On walkabout in life and technology

Hiltmonism - Operations by Exception

If we define operations as “a piece of organized and concerted activity involving a number of people”, then all businesses consist of a lot of operations. Back offices, accounting groups, processing units, operations departments, call them what you may, there are departments and departments of operations.

In the Automate or Die Hiltmonism, I pointed out the need to automate as much of your process flow as you can. This means tackling operations, its hordes of people, its arcane processes, its political hierarchy and its bureaucratic inertia.

This painful area of business is also where technology really shines if done right. Operations are usually rote, rule based and data intensive, everything that software is good at. Automating operations reduces errors, frees up people to work on value-add processes, improves the flexibility and nimbleness of a business and enables you to pump much more work through the process quicker and using fewer resources.

But operations is also a very messy business, most because it is human based and operations evolve, they are rarely discussed or designed. There are always exceptions to every rule, conventions that are not followed, special cases and odd duck flows that are the result of long ago conversations that still seem necessary to those who perform these tasks. Getting operations people to even agree what the 90% is takes time, patience and an ability to stay on topic.

But, as a developer, if you do get the 90%, then you can automate it. 90% increase in throughput, 90% decrease in errors, 90% less hassle is sure better than none.

So what about the remaining 10%?

You run Operations by Exception.

For the 10% of operations that don’t fit the usual operations flow, catch them early, fail and bust out an exception that explains clearly what is unusual. Pop a list of these on a screen send out an alert. Then let the people deal with it.

Operations staff, instead of having to execute the operations themselves, can now ignore everything but the exceptions. Their workload drops to looking to see if there are any new exceptions to deal with, and then dealing with them, and then moving on to the next one.

Running operations by exception relieves the burden and stresses on staff, reduces tediousness, increases the amount of fun challenging work they do, and ensures that any exceptions are given their full attention and that they get resolved. It allows businesses to grow and expand without much increase in people’s workload, headcount or error rates.

Write operations software that automates 90% of cases, and produces clear exception reports for the remaining 10%. Add components to track and close exceptions, turn it into a game if you must, and get a whole lot more operations done with less.