is the first step to insuring that you can achieve it every time.
Identify the trigger What is the thing that starts your team members down this process? If planning for a meeting, the trigger would be a calendar date (x days prior to the scheduled meeting date) or for a resale package, the trigger would be the request from the homeowner or title company.
Outline the steps Once the trigger has been pulled, what are the steps your team goes through to accomplish the task? These are the high-level steps, like print the reports, generate the agenda, book the space.
Dig into the details For each step in your outline, dive into the nitty gritty of exactly what your team member is doing to accomplish that step. This is typically where you will find the most areas for improvement. For example, if the step is to print reports, you may find out that your team member is struggling to do so because the printer is far away or temperamental, or the reports have to be generated by hand in Excel.
Verify with stakeholders Just because one team member does a certain process one way does not mean everyone on your team is doing it the same. The last step to help you build your process map is to show each person who conducts or oversees this process is on the same page. Did the original source omit a step that someone else has been doing, or is there another, more efficient way someone else has discovered to perform the same task? You’ll never know if you don’t ask.
Process mapping is one of the most important steps you can take in your journey to implementing automation in your company. The more you know about the specific in's and out's of your day to day tasks, the better your technology solution can serve you and free up your time for everything else!