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When to Automate Stuff…


A word or two on stuff…

Well, I could have used a different word than “stuff”.  I mean, both start with “s”…  I’ll leave word substitution to you.  Ok, automate stuff?  Why automate?  What stuff?   We like our stuff the way it is, why change at all?  There’s a cost and someone with an accounting or business background is going to ask about ROI at some point.  What is ROI?  Simply put, will I save more (time, money, resources) stuff than it takes to build the stuff.

Why automate anyway???

Now there’s a good question.  Why automate?

It takes time

Yup.  Can’t argue with the facts.  Automation is going to take some effort.  As we all know, effort = time.  So why spend the time?  To get time back, of course…  ok that sounded a little harsh and wouldn’t convince any boss that I know of (unless they are an extreme sensor type) to grant the time.  <Mission Impossible theme kicks in> Your job, should you choose to take it…  really is to look at the problem that you want to solve, come up with a high level plan and then present it.  Perhaps, instead of going Ah Ha! (hoosker doo) and running off to the pointy haired one, is to look into the money, planning and training aspects…

It takes money  <queue theme from JAWs>

Ok, here it comes, R O I.  No, it’s not an alternative spelling for Roy…  Return On Investment.  This is always a good area to think about even if you’re not going up for some speculative dough or start up cash.  ROI’s already been defined but if you need a more specific definition, see ROI in the wiki world…or see it from a different source at Investopedia.  So, now that you know, what do you do with it?  This is where you need to put ye olde sales hat on, ye olde accountant hat on and crunch some numbers and sell the result.  This is also a good spot to ask (called a go/no go decision point) if the “thing” should even be done.  There are a lot of tasks in business that can be automated.  The automation does make sense.  Just make sure you’ve backed up your good sense.

It takes planning <queue either theme from Rocky or Time Warp>

Really, it’s just a jump to the left…  planning…  The developer in me just wants to cut code and create.  Who needs a plan…  planning takes you out of the zone…  <stop> Put that energy into the creative plan.  Then, gack, create the tests to test the plan.  Why?  You’re going to find holes.  The may even be big enough to drive a Humvee through.  The time and effort spent in planning will mean that you’ll have a final product that looks like a duck, walks like a duck and even quacks like a duck.  Following the “PLAN”, you can employ whatever development life cycle process you use from straight water fall to extreme agile and every iterative step in-between.  Some interesting thoughts on planning?  See the following references:

Reference Links…
Shaku Atre
Agile
SDLC
A search of MSDN Blogs…

 

It may take training

This one always is a sneaky so and so.  What is obvious to the developer just ain’t so with the users who’ll be using the worlds greatest automation solution…

There are a bunch of tools out there to capture stuff and trust me, screen captures are a whole lot more understandable than a bunch of numbered or bulleted steps.

If you’re into the Adobe side of things and budget is not an issue, go with Captivate.  Nice tool, gets the job done and pretty straight forward.

Now typically, I’m running on a tight budget and while Captivate is nice, I really like Camtasia.  Really this product from TechSmith goes head to head with Captivate and is about 1/2 to 1/3 the cost.  For more information see the following:

Captivate

– VS

Camtasia

It takes away flexibility

When you start hearing noise like this, your automate sales job probably didn’t find its mark or you’re choosing to automate the wrong process.  Be selective and use the following checks prior to diving in…

      • Is it a standard process with little variation?
      • Will automating “it” save at least 1/3 the amount of time?
      • Can you build it in a way that’s extensible?
      • Did you get permission?

While you may be the worlds greatest appdev and automating Excel is a cake walk, do your self a favor and make sure the powers that be are behind your efforts.  The worst question to get during the demo is “why did you do this in the first place?”  Now you’re on the defensive and you can be fairly sure of two outcomes. One, that you are shoot from the hip kind of developer that doesn’t plan things through and (two) it will be much harder to get future projects funded.

Now, there are those times when you’re working for the pointy haired one and you’re project can walk on it’s own.  Take a risk or not?  You know best for that one…

What stuff should be automated…

Ok, you may think this has already been covered and you’re right… for other people’s stuff (OPS).  But what about your stuff?  Hey, you’ve got a little stuff here and a little stuff there….  it doesn’t need to be automated…  That may certainly be true.  Especially with the changes in coding style, design patterns and the like.  Keep an open mind though.  There’s a lot that can be done with VS.

We like our stuff the way it is, thank you very much…

There are just some folks who cannot be moved no matter what the ROI is for the change.  Sometimes, like that office guy with the stapler, it’s best just to leave be.  These tough nuts to crack are good experiences.  So, just cause your processor came up with the best new process that, ummmmm, failed to get buy in doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.  Perhaps it wasn’t the process but was more the sales routine that went south for the winter.  OK, you’re a dev.  You think like a dev.  Just play at being a sales guy for a minute.  Shoot, you did that as a kid, right?  No, you were the kid with the Cray super computer?  Sorry…  but you might try:

    Get ‘em saying yes…  Ask closed ended simple yes questi0ns.  Float a couple trial balloons to get the feeling what a “yes” sounds like.
    Feel ‘em out…  You’be been talking for a bit (hopefully not too long) and you need a quick reality check.  Do be afraid to ask things like:
    ”This sounds like it should save some time, wouldn’t you agreee?”
    o r – a little empathy doesn’t hurt…
    ” Man, shaving off some of this process could free you up on your other stuff?”
      If you’re curios, check out some sales thoughts at

Changing Minds

    .
    Thanks for making it through to here.  This was a fun blog to write and different from the normal howto stuff.  Feel free to share it on…
    AT
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