The proverbial aliens scanning our television and radio transmissions might conclude that the likes of HAL, Cylons and Skynet have already subjugated the human race in a historic, if they believe what cinemas show. Indeed, AI and robot apocalypse are common tropes in science-fiction. Meanwhile, the reality is rather more mundane; personally, I’d be happy if my computer could conquer my to-do list.
Workflow tools are ideal for repetitive and recurring work, because they can automate key parts of the work: presenting the right tasks in a workflow, in the right order, to the right people, and at the right time.
When you don’t have to spend time keeping track of what’s in progress, and you don’t have to manually inform your colleagues, you have more time to spend on something else. When you don’t have to worry about the small stuff you can use your time for the really important topics.
We might sometimes imagine that if more of our work were automated then we would have time to sit on a beach, sipping exotic cocktails in some tropical paradise, or something like that. However, although there has been a gradual decrease in working hours over the years, there is still plenty of work to do.
Aside from the need to hang around in the office to make sure the robots don’t take over, having more time for other kinds of work is generally a good thing. The work that’s left over after you automate the repetitive tasks is more interesting work. In fact, there’s a management style for that.
Management by exception is about focusing on abnormal situations – cases in a business process that are not completed as usual. These new cases are important because their outcomes determine the limits of things like customer service, such as a online retailer that is only as good as the longest delivery time.
Unique cases are also the most interesting because unique problems require more creativity and intelligence to find a solution than standard problems. This matters because opportunities to use creativity and mastery to do their work are part of what motivates people to enjoy their work, and less likely to leave in search of cocktails and a tropical paradise. Besides, for now at least, creativity and intelligence are not strong points of our would-be robot overlords – i.e. computer software.
plays a part in this story – helping you spend your time on the really important topics – by automating repetitive tasks and providing tools for management by exception. Defining standard processes allows you to perform recurring work more quickly, and workflow management automates much of the coordination and handovers between people working on shared tasks. At the same time, task reminders, due dates and escalations help identify the exception cases.