We’re perfect

Chris Lundberg

Every now and then I run across an organization that is convinced that it’s not really a candidate for automation. ‘What we do is too custom, too complicated, for automation.’

What they’re saying is that the time and energy spent automating processes would exceed that already being spent on the work … that automation would actually reduce efficiency. There are hardly any menial tasks to take off the board.

Let’s assume that’s true, and not a mis-accounting (big assumption, but hey, we’ll go there). What would a group that is ‘perfect’ in its allocation of time and resources against a set of custom tasks have to automate, if every automation step they take would be a step backwards?

In math there’s a concept of a local maxima. A scenario where every direction you turn is less efficient. If you were a bug sitting atop the local maximum, you might be convinced that you’re the highest bug you can be. It seems true since every direction is down … but what if you’re atop a knoll in the shadow of a mountain?   

In the real world, this local maxima scenario corresponds to an extremely efficient and effective organization that would have to sacrifice something of value to build a better operation.

What that is may not be immediately clear — it could be that feature for your biggest client that you have to convince them isn’t that important. It may be a technology that you’ve been using for decades that just has to go. But it has to happen to break out of the local maxima trap.

A bug might be perfectly happy alone on its local maxima knoll. But the world is a big place, and other organizations and agencies are always seeking the commanding heights.

Automation is a towering plateau rising like the Himalayas. It represents a change in the heights of the hills that are possible. And it means that the local maxima knoll is bound to shrink smaller and smaller.

And when the former master of his knoll finally looks up, it might be too late to make the climb.

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