USa. That’s right: cap U, cap S, lowercase a. It’s a little mnemonic I learned years ago that stands for Understand, Simplify, automate. The capital letters represent relative importance, and there’s an assumed and only then between Simplify and automate.
Twice in the past week I was reminded of USa. In both cases I was on a call discussing process optimization with a customer. Oddly enough, in both cases the customer believed we were talking about something altogether different. OK, that’s really not all that odd. We were both right. It’s just that we arrived with a different set of assumptions, experiences and contexts.
One customer, a veteran sales manager, framed the issue this way: “My reps spend 30% to 50% of their time filling out online forms in order to get new or revised products placed on our eCommerce storefronts.” That is certainly a sales manager’s worst nightmare. Time Away From Selling is a quota achievement killer.
Her first thought was that Four51 must offer some efficiencies her team was overlooking. (As you can see, she wanted to start by working on the “a.”) That may be true up to a point, but my first thought was USa. In other words, it smells like a flawed process that someone jammed into a software application. In the race to automate, the U (probably) and the S (definitely) got shortchanged. I recommended she tear down and rebuild the requirements-gathering process first, then re-address automation.
Technology doesn’t fix lousy processes. It just cements them in place and along the way creates a new and despised villain (the system!) that in some cases allows you to be bad faster.
Don’t jump straight to automation. It takes 3 steps: Understand, Simplify, and only then automate your business.
Admittedly, this line of reasoning strikes some as nothing more than the “technology guy once again refusing to believe that the technology could ever be even partially at fault.” If that’s you, I hope you’ll comment on this post and get a dialogue started. Sharing differing opinions and learning how to be better make these things worthwhile.