If you can’t repeat it, don’t bother automating it

There’s been plenty of discussion in both literature and general media about how most software projects fail. There are plenty of reasons for failed projects: from inadequate requirements gathering to poor project management to plain incompetence. Some of the problem starts at the C-Suite where projects are actually identified and initiated — for asking to automate (presumably with software) something that maybe has no business being automated.

My simple advice to most CEOs and CIOs about project management starts with a question: can you methodically and manually repeat the thing you are trying to automate? If the answer to that question is “no” then no PMO, no project management technique, not even the smartest most talented people in the world can help automate something that can’t at least be repeated consistenly manually.

This advice of asking a simple question about repeatability might sound so obvious as to not even bother asking it but it becomes perilous not to do so. At the heart of most failed software automation attempts is a failure to understand the workflow and gather the right requirements. That’s pretty easy to figure out. What’s not so easy to figure out is: why is the workflow so hard to gather requirements for? It’s probably because the workflow, while it seems consistent at the high level, isn’t repeatable enough consistently to describe in software. Perhaps parts of it are, but maybe the entire workflow isn’t.

So, as a senior executive that may not be leading the project, but may be green lighting it, what you need to do before making a decision is have your project managers describe that they can clearly repeat (manually and consistently) what they are trying to automate. If not, get the process engineering guys in there to work on the process before the geeks get in there to work on the technology. The rule is simple: if you can’t repeat it manually, don’t bother automating it.

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7 thoughts on “If you can’t repeat it, don’t bother automating it

  1. Well I might say it a little differently. That they can clearly repeat how it should be done. Sometimes the lack of consistency in how something is done is a problem so the lack of consistency should not eliminate something from consideration, although it should increase the focus on organizaitonal change.

  2. .. and expanding a little on James’ comment, in order to repeat how it should be done, there should be an understanding how it is currently done – and that is certainly the cause of much angst in healthcare. The reality is healthcare delivery is probably one of the most complex processes to re-engineer. How many projects suffer because the requirements of a stakeholder hidden away in a corner is met inadequately?

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