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Automate Important Tasks That Cannot Be Eliminated or Simplified Further

Mar 17, 2008
Automate success, not failure.
--Paul A. Strassmann

Cruise control can be a good thing or a bad thing. What makes the difference? On a fairly straight road with little traffic during good weather, letting the car operate at a constant speed frees you up to pay more attention to the road and enjoy the driving more. Pick an optimal speed and you'll also get better gas mileage. But keep the cruise control on when traffic thickens, and you increase the chances of an accident by driving too fast and following other vehicles too closely.

Similarly, we have to be sure that we automate actions that are perfectly helpful when we use them and avoid automating anything that would lead us astray. That's why I haven't spoken about automation before this article. I wanted to be sure that you'd first replaced bad business models, poor processes, unnecessary steps, and harmful approaches.

Like the cruise control example, always automating will be a bad idea. General Motors proved that by investing in robots whenever possible during the early 1980s while Toyota went in the opposite direction and created less automated, but more highly productive work teams for car assembly.

The flexibility of the human team allowed Toyota to develop lean manufacturing methods that deliver low costs, high quality, and the ability to build customized cars shortly after they are ordered. General Motors found that the robots reinforced its commitment to the assembly line approach and left the company with less flexibility to adjust to consumer demand.

It's not that Toyota didn't use robots. The difference is that Toyota's robots reinforced a more productive and effective process that fit the market. In some circumstances, General Motors was automating failure.

I always tell procrastinators that they should "hesitate to procrastinate." I feel the same way about automation. Hesitation over automation will often save you expensive mistakes.

In fact, you should never automate any process until you have ensured that it's essential and has been made as productive as possible . . . independent of what automation can provide.

Here's an example: Most retailers have terrible processes for customers to return faulty or unwanted merchandise. If you automate those return processes, you may just annoy customers even more . . . driving them away faster than you do now.
About the Author
Donald Mitchell is an author of seven books including Adventures of an Optimist, The 2,000 Percent Squared Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution, The 2,000 Percent Solution Workbook, The Irresistible Growth Enterprise, and The Ultimate Competitive Advantage. Read about creating breakthroughs through 2,000 percent solutions and receive tips by e-mail by registering for free at

http://www.2000percentsolution.com .
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