Things to consider when designing automated tasks and processes

What to consider when thinking about a process:

What is process?  On the surface the question is very straightforward: A process is a series of tasks, performed in order to reach a defined goal.  That goal can be reached in a variety of ways and increasingly can be improved upon by inserting systems or other methods of automation. If you haven’t clearly defined your goal, I suggest reading our tips on defining goals. Once your goal is clearly defined there are six key elements within each task of your process that deserve extra focus.

1. Task type

What is being achieved with this task?
Is this something that a person should do, a handoff between individuals, something done by a system that will impact tasks downstream, or something that can be fully automated?  Identifying the type of task to be completed will ensure that you capture the correct information, link in the correct people and/or systems, and set yourself up for success by knowing your area of focus.  Think of this as your scope.

2. Assignee

Who needs to complete this task?
Once you’ve identified the type of task, next you need to lock down who is doing the work.  Is it a specific person, a team, or a system?  By assigning the task to the correct party you’re ensuring that the process will properly flow.

3. Task details

What’s happening in this task?

It is critical to identify what information is needed for the task to occur.  In addition, what is needed to keep the process moving to ensure success downstream?  For instance, are their files or data elements that are used as inputs or outputs of the process?  By mapping out this information as you define the process, you’re less likely to miss a key piece of information that is needed later.

4. Timing

When does this task need to happen?

There are a number of specifics to lock down when considering timing. Some questions to think through: When does this need to happen, what comes before and after this task, is there a deadline?  Appropriate timing ensures that the right people/systems will have what they need in order to move along the process in an efficient manner.

5. Exceptions

Are there times when this task shouldn’t occur?

Once you have timing locked down, identifying the conditions of when this task shouldn’t occur is as important as when it should.  Often, we forget these details because they’re edge cases or fall in the 20 percent of the 80/20 rule.  However, it is critical to capture these exceptions. That said, do this after defining the 80 percent.  If you start with exceptions, it will be an increased struggle to gain clarity of that best practice but becomes quite simple once the majority of the task has been defined.

6. Error handling

What should happen when things don’t go as planned?

There is always possibility that an element in your process results in something unexpected.  Having a clear idea of how you want to address errors is key to ensuring you can resolve them as quickly and effectively as possible.  This includes addressing how the errors should be presented, who should address with the errors and how the process should be updated to close the error loop.

Ironically, when processes fail it’s because some small detail was overlooked. By identifying not only what needs to be done but also the details of who is doing it and its dependencies, you’ll be able to significantly reduce the risk for process failure.

Andrew Thiermann

Andrew Thiermann

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