Allow me to regale you with a tale – a true story of Manual Workarounds which starts innocuously, but ends in turmoil.One of my earliest content roles was within a large-scale company, working in an industry which traditionally had no online sales process. In the wake of an enterprising startup – who had turned the industry on its head with a workable, popular and entirely-online alternative – the company wanted to compete. With all hands on deck, the team rushed towards an online service of their own.
The company entered the proof-of-concept stages, putting together a website, constructing a rudimentary online sales process, and making a crude, beta version of their new online service. One of the longer processes in these proof-of-concept stages was the data entry; to simulate customer details as they entered the online system, a small team of workers manually entered some dummy accounts, and then checked that they could conclude the sales process correctly.
All was going swimmingly. The designers presented the concept stage to the shareholders and the CEO, who gave it the go-ahead there and then. The CEO, eager to compete with our new rivals, wasn’t interested in changing the process or adding an automated solution – just getting the service online immediately, ready to go toe-to-toe with the industry’s latest behemoth. As far as the CEO was concerned, it was working – and therefore set for the big time.
This meant that the earlier process, where customer details were entered manually, went largely unaltered; rather than spend on a technological solution to manage the data, the company merely threw more money at its local offices, hiring a team of people to funnel the customer queries through to the completion stage manually.
As far as customers were concerned, the website was automating everything for them. In reality, an invisible team were working behind the scenes, checking the details and entering them into the system manually. This automated, online system was little more than an illusion.
Imaginably, this new online service didn’t last long. Nor did that CEO. After hemorrhaging cash into this rudimentary venture, an avalanche of profit warnings forced the then-CEO to step aside - and resulted, unfortunately, in several redundancies for large swathes of the company.
The above example is an extreme one, but it perfectly demonstrates the potential cost of manual workarounds; in lieu of a costed and fully-operating service, the company created a metaphorical pit to throw money into.
But it needn’t be a quick-fix solution to a large-scale project that undoes your company’s bottom line. Imagine something minor, say a software glitch or two systems which refuse to work compatibly. In isolation, the manual workaround might take an extra minute or so, but when an entire workforce is relying on it, the minutes lost could amount to a great many hours, if not days wasted per month.
While you shouldn’t live in fear of every minor imperfection, it pays to keep an eye out for snags in your setup. By calculating the losses in your company’s workarounds, you can prioritise your fixes and identify your biggest productivity gaps.
When a workaround is left long enough to become a habit, long-term employees will rarely consider the alternatives - but a new set of trained, experienced eyes can look upon your problem afresh, providing a whole new take on the situation.
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