Process Automation: 7 Best Practice Principles for Project Owners
A well-planned Process Automation project can deliver huge benefits in quality, consistency, time returned back, operational efficiency and reduced costs. Perhaps the biggest benefit is the supreme visibility you can gain simply as a result of reviewing your processes.
In this article we explore how organisations can realise the benefits of intelligent automation in helping to achieve their ambitions and what a well planned approach should look like.
Here are our 7 Best Practice Principles that leaders and project owners should observe when preparing to automate manual processes across the organisation:
- Gain agreement on what success looks like
Knowing that process automation will help your business is one thing, making sure that you have the support and backing of your organisation is another. Setting out clear success metrics e.g. “a 60% reduction in invoice processing time” may be a defined point of value or creating a range of measurable criteria e.g. hours saved, reduction in errors, improvements in customer satisfaction and increase in operational performance will all help determine what ‘good’ looks like with your team and project collaborators.
Build an automation roadmap
Most automation initiatives begin as an improvement of a specific process e.g. invoice process automation or automation of HR processes. However it is the identification of automation candidates and recognising the value of working across departments that will help prioritise the projects that will benefit the most from automation. Characteristics that are useful in deciding which processes should receive attention include;
- Task based instructions that form part of a structured process
- Existing defined workflows
- Tasks prone to human error, or tasks that have a high business impact if errors occur
- Repetitive, mundane ‘swivel chair’ processes or low complexity/high volume tasks
- Processes that run 24-hours a day or the only way to fulfil or scale is by hiring more people.
Map existing processes
Determining priority areas and examining how internal processes work and clarifying how they interrelate, including identifying obstacles, delivers a strongly articulated case for change through the organisation.
Mapping is also an opportunity to discover inefficient or duplicated processes, which you wouldn’t want to simply turn over to automation without reviewing and re-shaping first (a poor process automated might still remain a poor process).
The overall purpose of a mapping exercise is to identify the processes that are best solved or enhanced by Process Automation.
Take a stepped approach
There is a tendency for organisations to run Proof of Concept exercises as one would in a standard IT project, however with RPA and business process automation tasks that require non-invasive deployment, a far better approach is to run a Proof of Value project. This approach allows a stepped approach to success, taking real use cases and deploying automation to that process or department. This will provide the proof (or not) that the project will deliver benefit against your success metrics.
Once success is proven the process can remain in production and will serve as the start point of your organisation’s automation journey and scaling out its adoption.
Secure executive sponsorship
Process Automation should be considered as a business initiative and as with most initiatives should receive the time, attention and focus of the organisation. It is important to involve department leaders and process owners to contribute to a consultation process and to be clear about the expectations and overall success of the project.
It is helpful for all contributors to understand, for instance, that Process Automation is a mapped pathway of the manual process which the software follows automatically or when activated.
Because of the likelihood of varying degrees of knowledge gathered here, it may also be helpful to consult externally at an early stage. Building a grand plan or roadmap to implement process automation is something for which Business Process Automation experts like DCS can provide great insight.
Sensitivity to organisational politics
The whole idea of process automation could meet with resistance in some quarters and the best way to handle that is by identifying the potential and likely barriers early on. If it’s unclear, you can begin to predict by assessing whose roles would significantly change as a result of automation.
Equally, reporting regularly on the benefits being realised will help to build momentum, and having focused on quick wins will allow successes to be shared early and help you get others on board. You are likely to see an almost instant result from the chosen automation that you implement, so make sure you provide early and consistent communication back to the executive sponsors and other stakeholders.
Create a centre of excellence
Setting out and driving an automation strategy that aligns with business objectives whilst supporting the needs of other business departments is essential in creating a central function for the delivery of automation goals to the business.
This essential groundwork phase, properly done, shapes all stakeholder expectations early on, which potentially saves a lot of problems later on. The outcome – aside from increased understanding between leaders, process owners and other impacted staff – is a list of key responsibilities for successful delivery which may include;
- Focus and prioritisation of business essential projects.
- Establishing a roll out plan with stakeholder buy in, governance, security and compliance measures.
- Reporting outcomes and benefits of the project delivery.
- Sharing knowledge and skills gained from each automation project which will allow you to assess the best methodology and approach for each project and to embed best practice across the business.
- Managing resource across all skill sets to design, build, implement and maintain the process automation project.
- Selecting and managing suppliers to ensure a consistency in technology, supplier relationships and contract negotiations.
- Challenging current ways the organisation does business and encouraging departments to propose automation tasks or projects.
If you would like to know more about getting started with Process Automation, please contact Data Capture Solutions on 01753 616720. Alternatively, you can ask us to call you.
- Process Automation