Episode Eleven

What is workflow automation anyway?

Sep 19, 2018
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Show Notes

In this episode of Workflow, Brian and Tom talk about how what workflow automation is, some of its benefits, and some example use cases.

00:45  What’s happening at Rindle (V3 is released! On to Custom Fields)
05:43  What is workflow automation?
08:12  The benefits of workflow automation
15:59   Workflow automation use case examples
30:42  Challenges using workflow automation
35:02   Tips for taking action

Helpful Links

Full Transcription

Tom: 00:00 This is Workflow, episode 11.

Brian: 00:14 Workflow is the podcast that helps teams figure out the best way to work, collaborate and get stuff done. Brought to you by Rindle.

Tom: 00:28 Hey everyone I'm Tom.

Brian: 00:30 And I'm Brian and we're the co founders of Rindle and this is our podcast, Workflow.

Tom: 00:35 Today we're talking about workflow automation and how if can help your team.

Brian: 00:39 Before we get into the main topic let's chat a little bit about what's going on at Rindle. So Tom what's happening on the product side.

Tom: 00:45 So we finally made it through the release of V3 and bug fixes that come along with any fairly, actually extremely major, product release. And we're moving on to planning custom fields which has been an adventure to say the least. But we're just about through that and probably gonna be starting development of custom fields. A little bit of development has already been started but basically continue development over the next couple weeks to get this feature done.

Brian: 01:18 Yeah I'm pretty excited about it. I think it's gonna give our customers and future customers a lot of flexibility with data they want to collect for various reasons. Obviously outside of what we currently offer we've been at task as far as data collection like the description field we have and things like that. But we really give kind of options as far as tracking versus actual time as an example. Or any other kind of date, numeric or text field that needs to be tracked that may be specific to your project or your team.

Tom: 01:50 Sure, yeah it's long that's due it obviously in a fashion which can then be used to some capacity. Be that through the export tool or I guess for some people the API. But you don't have that option if just add this to the description field, this type of data to the description field.

Brian: 02:16 Yeah and sometimes when you leverage the description field something like that where you might be pooling a bunch of data because there's nowhere else to put it. So it's hard to visually see the difference, hard for people your team members to see the difference are where that data's stored or why. So the custom field kinda separates it out, kind of gives it a permanent home to live that's gonna be in the same spot every time. And much easier to communicate, "Well no this is where you put this piece of data or this information."

Brian: 02:40 And I think even beyond exporting, import even in a use case something like estimated time if you're planning a project or planning a level of effort that involves a bunch of tasks. And you are tracking things like how much effort it's gonna take or how much time we think it's gonna take. You could actually import pre determined values potentially as well so you don't have to put it in every single task for example. So I think its a combination of leveraging it with importing, exporting and possible even API like you mentioned.

Tom: 03:09 Sure, yeah and I can just see some pretty awesome things in the future that people can do with this. Especially when we finally get around to the conditional automation feature which we I believe hinted at before. But that's definitely coming in the next couple months and really would be, hopefully will be powerful custom fields especially.

Brian: 03:33 Very cool. Perfect for the topic that we're gonna talk about today. But I do have one other personal point that I just wanted to bring up. Just my general Workflow joys that I have but I do want to say how much I love the Google Drive Slack integration. I think you and I both struggle with this a lot about Google Drive and finding documents. Obviously if they're in Rindle and somebody's attached Google Drive document it's a little easier to find in context to a task but sometimes you get documents obviously shared with you or things like that that are not necessarily tasks, right?

Brian: 04:07 You might be just collaborating around the document or high level concept or whatever it might be and I tend to struggle with finding it. So now that I have it integrated with Slack all of my notifications that I get for Google Drive docs show up in the Google Drive channel. So I get notified there for one, which is awesome, but it's also historical. So I can quickly go to one place really quick instead of sifting through my email notifications which is a nightmare or trying to find a Google Drive which can be a nightmare. I can now just go to the channel and it gives me a last three that I've been notified and usually within that first three or so I find exactly what I'm looking for and jump right to it. So it's pretty awesome.

Tom: 04:45 Awesome. Yeah I've actually yet to check that out even though you have been mentioning it for a while now, I should probably do that.

Brian: 04:52 Its something that I notice everyday that I get happy about. Just because we use Slack as we talk we use it pretty much for our communication channel with our remote team and I literally look at the channel every day. So its definitely something that's impacting my daily workflow which is cool.

Tom: 05:10 Before we get started if you have any questions, ideas for topics, or team scenarios that you want us to tear down give us a cal. Our voicemail is 860-577-2293 or you can email us at workflow@rindle.com.

Brian: 05:26 Also if you like what you're hearing and you like what we're doing here with the podcast please leave us a review. It definitely helps the effort in reaching more people like yourselves who might be interested in what we're talking about and it definitely motivates us to keep going on and creating more content.

Tom: 05:40 Great. On to the main topic.

Brian: 05:43 Yeah so the topic of the day is what is workflow automation anyway? And I think this is great topic because workflow automation has been around, automation in general, has been a hot topic lately. Its been around in a lot of different ways but workflow automation itself is a fairly new concept. So its worth kind of talking about, talking about what it actually means, give some examples, use cases and benefits and all those things.

Tom: 06:11 Sure, so I guess we should just start out with giving the actual definition of workflow automation, which is a series of automated actions for the steps in a business process. It allows the team to spend more time on the actual work itself and less time on the processes that support them. Could we give a quick example of something like that just so people can wrap their head around?

Brian: 06:33 Yeah, so I think anything with steps in it and I think this is a good general definition because we're talking about a business process. Business processes can exist in many different ways. It could be an onboarding for new employees workflow that has a process, that has a beginning and an end, multiple steps in between. It could be in a project management standpoint where you're doing a workflow for a type of work that you're managing.

Brian: 06:59 So business processes exist all over the place and I think anything that has multiple steps that people follow to get something done, from a start and finish standpoint, would be considered a business process. A lot of what we talk about at Rindle when we talk about workflow are actual workflows that live within boards or projects that really have to with getting tasks done. So could a user onboarding a new employee onboarding flow exist in Rindle? Absolutely because you're managing something that needs to get done through multiple steps of a process through to the end until it's completed.

Brian: 07:37 So I think when we talk about workflow automation we're talking about instead of doing those steps manually and tracking it, automating it so things flow through that sequence automatically. Therefore saving time, letting you focus on actual work and not necessarily all the steps in the process that you have to remember to do, or sometimes even forget to do because there are multiple steps and a lot of things to do along the way.

Tom: 08:01 Awesome, yeah I think you've already kind of hopped into this, the next point, which is the benefits of workflow automation with that last statement. But yeah we should go over those now.

Brian: 08:12 Cool, yeah so the first benefit of workflow automation is that it reduces human error. And prevents every day tasks, steps in a process, from falling though the cracks. I touched on that a little bit just a second ago saying that, "Hey, there are multiple steps in a process, you might forget something along the way." So I think human error is inevitable, I think this is the biggest thing for me in general in my history and my experience, drop off. You're expecting one person to do something when they're done with their portion of a task or whatever it is they need to do and they don't.

Brian: 08:48 So the task sits there in its current state and does not move to the next step in the process until somebody picks up on it and says, "Why isn't this moving." Usually the project manager or whoever is leading the project for whatever it is you're doing which is a huge time suck. So I used to, every time that kind of thing happened I would lose sometimes a day or two in a timeline of a process. So the human error part of it the automation will kind of move that task along potentially where if that automation wasn't in place the person ... You're relying on that human being to remember to do x, y, and z when they're done with their portion.

Tom: 09:27 Yeah. I think this can actually be even more traumatic than you're making it out to be too because there could be work getting done somewhere where you don't visit every day or even every week because potentially its just not something that is important. So you might not know that something has fallen out of this quote, unquote "Workflow." That it's in. So yeah losing a day potentially you could lose more than a day depending on the scenario.

Brian: 09:57 Yeah and it basically it eliminates excuses to extent too because now it's not this constant conversation of, "Well I just got in late this morning and I forgot." And all these conversations happen, you know?

Tom: 10:11 Yeah.

Brian: 10:11 About excuses why you didn't move it along.

Tom: 10:13 Or the just common, "I didn't remember." Or, "I didn't know. I just didn't know to do that." It could be a new employee or an employee that's switching over that hasn't worked on this particular thing before and maybe they really honestly didn't know or whatever. It's awesome that if you have automation set up properly, they don't have to know. All they have to know is move to the next list or mark it complete and everything else just happens.

Brian: 10:52 Yeah that really transitions into the next point which is it empowers employees to focus on the work and not the process. So like you just explained a new employee, there is a lot of process overhead potentially with that. If we set up automation properly like you're saying we can just focus on our work and by focus on our work meaning we can reduce the amount of responsibility on a per team member basis of moving something along the process to marking complete or moving from one column to the other column.

Tom: 11:22 Yeah, very simple actions. Yup.

Brian: 11:25 Exactly. Instead of, "Oh when you're done with that by the way notify Greg about that and also let Jen know that you notified Greg." And all these things need to happen right? That can all be automated through technology, like Rindle, and you really empowering an employee to say, "Okay I'm gonna do my job, focus on this, move it along and that's it." And then the proper people will be notified. Whatever needs to happen will happen automatically and that that task will keep moving through an automated fashion.

Tom: 11:56 Awesome, yeah. To goes right into the next point which it automates communication and eliminates the need for team members to remind each other in a continuous chain of events that its now their turn to take over this task or their turn to complete some goal. I think, perfect example what you just mentioned but with notifying someone but it could also be, "Hey the next step in the process is actually unassigning the current person who's assigned and assigning the specific person to a task." Which actually can take multiple clicks and be fairly time consuming which is why ... actually the next point is that automations can save time and eliminate excessive busywork.

Brian: 12:44 Right, and that could even mean not only just notification like you said but the automation could be, "Hey when it completes this part of the process the task actually moves from one place to another place."

Tom: 12:53 Sure.

Brian: 12:54 From one team to another team. Well until that happens you either got to wait for somebody to manually communicate with you, which we know human error can happen. If not you might be checking the project or the board all the time being like, "I wonder if this is done yet or not." Because I'm waiting for it, right? So that is a busy time too that's a waste of time just literally trying to track things down and not sure about how things move. But with automation you could say, "Oh, yep. I know when its gonna be done because its gonna move the task over to my team." Right? So we now know it's on our plate. Pretty simple, pretty straight forward and no need of excessive communication that's gonna waste a bunch of time.

Tom: 13:29 Another benefit is that it reduces app fatigue. Similar to focusing on the work but basically you're spending less time in the app when you don't need to be in there. So instead of forcing people, again with the busy and the extra clicks, it forces people to be in an application sometimes or a piece of software more than they actually need or want to be. So again the whole thing with this is focusing on the work and being able to be freed up and focus on the actual stuff you need to do every day than managing a piece of software. So by requiring less clicks and less moving and less communication

Brian: 14:00 By requiring less clicks and less moving and less communication within a piece of software because it's automated, you're actually freeing people up and reducing the fatigue of being in the app, being like "oh I gotta go back into x, y, z and do this or do that." It's actually letting people focus more on the creative nature of what they're doing, the technical nature of whatever they're doing, the reason why they're hired to doing their job today instead of actually in the software managing things.

Tom: 14:26 Awesome, yeah, and last but not least is the flexibly, customize your workflow and process to meet your exact needs. You don't have to force yourself into another way of working, someone else's process, someone else's workflow. You can set it up however you want. That's why automation's pretty awesome.

Brian: 14:45 What we've always felt that's been missing in project management tools is this element of workflow automation. Everybody kind of focuses on obviously tasks and organizing tasks and due dates and assignments, which is all pretty common, but a lot of what falls apart is actually on the process side. And we all typically tend to work differently and for various reasons have different processes, different workflows, different needs, and that's why really it's hard to find a solution that fits your needs. And there's a lot of options in the market.

Brian: 15:16 With something like workflow automation, you can customize and tailor your process very easily with something like Rindle, it's point and click, no coding required, but you can really tailor to your exact workflow, notify it at certain specific steps, and not have to fit or shoe horn your workflow into the way that that particular app you're using wants you to work. So it gives you a lot more flexibility and a lot more ingenuity with what you can do in your own workflow. You can think about how you need it to work, right, and be able to be like "oh, I can actually do that" with this piece of software, with automating and moving things automatically depending on what happens. As opposed to, "well, no we can't do that because that's not the way the software works."

Brian: 15:59 Let's talk about use case examples, so we kind of talked about the definition, what are some of the benefits of workflow automation. But let's actually get into some use cases, and a lot of these that we're gonna talk about today are based on Rindle and our workflow automation platform and our general experiences. Could vary with different tool sets, whatever you're using, but this would give you kind of some ideas of how things could be automated.

Tom: 16:26 So automations in general are probably best used with visual workflows, the Kanban style approach. We'll be referencing visual workflows throughout, but you can certainly use lists as well, simple tasks. They can absolutely be used. Even within Rindle, we have lists and they work great with automations.

Brian: 16:52 Yeah, and especially if the reason why we'll be referencing visual workflows just because moving things left to right along a step by step process obviously fits in well with a lot of process oriented discussion. Some automations though, like marking something complete, as an example, that happen in anywhere, like a visual workflow or Kanban style, or a list view, so it really depends on what you're doing. But a lot of things we're going to talk about today are processed based, so when we're talking about moving things from one column to the other column, it's really referencing that visual, Kanban style workflow.

Tom: 17:25 Cool, so I think the first example that we have is managing a multi-step and multistage project. Brian do you want to take it?

Brian: 17:34 Yeah, so this is really multi-step process I think is pretty common. So this is something where you have a backlog, in-progress, in-review, things like that done. So this has multiple steps. An example of this is, simply something you could automate, is assigning a task on a given step of a process, like the review step or an approval step. So we use this a lot in our own workflow, just in QA and things like that, right, so if we're developing a feature and it's ready to be QA-ed, we have an automation set up that's ready to notify the person who's in charge of QA-ing. This way, they're notified on when it's ready to actually be worked on. They don't have to go back to the board and search for things or ask a lot of questions about what can they expect coming down the pipe. They just get notified when it's ready for that step, and I think it fits perfectly in kind of the review approval kind of double check type of process.

Tom: 18:30 Sure, so we allow, within Rindle, these notifications to happen through email or through Slack, at least right now. Potentially we might be adding other means of notifications in the future, but yeah, it works pretty well. So when you, again, mark something as complete, you might post in a slack channel, "hey" that this task was completed.

Brian: 18:53 Yeah, I know Asia had a use case that she's setting up with Slack right now that when something gets moved to review in the blog post workflow, she wants me notified in a certain Slack channel, so similar. Email and slack really work hand in hand, and at least in Rindle, you can choose to be notified via email on a given trigger, so marked complete or moved to a list or whatever it might be, or a Slack channel of your choice. So it's pretty flexible in it's step by step process.

Tom: 19:22 Sure, yeah, you could probably even, well obviously within Rindle, you can go as far as when things come into this board also notify through email or Slack channel because we do have means of getting data in either through a board email address or through the API, I think things can come just directly into a board without you really knowing about it.

Brian: 19:48 Yeah, yep, and again with the workflow automation, it gives a lot more flexibility where a lot of systems have notifications obviously, but they're pre-tailored to whatever they want to notify in. They're kind of pre-built into the system, where something like automations because you can have them on various triggers, you can really tailor it to your workflow. I actually do need to be notified when new tasks are created on this board, and I want to be notified in an email or via Slack. So it can really tailor it, as opposed to being like "well, they don't notify on it, so now what do I do? Right? I gotta find a different work around."

Tom: 20:17 Yeah, and actually you and I have gotten into some heated discussions about how I actually originally thought we should have all of our notifications done through a series of automations. We don't do that, but obviously, we could based on various triggers, we could actually do all the automations in the system.

Brian: 20:41 Which is actually not true.

Tom: 20:42 Okay.

Brian: 20:43 You cannot notify on a comment as an example, which-

Tom: 20:46 Well, sure.

Brian: 20:48 [inaudible 00:20:48], and if you're watching.

Tom: 20:51 I said different triggers that would, some of those triggers we don't have. We could add those triggers in. It was a discussion that we had a while back.

Brian: 21:02 So another example through this multi-step is saving click, so in that same multi-step you can set things up like mark a task complete when it's moved to the done. Some teams, like us actually, we don't necessarily want something to be automatically kind of checked off and removed from our board because we actually use that as a status, right, so when it's done, we want the team to see that it's done, and there's some thing that have to happen before we actually archive it off the board. So that's an advantage, right, so we have the flexibility to say when we move to do actually you mark it complete but don't archive it right away. And a lot of systems when they mark complete, they archive or remove it from the interface at least, and it's gone because it's complete.

Brian: 21:45 So you can set up some automations like that when I mark it complete, when I move it to done, you can archive it when you move it to done as well. You can also move tasks to done when you mark it complete, so if it is in another list and it actually ends up being done, you can have an automation that says "hey, move it to done in that scenario." So everything, regardless, gets moved to done when it's complete.

Tom: 22:05 Sure, yeah. You could even reset the state of a task. One of our colleagues, Scott, he actually likes to mark tasks complete as he's working on them, and then we actually have the raid task column mark his completed tasks as incomplete because they're raid tasks then in the next column actually ultimately marks the tasks complete automatically, which is the done column.

Brian: 22:34 I actually talked about that with Asia in my interview with her, which you haven't heard yet because it's actually not released yet as an episode, but I used that exact use case in one of the things we were talking about, that's very funny. Cool, so another use case is tagging. So a lot of systems have tag. Rindle certainly has tags or some kind of labeling other systems have. A use case of that is, we'll give you our own use case, but when feedback comes in about Rindle, so we do track feedback when people cancel trials as an example, things like that. We have a task automatically being created on a Rindle board through our custom email addresses. That board is called feedback, and then, we have an automation set up that automatically tags that task with canceled reason, so we know that if somebody cancels their trial or whatever out of the account or the trail, they can give us a reason, and if they give us a reason, we can actually track that to look back on it and understand why.

Tom: 23:29 Yeah, and you might be thinking, as I was when I initially read this, why might that be important, but it is important because this feedback board actually contains not just canceled reasons, it contains other pieces of feedback that we receive about the product. So it's important to not that, "hey, these things that are coming in are the canceled reasons." Yeah.

Brian: 23:57 Yeah, we track a bunch of other stuff like we do customer interviews, demos. We track recordings of those things if they're viable, just for reference and things like that. We also track our customer feedback for feature requests, so we use other tags actually to track those things. So we'll track it by clients or by number of votes kind of thing. So it's important to tag it so we clarify it, and then of course, the other reason is if that tasks actually moves.

Tom: 24:23 Yeah, sure, which does happen on occasion. Potentially there's a piece of feedback that's a bug, and we'll it to the bug board. It will know that "hey, this was a reason why someone canceled." If that happened to be where that bug originated.

Brian: 24:41 Yeah, and I guess depending on the system you're using or methods that you're using, the nice thing about Rindle is that, tags are global, so when we talk about moving a task from one board to another board, the tags actually follow without an issue. So it's nice because if we do find something that is a piece of feedback and also a bug and it ends up being worked on and fixed, we know that, "hey, that was a bug and it was also a piece of feedback from a customer. Maybe we want to reach out to that customer and tell them it's fixed" or something like that. So, it really keeps the context of everything intact when you use the tagging, and automatically doing it, again, takes out the human-being, of being like "hey, we received some feedback. Oh, let me go in and mark it as feedback, so we keep things organized." The automation just takes care of that in the context of that data coming in.

Tom: 25:26 Yeah, now combined with mirrors, which we're just starting to fool around with now, that just becomes even more powerful. It sounds like we're really just talking about our product, but these are obviously things that are pain points that we have felt and specifically reasons why we built some of these features within Rindle, but mirrors basically will allow you to keep that task on the feedback board, and if there's say a bug that is associated with that, you could just mirror that task onto the bugs forward. So that way, it never actually leaves the feedback board, but it will still be on the bugs board. The mirror can actually go through it's own workflow, which is pretty awesome.

Brian: 26:15 Awesome, so the next point around tagging is that you can execute actions based on a certain tag being set with automation. So a quick example of that is just something that I just talked to a customer about actually. It's one of their use cases, but using something like a priority tag because it's something that is a priority, you could actually use a mirror in this example specific to Rindle, but you can use a mirror and mirror it onto a board called priority. Right? So if you're trying to sift through a bunch of tasks in your system and automatically reference that somewhere else where everybody can see a list of priorities for the day, for the week, whatever it is. Using an automation in that sense, allows the person only to have to remember or action-wise have to put the tag called priority on it, and all of the other things automatically happen with the automations, so it just reduces again, the steps required, the amount of time in the app to execute it, and just makes sure things happen appropriately. But that's a simple use case.

Brian: 27:17 And another use case actually that I know that we're gonna use it for is for marketing. So eventually we will be able to, based on a product feature that we're releasing for example, and we need to create [inaudible 00:27:31] and blog content about it, we'll be able to tag that as a product release, that we're actually gonna announce, and that will go over to the marketing board and kind of get on their radar automatically, by adding that tag. So again, using the automation to kind of do things based on the adding of the tag.

Tom: 27:48 Yeah, and that right there is the first real glimpse into what potentially could even be taken a step further with conditionals once we actually have that in the product because we're basically, through this tagging, allowing you to be like "hey, if this specific tag is added ..."

Tom: 28:00 ... through this tagging, allowing you to be like, "Hey. If this specific tag is added, do this," as opposed to just in general triggering some action all the time. You know?

Brian: 28:10 Right, and also too, it also could ... Just another example of tagging now that we're just talking about it and thinking about it, but tagging also can do things like assigning people, or moving it to a certain list or a certain board in the workflow. In our kind of workflow, if you tag it with a front end, then it's front-end work. We could assign a certain person to it because they are responsible and it could go to this portion of the board because it's front-end work. So, a lot of things you can trigger off just a simple organizing things with tags, but based on that, do a lot of things within the process-wise, and save a lot of clicks and steps, and then you're right. With conditionals, that's going to be even crazier. You could really do a lot of things based on certain use case scenarios.

Tom: 28:54 The final use case that we have or example that we have with automations is getting data in and out of applications. So, if you combine Rindle or any PM software with a tool like Zapier, as long as that software has an API that connects to Zapier, you can do things like automatically create a task within Rindle when someone fills out a Google Form.

Brian: 29:23 Yeah, but I think really getting into things outside of your project or team workflow for getting actual task and projects done, Zapier, and IFTTT, and things like that sit more at that kind of top level and will help you get data in and out of an application like Rindle potentially. I mean, I think there are ways to do it with certain things, but they don't really focus on the process within the team, which I think is interesting. I always felt that limitation using Zapier with other tools that I've used in the past, but it is great for external applications. So, it's great if you're connecting Google Form and Rindle together, and you're just trying to get stuff created in the task management application from a submission of a Google Form, which is another app you're using.

Brian: 30:08 Typeform is another example of an app to integrate with, right? If you're using Typeform, which we use for surveys and stuff like that, you can create tasks in Rindle for a workflow or stuff like that. So, it's great for that external data connection. I've always found that the limitations of those really get down to when you're inside your own workflow and now I'm moving that task through the process that needs to happen, that Zapier really stops there. It doesn't handle because it's really an external application, where something like Rindle, our workflow automation platform, will pick that up and continue automating through your process to the end.

Tom: 30:42 All right. Now that we've given some examples, we should probably also talk about some potential challenges that are involved with automating a workflow. The first one, I think, is something that we're struggling with now just to find a better user experience is, is basically that automations can be confusing when you have a bunch of different things that are automatically happening in the background telling the user what's going to happen and when that's going to happen is a difficult thing to do.

Tom: 31:18 We basically solved that actually through blogging. Basically at the board level you can see, oh, an automation did this. We also visually show when automations are set up on a board, but again, this is something that we are currently continuing to work on and find solutions for because it is challenging to basically indicate that something is going to happen when you do something, and that something could be a lot of different things.

Brian: 31:52 Yeah. I think it can be confusing when things are happening and you don't know why or you may not even remember why because you put an automation in place a while back, and you haven't triggered that automation in a while, and something happens, and it's confusing. So I think communicating that properly is definitely a challenge for us as software developers, but just as users, understanding what's happening and why, I think that making sure your whole team is informed of automations is also something that will help with this.

Brian: 32:20 So, if you create some automations as a lead, or a PM, or something like that, that makes sense. It's for the team, but you don't tell anybody else about them, they might have a little shell shock when things start moving around or adding things. They might think it's an issue with the software you're using or whatever it might be. So, definitely keep everybody in the loop for the most part. It might cut down on some of that confusion. Another potential challenge is over-automating.

Brian: 32:48 Sometimes when we get our hands on these powerful tools that can do a lot of cool things automatically for us, we tend to get a little over-excited about it, and we start to add things that don't necessarily have to be added but are kind of cool, but down the line could just add to the confusion potentially, or add more things for you to sift through when you are trying to track something down or figure out why something is happening. So, try to keep things to a minimal as a whole and only automate if it really needs to be done and it makes sense for your workflow. If it doesn't really need to get done, try to prevent doing things automatically unless it's really needed.

Tom: 33:27 One last challenge, I think, is undesired outcomes of automations. First, and we've since solved this, but in the original version of automations, you did have scenarios where you could enter in basically an infinite loop, something recursive that sends the task back to the starting list. And then it just keeps going through and triggering the same automation over and over, which was pretty bad and also more or less difficult to solve because we did want automations to fire based off of some previous automatic action. That way you could chain the automations.

Brian: 34:15 Yeah, which ultimately could also create another undesired outcome with the fact that there could also be other automations that you previously created. Like, again, six months ago, for example. You've forgotten about it since. You're creating some new automations today, and that new automation is actually going to trigger the other automation that you created six months ago, but you're not in that mindset and you don't understand that at that moment.

Brian: 34:39 So when you go to test that automation and be like, okay, put this automation in place, I'm going to test it, it actually does something different because it's triggering another automation that you forgot that was there. So, it can be a little confusing in the same nature of tracking it down, but sometimes you do get undesired outcomes and you got to figure out, okay. Well, what do I have in place that's actually causing this to happen?

Tom: 35:02 Awesome. Cool. I think that basically covers it, so let's move onto tips for taking action.

Brian: 35:09 Yeah. I think making sure your process is solid before attempting to automate is always a good thing. Things can get messy pretty fast, and I think automation, it's a nice shiny tool that I think when we have them available to us, we tend to want to leverage them. But if you're starting out from scratch and you're building a new workflow, start with the manual workflow first.

Brian: 35:35 Get that rolling, which we've talked about on previous episodes about how to do that, making sure that the process makes sense for your team, that you're actually completing tasks and getting them through a proper workflow that makes sense. Then look at, okay. Well, where are some of the pain points? Where are some of the things that are either dropping off or falling through the cracks? What can we automate here to make the process better?

Tom: 35:57 Just as important that it is to make sure you have a solid process before attempting to automate, also just create these automations in very small pieces. This is kind of a programmer's mindset, but our automation, especially within Rindle, our automation tool allows you to have multiple triggers and multiple actions within the same automation, but it's actually really best used if you really almost just have one trigger, and one action, and you can then create additional automations if you need to. Yeah. Basically, it just avoids confusion.

Brian: 36:33 It'll also avoid over-automating, which we mentioned where you come out of the gate and you create a whole bunch of automations because you think that makes sense. Actually, I think doing one at a time like you're saying will slow down the pace a little bit, let you make sure that's working instead of complicating your life by adding a whole bunch of situations that you're going to have to possibly sift through shortly down the road.

Tom: 36:54 Awesome. Yeah, and I think finally just if you have a process in place that's a fine-tuned process, try to reverse engineer it and find opportunities to automate it, and this could probably be an episode within itself explaining how you can go about doing that.

Brian: 37:14 Yeah. I mean, it could be as easy as a white board depending on what you're using today and what your current process looks like, but breaking it down on a white board saying, "Okay. Let's go through each step." What actually happens in each step of the process, and then starting to dissect those steps and being like, well, what can I automate and depending on your capabilities with automation, what can you do actually to make this process go through without having so much human interaction?

Tom: 37:41 Yeah, and I think a good place to start, obviously, notifications and automatic tagging if, again, your system is capable of doing that sort of stuff. Those are obvious and easy places to start.

Brian: 37:55 Yeah, and assigning. I think assigning too is just a great one just because a lot of times, and this really is a whole another episode in itself probably as well, but I find I talk to a lot of people who pre-assign tons of tasks, right?

Tom: 38:09 We used to.

Brian: 38:11 Yeah. We used to. Yeah. Exactly, and then we realized, well, does it make sense for me to have ... I had somebody tell me one time they had 100 hundred tasks. To have 100 tasks assigned to me right now? How would I possibly, even with software, be able to determine, well, what is priority if all of this work is actually on my plate? The reality is it's not. Somebody is pre-planning and saying, "Well, Brian is going to do this. It might be a month from now, but that's his responsibility," instead of assigning it at the time it actually needs to be done, which is just two different ways of working. But with automations, you can streamline that quite a bit to when they move it to a certain list, assign it to them, or whatever that might be like we described before with the QA we have, only assigning them when it's their turn or their responsibility now to act on that task at that moment.

Tom: 38:59 Well, I think that about wraps us up for the day. If you have a question for us, you can call into our voicemail number at 860-577-2293 or you could email it to us at workflow@rindle.com. Our theme music is an excerpt from Thunder Rock by MagikStudio used under creative commons. Subscribe to us on iTunes by searching for Workflow and visit rindle.com/workflow-podcast for a full transcript of each episode. Thanks for listening and we'll see you next time.