I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between manual tasks and automation. In this process, I’ve found myself describing how to move from one to the other in various contexts, and a pretty clear pattern has popped out at me. Here I distill the pattern to automate practically any process.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the relationship between manual tasks and automation. In this process, I’ve found myself describing how to move from one to the other in various contexts, and a pretty clear pattern has popped out at me. Here I want to distill the pattern down to the steps necessary to automate practically any process.
If the process is baking cookies, your list might look something like:
When baking cookies, this is usually called a recipe. This is a more detailed list of your list of steps. It should be sufficiently detailed that “anyone” can follow the instructions, and have the predictable desired result.
I like to think of this step as a sort of ”manual automation”. It’s designed to be done by a person, but in a way that requires no human ingenuity. In this case, the person acts as a human Turing machine, simply executing each step in the checklist.
It’s usually a bad idea to automate an entire process all at once. There’s usually one constraint that’s acting as a bottleneck to your process. Identify the single most painful (or time-consuming, or costly) step, and automate it. Don’t worry about the other steps.
When baking cookies, it’s common to automate the “mixing” step, with some sort of electric mixer.
After the single most painful task is automated, you may decide you’re done with your automation task. Unless you’re an elf living in a tree, it’s likely not worth the cost of automating the insertion and removal of cookies into the oven.
Or maybe you’re like my wife, and decide to purchase a kichen robot that automates many other parts of the cooking process (it measures, chops, mixes, even cooks some things).
If you find that your process is still painful, or later becomes painful (due to a change in context or scale), then return to step 3.