Automation has fundamentally changed the way we live both in and out of the office. We can set weekly calendar reminders on our phone, set up auto-billing so bills are paid on time, and even purchase an automatic feeder so our beloved pets never go hungry.
The purpose of automation is to delegate the repetitive, tedious tasks so people can devote their time and energy to more impactful (or more fun) work. Additionally, automating tasks that are repetitious provides a level of consistency and precision that humans often fail to sustain.
That’s why project management automation has become a differentiator in managing how work gets done. Projects can grow from simple to complex with varying degrees of collaboration across several teams. A project manager’s job is to take ownership and keep the plates spinning on any given project, regardless of the level of complexity. As production increases and resources are drained, the necessity to automate menial tasks becomes crucial to success. If processes are not optimized through automation, energy is wasted on mundane work and momentum is lost.
These low-impact tasks are more ubiquitous than we think. In fact, nearly 70% of workers feel that 40% of their time at work is spent on routine tasks, according to our Operational Excellence Report. Additionally, tasks that occupy 45% of employee time could be automated by adopting proven technologies, according to research by McKinsey & Company. So why are organizations so hesitant to embrace automation?
Let’s take a look at the common misconceptions of process automation and how to use automation to your advantage:
1. Automation takes away jobs
When most people think of automation, they think of robots taking over the world. As silly as that sounds, there’s some truth to it. In the summer of 2018, Amazon Go opened its first “cashier-free” convenience store in Seattle with the words, “No lines. No checkout” plastered across the front. This unrelenting march towards automation translates into a very real and collective fear of job security.
Why it’s false: Automation within project management actually breathes life back into work by tackling the menial tasks that are required to do your job.
Let’s think of it in terms of baking. When you bake, mixing the ingredients together is usually a labor-intensive process that’s required before baking. You can either mix the ingredients manually, or use an electric mixer to blend the ingredients for you. The mixer isn’t doing the baking — it’s simply automating an exhaustive task so your hands are free to focus on something else.
Process automation in project management software isn’t literally doing your job for you (although some people might wish it would). It streamlines and standardizes repetitive work so you can focus on the work that a machine can’t do — like problem-solving and decision making.
How Wrike helps: Wrike Templates give you a starting point for repetitive work, so you’re not constantly reinventing the wheel. Templates also help create standards and improve quality by creating a consistent environment to execute projects. Auto-assign tasks and set customized workflows to cut down on status meetings and give your team productive time back in their day.
2. Automation stifles creativity
Due to the nature of automation, it’s understandable that some believe it inhibits creativity. In 1913, Henry Ford revolutionized the manufacturing industry by using conveyor belts for mass production. This allowed manufactured goods to be produced at scale with consistency and very little room for error.
Today, creativity and experimentation are at the helm of innovation. The thought of using a machine to create the same result over and over seems lazy and void of creative freedom.
Why it’s false: Automation empowers creativity by freeing up time so you can be creative. Even the most creative projects require a set process and defined boundaries to be successful.
Some creatives would agree that having total freedom actually paralyzes creativity. “Normally you need some kind of boundary to be creative,” says Alyssa Kibiloski, Graphic Designer at Exploding Kittens. “If it's totally open, you have the freedom to go wherever you want to go but you’re unsure of the parameters.”
This theory, called “paradox of choice” and developed by American psychologist Barry Schwartz, explains why too much freedom is actually overwhelming, not liberating. Having structure built in to the creative process adds parameters to power — allowing creatives to focus on the work they love to do.
How Wrike helps: Wrike Requests let you customize incoming project requests from other teams, so you can get the information you need up front and can get started right away. They also streamline the process by funneling all incoming requests through one system, so you’re not jumping across different platforms trying to prioritize requests.
Wrike Proof makes it easy to leave feedback and approve work directly in the task, so your team isn’t chasing down stakeholders all day. Simply assign approvers to a task, and they’re instantly notified when it’s their turn to jump in.
“I like how Wrike gives creatives boundaries of where their timelines are, and where the project should be going, but you're still able to be creative and free with it. It doesn't disable creativity, it fosters it.” - Alyssa Kibiloski, Graphic Designer at Exploding Kittens.
3. Automation reduces the need for collaboration
Automating something that was once crafted by hand causes many to fear the loss of authenticity. There’s a certain touch only people can add when they work together to create something original.
The rise of the synthesizer in the music industry is a prime example. The purpose of the synthesizer is to manipulate and imitate the sound characteristics of an orchestra or acoustic performance. Initially, it was well received in progressive rock, but heavily frowned upon in classic rock for obvious reasons. Its opponents believed synthesizers were inherently dishonest — stripping music of its authenticity and depreciating the skill musicians work so hard to master. When something feels artificial and contrived, people have a hard time adopting it.
Why it’s false: Automation actually builds awareness and enhances collaboration by breaking down silos.
Everyone has a hard time keeping up with the status of projects. Executives struggle the most, trying to stay on top of key initiatives while looking for ways to bridge the gap across teams to run a cohesive business. If C-levels don’t have insight into the progress of business objectives and marketing isn’t talking to sales about what they’re working on, everyone might as well be working for different companies. Meetings stack up, status updates go in one ear and out the other, and eventually everyone just goes back to ignoring each other.
Having a shared place where executives and teams can get a bird’s eye view of ongoing projects keeps everyone working in tandem. Stakeholders can spot potential issues and correct course before they turn into bigger issues.
How Wrike helps: Wrike’s automatic Reporting and Dashboards keep everyone working in sync in a centralized location. This heightened visibility and awareness of key initiatives allow stakeholders to dive deeper into the nuts and bolts of a project or simply check in on project status. Auto-generate weekly, monthly, or quarterly reports, so managers and executives see where resources are being used and make strategic decisions based on performance metrics.
Stop living in fear of project management automation
It’s time to start embracing automation in project management. By automating the mundane but necessary tasks, your team is free to do the work they were meant to do. Automation improves visibility and connects teams, encouraging collaboration and engagement.
Keep in mind, automation is not a set-it-and-forget-it practice. Like everything, it requires constant commitment from your team to optimize and evolve as your business changes.
However, the basic truth remains the same: Automation doesn’t replace the human component to work. It enhances it. “There’s a certain amount of human ingenuity that can’t be replaced because we’re solving problems for other humans,” says Daniel Codella, Senior Content Marketing Manager at Wrike. “And nothing will ever know humans as well as we will.”
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