The Challenge of Scale: Beware the Quick Win Syndrome, Part 2 of 4

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One of the greatest advantages of RPA is its ability to provide value in a relatively short period of time, as compared to custom coding and other technologies. It has certainly been one of - if not THE - major selling points for the software. And while speed-to-value is a key driver, it is possible to get falsely enamored with “quick wins”. We define "quick wins" as those things that can be identified and implemented in relatively short order, realizing benefits in weeks instead of months. You’ll also frequently hear it referred to as “going after the low hanging fruit”. Many of our engagements start by identifying such opportunities to quickly generate support and enthusiasm for what RPA can do for their organizations. 

And while this is a perfectly reasonable way to start your program, many times the best fruit sits higher up on the tree (and the fruit on the ground may be just fine, or it may have worms!). Becoming fixated on speed and ease will almost always limit the total value to be realized, and leads to fundamental misalignment of expectations when leadership is anticipating transformative savings delivered through quick wins. A common conversation these days often follows a script like:

Sales Rep: RPA can deliver value in 6 weeks or less. Business users can implement it with support from a COE.

Manager: That’s amazing! We have requests coming from across the business. We’ll need lots of licenses to enable them.

Leadership: We’ve invested $5 million in technology and training for our people. Can someone show me the business case?

Manager: Of course! Look at all these bots!

Leadership: That’s interesting. I see the bots but why don’t I see the impact on our financial statements.

Manager: Well, the savings come through new capacity back to the business.

Leadership: OK… what is the business doing with all that extra capacity?

Manager: Well… we now have a functioning COE and we can deliver bots in 4 to 6 weeks!

Leadership: You didn’t answer my question, but I’ll take you at your word. I’m thrilled if we can deliver value that quickly. We need to reduce our cost structure by 10 to 20%. With these new tools you’re describing we can have that done within 2 quarters (being generous). The board will be thrilled. We need to get this into the next earnings forecast. Get to work and book a steering committee meeting in a month. I can’t wait to see the progress.

Manager: Wait… What…

We call this the “Quick Win Syndrome”.

As we discussed in Part 1, of The Challenge of Scale series, you can think about scale in terms of horizontal (wide) and vertical (deep) deployment. Organizations enveloped in the “Quick Win Syndrome” often become too focused on horizontal scale.  They’re only scratching the surface of what is readily available across a broad range for things that rarely involve significant changes to the target process. They are mostly taking what is already being done by a human and transferring directly to a virtual employee – virtual labor arbitrage, if you like. This approach appeals to an “agile-oriented” view of how things should get done. 

The problem is that not everything of significance can be figured out in two-week sprints. If you are going to go deep, filtering through the layers of sediment that builds up on many processes over the years takes time and effort. References to contracts that were signed years ago, guidance or audit findings that may have been mis-read or too conservatively constrained, or simply someone’s preference on how to do things all builds up over time, and will not go away in a moment. If you think that’s a stretch, then you haven’t tried to take on a deeply entrenched “that’s the way we’ve always done it” process lately.

In a simple example, looking at how to automate existing processes may prevent you from looking at underlying factors like the dispersion of work across multiple locations and the associated process variability that drives. As a consequence, any automation may yield fractional savings across multiple locations. A deeper analysis may allow work to be consolidated and standardized in a single location facilitating a far greater savings; albeit savings that will require significant organizational change to be realized.

Another example would be a process that is dependent on expensive data subscriptions provided by third parties. A quick win approach would look at how to quickly ingest and validate the subscription data, while a deeper approach would examine how automation may be able to query thousands of free sources and aggregate the data to achieve the same outcome there-by eliminating the subscription entirely.

Battling the “Quick Win Syndrome” requires that you reject that mindset. If you are really going deep, the processes, the org model, everything needs to be on the table. Intelligent Automation (IA) can be the driver behind asking the hard questions about the way we do our work. It can be uncomfortable; change isn't easy. But the payoff will be worth the hard work. And likely, it will be the level of ROI the C-suite targeted when they decided to embark on the IA journey in the first place.

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