What’s the first thing that pops into your head when you think of automation? PowerShell scripts? Zapier? APIs? CI/CD? Well, all these are tools, and tools are DEFINITELY important in automation. But I’m not going to be talking about any tools in this blog post.
I want to talk about the automation muscle. If not a muscle, what else do you call it? I’d like to think of automation as a muscle because muscles can be trained!
What Is This Automation Muscle?
Automation muscle is a cultural trait of an individual/team that enables them to shrewdly identify candidates for automation and remain uncomfortable until all that is automatable is automated.
Imagine this. Bob has just joined Acme Inc. It’s his onboarding day and Bob is super excited to get started. Like most of us, Bob is stuck at home and has to be onboarded remotely. Bob spends his entire first week replying to emails answering questions and filling out forms. These emails and forms are from different teams. That includes but not limited to finance for his bank account, IT for the hardware, and HR for his personal details.
Bob notices something. He notices that he’s giving the same information to different teams via forms and emails. Bob is uncomfortable with the idea. Bob wants to automate. He sends out an email to a bunch of people with his idea to automate onboarding (Bob’s emails are ignored).
Bob has a strong automation muscle.
Why Should I Care About This In IT?
It’s no secret that we spend a lot of time on monotonous tasks. If IT is supposed to be the most technically adept function in the entire organization with our fancy gadgets, why haven’t we automated everything away?
It’s not like we don’t know how; it’s just that we can’t spot them soon enough or we’re okay to live with it. The cultural trait of a strong automation muscle will ensure that teams prioritize automating monotonous tasks along with break fix activities.
The benefits of automation aren’t debatable. No one benefits from spending time on low value activities while they could be doing something important (or simply catching up on a Netflix show, still better).
5 Key Traits to Self-Test for Automation Muscle Strength
This list of traits will help you understand if your automation muscle is strong. As you go through the list, you might even think of a teammate or two. They probably have a strong automation muscle.
You are very uncomfortable with monotonous tasks. The most obvious trait. The idea of monotonous tasks will just make you want to throw your laptop out the window. You will also actively discourage your teammates from repeating monotonous activities even when they’re perfectly fine with it. You will not rest (or at least stop talking about it) until tasks are automated.
You won’t rest until an activity is brought down to minimal clicks (even 0 clicks). You will even refuse to do the same activity twice but won’t mind spending hours trying to automate it. You'll struggle to empathize with people who willingly engage in activities that can be completely eliminated.
You won’t accept "That's how we've always done it." You will need strong reasons to justify monotonous activities, and sometimes, even those reasons are not enough. You are never going to rest until you travel back in time to understand what constraints led an activity to be monotonous. You will try to remove those constraints by getting to the root of things or at least relax them to allow for partial automation.
You do not see things as "5 minutes per day" but as "21 hours a year." You refuse to spend 5 minutes every day to complete an activity but wouldn’t mind spending 5 hours over the weekend trying to automate it. It’s because you know that collectively, eliminating these 5-minute activities every day can lead to efficiency gains.
You rebel when a manual activity is introduced. You are the first one to raise a voice when a manual activity is introduced into a perfectly optimized, well automated system. You will see the manual activity as a sign of contamination and will be highly skeptical till the end.
Blind Spots to Watch Out For
While a strong automation muscle can be useful in many situations, there are downsides if you’re swinging in that direction more than you should. For starters, watch out for the bias.
Just because something can be automated, doesn’t mean it should be automated. Certain manual activities yield secondary benefits like immersion or education. If it’s for the right reason, leave them alone.
Just because something can be automated, doesn’t mean it should be automated.
While eliminating manual activity from a system, definitely consider what it does to people. For someone who’s doing an activity as part of their daily routine every day, an email with a PDF file may not be the right way to tell them to stop doing it. Based on the impact, it’s important to take the time out and explain to people why something needs to be automated.
I’d like to leave you with this thought: automation is not just about the tools and technology. They simply enable the action; tools can enable any action. True automation starts much before the tools. It starts in your mind!
Sanjeev NC started his career in IT service desk and moved over to process consulting where he led award winning ITSM tool implementations. Sanjeev is passionate about user experience and evangelizes a concept called selfless service as an evolution of self-service. Sanjeev was also a highly commended finalist for Young ITSM Professional of the year in itSMF UK’s annual awards. Sanjeev is currently on a mission to ensure that every customer support interaction yields the best possible experience. Follow him on Twitter