The way we do our jobs is continuously changing. Every day, we find and use new tools, copy and paste information all over the internet, and try our best to teach the humans around us what we just did. We figure out what we should be doing through practice, intuition, and critical thinking, but we often lack the resources and clarity needed to document our processes so that they can be successfully transferred to another person or an automation. This blog series introduces the XRay method, which is an approach to defining the components of your business so that you can create efficient, repeatable processes and start automating work that's eating up your team's time. It's a formula to help create more mindful time for humans to focus on the things that matter, rather than the things that are necessary to continue working.
Humans should do human work, and robots should do robotic work.
This is not another SaaS tool.
The XRay method is a way to leverage the tools you already use in a smarter, intentional, and more contextual way to better achieve your business goals.
Let's walk through how you can start identifying and automating your company's robotic tasks. In this article, we'll take a quick look at each of the main segments of the XRay method, while our next articles in this series will take a deeper dive into each topic. If you follow along with the action steps outlined in this post, you'll get a quick and simple version of what the XRay method can accomplish. If you'd like to see more, read the rest of our posts and reach out to us with any questions you might have.
Every day, there are four components to the work that you and your people engage in. Those four components are Tools (Software), Business Processes, Robotic Work, and Human Jobs.
First, let's talk about Tools. You may use a variety of tools that help your team with everything from time tracking, communication and performance to analytics and finance. These are the pieces of software that let us do our job. Things like G Suite, Slack, Calendar and Mailchimp are all tools that make one little facet of our day-to-day jobs a little easier.
Step 1: List your tools
Catalog all of the tools that you and your team use on a day-to-day basis by generating a list of all the software that you use (spoiler alert, it's probably a long list!).
Don't worry, you will almost definitely forget a tool or two the first time you try to make this list. You can always revise it later if needed.
We recommend saving this list as a database in Airtable and updating it whenever you start using a new tool or stop using an old one. By keeping track of all of the software you use, you can avoid the redundancy of having multiple apps that all do the same thing, and you can start building a picture of where your business-critical data lives.
Business Processes are the overarching steps needed to perform a process. For example, an Employee Onboarding process will have a list of tasks for the company to do, and another list of tasks for the new employee to do. The list might include items like watch the introduction video, set up your email, share your calendar, make accounts for company software, etc.
All business processes consist of a mix of Robotic Work and Human Jobs. Let's take a look at the difference between these two task types next.
Step 2: List some of your high-level business processes
These could be things like posting to social media, employee or client onboarding, KPI Tracking, etc. If you can, then try to write bullet points about what each step is.
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These are things like copying and pasting information, moving files to different directories, uploading files, or sending a confirmation message once another task is finished.
They take little to no intellectual effort, but are essential for your team to perform their work. Robotic Work is typically a list of tasks that are required to create the right environment needed to perform Human Jobs.
Step 3: Identify which steps in the high level business processes are Robotic.
Some examples of robotic work include:
We call robotic work "robotic" because it's the kind of work that can be performed by robots, which is our term for any automation that performs a task. A "robot" could be an automation in Zapier that saves every link you post in Slack to an Airtable Database, or a script that scrapes data from webpages for research.
As this survey from Deloitte shows, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is growing rapidly and helping companies to improve the quality and consistency of their output on top of saving time. By identifying the tasks that could be performed by robots, you'll already be one step closer to automating those tasks.
Human Jobs are the parts of a business process that involve mindful tasks, as opposed to robotic tasks. These mindful tasks need to be completed and executed well to ensure that the overall business process is done correctly. Mindful tasks are activities that require creative, analytic, strategic, and thoughtful work. These tasks require your focus and attention in order to be complete. Additionally, they are typically the most fulfilling areas of your work. You're happier when you have time to do more mindful tasks and spend less time on robotic work.
Step 4: Identify Mindful Tasks inside of each Business Process
Some examples of Mindful Tasks include:
Ultimately, one of the main goals of implementing automation is to create more time and focus for your mindful tasks. Interrupting your complex mindful tasks with a flurry of robotic tasks throughout the day breaks your concentration and requires to spend more time on all of your work, as this APA study on context switching shows.
In order to remove Robotic Work from your day to day, you'll need to set up some automation infrastructure. This will serve as the backbone of your automations and allow you to accumulate best practices, adopt your highest internal standards, and be as transparent as possible throughout your processes.
Documentation consists of the flowcharts, checklists and how-tos that are essential for knowledge transfer as someone new begins to perform various Business Processes. There are two types of documentation that are massively helpful:
As your documentation about processes get better, so will the information you're able to collect and re-use. That is why Knowledge Bases and Databases are so important. Your automations will constantly be pushing and pulling information from your databases, while you are able to keep your Knowledge Base up to date for all of the Mindful Tasks that you and your people will need to perform.
Some examples of Documentation:
Step 5 - Document the Mindful Task Processes
Asset Templates get you 90% of the structure with 10% of the content. They let someone quickly open a template and immediately know what to do. There is a clear starting point (the template) and a clear end point (an example of what 'done' looks like — referenced in Documentation). Google Drive has an entire template library, check it out if you haven't yet.
Step 6 - Create Templates from your best Deliverables
This is where all the magic happens. Leveraging a tool like Zapier.com (alternatives include Automate.io, Integromat.com, UIPath.com, among others), you're able to connect multiple tools together into a powerful If→ Then sequence. You could add logic like "if xyz is true, then do A; if not, then do B". It can get pretty sophisticated.
For example, at my software design studio Checkmate.Digital, we had a 35-Step onboarding process that was initiated by an internal, 10 question survey.
Surveys are one of the best methods to automate internal work.
With those 10 questions, we were able to accomplish 35 separate tasks, including:
As a CEO, automating these robotic tasks let me know that all 35 steps were always completed quickly, correctly, and consistently.
No one is 100% efficiently performing work for 100% of the time they devote to their work. Of course, we, as humans, are not robots. But there is something to be said about emphasizing the clarity of priorities, directions, guides, and checklists. Strong documentation and asset templates create a clear hierarchy of tasks for the people performing the work, and while 100% performance might not be possible, these resources can help everyone to perform better. The result is a simple understanding of context as to why something needs to get done a particular way, and an understanding of purpose behind the individual task.
Note • Operational clarity keeps people from feeling lost, frustrated, and undervalued. The next time you want something done faster and at a higher quality, try starting with an asset template, and make a Loom video of yourself doing it the right way. You'd be amazed at the number of questions you can eliminate.
Automated Work sequences remove the effort from data collection. These sequences can log an email being opened or a survey being completed the instant they happen. Over time, your sequences will accumulate a huge list of events that are happening inside the company. As a result, the status of projects, results, and efforts are captured without the dreaded "how's X going" interruption from upper management. This allows workers to focus on their work, and managers to focus on the results that they are given as a result of work being done. It's non-invasive, it's metadata, and it allows for greater transparency at every level of the organization. Automated work allows data collection without disturbing anyone's workflow.
Note • Next time you ask for an update on a project, think about whether that data point could have been passively collected without disturbing the worker!
Automating your Robotic Tasks wherever you can frees up more time to focus on your Human or Mindful Tasks, but that's only part of the value you get from automation. The automation process prompts you to put your business processes under a microscope. It requires you to clarify any ambiguity or uncertainty in your processes as you create stable, repeatable processes and comprehensive documentation. As you're presented with new challenges and opportunities in the future, you can mindfully assess and adapt your established processes as needed instead of relying on ad hoc solutions.