The Computers Can’t Save Us: To Solve Process Problems, Think Like a Baker

Business processes are a lot like cakes: good ones come from quality ingredients and are made by planning and proven recipes. If you have the wrong ingredients and little understanding of how to achieve the right result, it produces a bad cake. This analogy can be extended: If you’re working with poor ingredients and recipes, an industrial kitchen stocked with the latest tools won’t improve the result. You end up with more bad cakes, but faster.

Enter process automation.

We have asked computers to automate nearly every task-based element of our workday. Email is automated letter delivery. Cloud storage is automated file cabinets. Excel is an automated calculator. We’ve become so much faster and more efficient at low-level tasks that organizations are now handing more complex processes over. Relationship management, order fulfillment, and even human resources are increasingly mediated through software, but many organizations are finding that the investment in these systems hasn’t had a corresponding return.

Business process development has an analogy in computer science: GIGO, or Garbage In, Garbage Out. Many organizations are finding that weaknesses in their processes, the ‘Garbage In’, aren’t being solved by implementing new tools. Instead, they’re still getting ‘Garbage Out’. Worse, many problems are amplified by technology. While automation doesn’t necessarily help you do things better, it can almost always help you do them faster. More bad cakes.

“I’m living this right now. People are frustrated. What do I do?’

1. Recognize that CRM, ERP, or other tools won’t magically solve process issues.

This can be a hard conclusion to reach, especially where there has been (sometimes large) investment in systems on the implicit promise of solving the very thing they can’t fix. Process is just another way of saying ‘how people do things’. Even assisted by technology, people are the key factor in every process equation, which brings us to the next point.

2. Solve the root cause.

Teams that work together may have metrics that don’t align or lack shared buy-in on goals for the organization. Often, the causes are simple – communication, information sharing, measurement – but the solutions are complex. Each company will have unique challenges, but it’s critical that they’re addressed before operationalizing them into an automation tool.

3. Build feedback loops to identify and address new issues in your process.

This will help combat efficiency drift. As external variables change, the process and systems must change with them to stay relevant. Regular check-ins with each stakeholder group, external audits, and intentionally designed benchmarks or metrics, used together, are a powerful combination to measure performance and guide changes to prepare for the future.

System problems are hard to overcome if you don’t know where to start. By following the steps above and recognizing the weakness in your processes, you’ll be on-track to helping your organization maximize the benefits of automation.