Repetitive Business Syndrome

As I nurse my ‘tennis’ elbow back to health it draws attention to the damage that repetitive actions can create, especially the longer they are inflicted.  As a business analyst and consultant I witness firsthand things that undermine efficiency and communication within companies. The longer the unhealthy process evolves, the greater injury to operations, profit, business culture, and the harder it becomes to reverse the trend.

Lets look at an example of the self professed Microsoft Excel guru. That person who insists that everything can be managed and reported using excel to the detriment of all else. Those reports for the weekly management meeting, the month,qtr, year end reports, everything comes from them. If they are busy or away from work you have to wait for that information because nobody else knows exactly how to do the task. Excel is a very powerful tool but if not properly utilized the company suffers from wasted time, money, and increased risk factors.

How do you know if you are falling out of scope and burning more time and risk than reasonable working with Excel? Every situation is unique however the repetitive litmus test can help. Look at the repetitive tasks that staff perform every day,week, and month. Are they manually compiling and manipulating data to run the same reports time after time? Is the company managing data solely in excel and spending hours controlling changes and who can view/modify that data?  Are you or a key person in the company who loves working in excel and do not mind the extra hours devoted to organizing vLookups and data lists and charts and love knowing people have come to depend on you for information?  On the surface that work may seem productive but it is not. Excel is NOT an enterprise database solution, and an excel file does not scale to operate and share between many people at the same time. It is merely a tool, not the ultimate solution.

Job (in)security aside, it is not doing anyone any favor by maintaining manual repetitive procedures. Agreed we have to start with manual processes in order to to define the work and requirements, but once everything is clear, automation should prevail. Invest in building processes that eliminate data entry and manual data manipulation. Excel is an excellent tool for template forms, reports, and charts. It can supplement commercial and custom software solutions and create visuals to simplify management and planning purposes. If Excel is the root source of company data that many people need to access consider setting up a scalable database, even MS Access to control things. There is up front cost to setting up a database but the efficiencies for all who use it will pay long term dividends in saved time and reduced risk.

Be aware that what was done last year may not make sense this year as companies grow and evolve.  Once per month, or at least per quarter, sit and identify and define repetitive manual tasks that are currently in production. Then develop plans to simplify and automate manual tasks, removing the repetition from daily routines. You may not be ready to embrace 100% ‘Kaizen’ perpetual improvement model but do not sit and accept the status quo either. Tennis elbow does not start to heal until the injurious pattern is removed. How deep the injury will determine how long to heal. In business, change comes with a cost, however there is no greater cost than by doing nothing.

Best wishes. – Brad