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How to Break Down Work into Tasks That Can Be Automated

How to Break Down Work into Tasks That Can Be Automated

Virtually every organization is wrestling and experimenting with automation. But most are missing the benefits that come from deep and systemic change. One of the largest failings, in our estimation, is that organizations aren’t spending the time necessary to deeply understand the work they’re considering automating. They aren’t deconstructing jobs so the specific tasks that can be automated can be identified. And without deconstruction, companies risk significant collateral damage and minimizing their ROI as they attempt to automate entire jobs.

So how do you go about deconstructing jobs in order to identify how best to deploy automation against specific tasks and the role said automation might play?

There are many approaches to deconstructing and categorizing the component activities of jobs, but we believe they can be illustrated with three fundamental work characteristics:

Repetitive vs. Variable Work
Repetitive work is often predictable, routine, and determined by predefined criteria while more variable work is unpredictable, changing, and requiring adaptive criteria and decision rules.

Most work tasks of a credit analyst are repetitive, for example. They gather and synthesize similar data for every loan application. They look for the same red flags in each piece of customer data that are pulled from bank records, credit rating agency data, government records, and social media. Generally, repetitive work is more automation-compatible with well-established solutions such as Robotic Process Automation (RPA). RPA can perform such analyses as much as 15 times faster, with almost no errors.

Independent vs. Interactive Work
Independent work requires little or no collaboration or communication with others, while work performed interactively involves more collaboration and communication with others, and relies on communication skills and empathy.

Physical vs. Mental Work
Physical work is work that is primarily manual in nature, requiring manual dexterity and, often, strength while mental work requires one’s cognitive abilities.

With these three categories in mind, companies can better understand the work they’re thinking about automating and how specific jobs break up into individual tasks.

The next step is then to ask: Are these tasks able to be automated, technically speaking? Are these tasks grouped into a single job, and if so can these activities be separated with minimal breakage? And what is the expected return from automation in terms of productivity, speed to capability, cost, risk, etc.? These are just a few of the questions companies need to ask, and only one part of a full automation strategy. But they avoid the trap of treating all work as the same, and equally eligible for automation. Some work is harder to automate than other work and — just as important — some work makes sense as a single job while some work is able to be split into different tasks.

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