Workflow Automation – a force multiplier for business


If you have had the opportunity to take a business class, you may have heard the story of Henry Ford’s innovation of the integrated moving assembly line and the impact that it had on the automotive industry BUT, have you considered how borrowing concepts from the business efficiency technique of Scientific Management Theory can empower employees to introduce “Fordism” in their respective organizations? Is it possible that you, or your employees, could have a similar impact on the organization/business?

Management of work existed for a long time before the industrial revolution, however, over time there have been significant improvements. Among the people that revolutionized management and introduced time-motion in the late 1800s and early 1900s are Frederick Taylor, Frank Gilbreth, and Lilian Gilbreth who developed managerial practices and understanding that have stood the test of time emerged in the 20th century.

What is Time Study?

Time is a finite resource that cannot be renewed or replenished. Time study is the art of determining the cumulative time it takes to carry out a specific task or an industrial activity. The labor required to produce a product and the cumulative time is a significant aspect that affects the product’s price.

What is Motion Study?

Motion study involves determining the best method of conducting work for humans, or machines, and eliminating waste. It involves scrutinizing the various motions made by employees or machinery and limiting waste by limiting motion. The end goal of motion study is to increase efficiency and effectiveness.

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The principles are as follows:

1. Define and document the standard method (a typical workflow process)

2. Divide the task into work elements.

These first two steps are conducted prior to the actual timing. They familiarize the analyst with the task and allow the analyst to attempt to improve the work procedure before defining the standard time.

3. Time the work elements to obtain the observed time for the task.

4. Evaluate the worker’s pace relative to standard performance (performance rating), to determine the normal time.

Note that steps 3 and 4 are accomplished simultaneously. During these steps, several different work cycles are timed, and each cycle performance is rated independently. Finally, the values collected at these steps are averaged to get the normalized time.

5. Apply an allowance to the normal time to compute the standard time. The allowance factors that are needed in the work are then added to compute the standard time for the task.

Now that we have defined the Time-Motion, we can broadly apply what we have learned to better understand Henry Ford’s effort to revolutionize the assembly line process.

In early 1913, Henry Ford was credited with re-inventing the way automobiles were manufactured. In a highly criticized move at the time, Mr. Ford made the decision that instead of workers moving to and around the vehicle, the vehicle would be brought to them via a moving assembly line. Instead of multiple workers working on a single car, each worker was now responsible for only a handful of tasks for each vehicle. The result – the workflow process was made more efficient and production was streamlined. Ford was able to reduce the time to assemble a chassis from twelve hours eight minutes to ninety-three minutes, which resulted in the following:

    • Increased employee satisfaction
    • Increased employee wages
    • Increase volume of units sold – 10,660 units in 1909 to more than a million annual units in 1922
    • Decrease in manufacturing cost per unit
    • Decrease AS-SOLD unit cost

In 1909, the Model T sold for $825 (adjusted for inflation – $28,366.53 in 2023 dollars) and by 1925, the Model T was selling for $260 (adjusted for inflation – $4,289.00 in 2023 dollars).

I concede that the example above doesn’t provide a breakdown of the assembly process Ford incorporated prior to transitioning to an integrated assembly line but we can easily imagine how Ford arrived at the idea using Time-Motion. Mr. Ford was able to identify opportunities in the manufacturing process that could be streamlined and, as a result, introduced a new approach/concept to manufacturing automobiles that ultimately increased efficiency, thus reducing costs.

What tools are available today that could revolutionize the way we conduct business, whether it be in the office or in manufacturing? Technologies such as artificial intelligence may be an easy choice but this technology comes with a significant investment that may not be palpable on account of it requiring a particular skill set that may not be affordable to many small to medium sized businesses, however, workflow automation provides a tried and tested way of maximizing efficiency, streamlining processes, increased employee satisfaction, and enables employees to focus on more productive, valuable tasks.

As you may know, a workflow is a generic term for orchestrated and repeatable patterns of activity, enabled by the systemic organization of resources into processes that transform materials, provide services, or process information. It can be depicted as a sequence of operations, the work of a person or group, the work of an organization of staff, or one or more simple or complex mechanisms.

By introducing automation, businesses can now free employees from the bonds of repeatable and time-consuming processes. Best of all, businesses can now empower their employees to develop these automated workflows with little to no interaction from IT. Let’s look at an example.

Problem: Getting data into Microsoft Excel is often a manual process consisting of copying and pasting data from different applications into Excel. In some cases, it needs the user to manually enter the data. In some industries, end users spend five to 10 hours a week performing data entry tasks.

Solution: With the personal productivity automation tools available from the Power Platform, end users can automate the process of capturing this data and entering it into Excel. Power Automate Desktop flows mimic the keystrokes and mouse clicks on behalf of the user. Now, data entry tasks that took minutes could take seconds, freeing the users to work on other items.

Note: Excel’s formula capabilities and the ability to create elements such as Charts and Pivot tables make it easy for managers to keep track of daily items but automating these processes results in improved efficiency and use of company resources.

As you can see, by introducing workflow automation and leveraging tools such as Microsoft’s Power Platform suite of products, businesses can save significant time/money per employee thus enabling them to be more productive, executing higher value tasks but also enjoy the benefits of reduced burden on IT resources to accomplish the outlined objective. This resulted in savings of an estimated 50 worker hours per year or an estimated $1,000 (assuming average hourly rate of $19.71 per hour). Automation quickly becomes a force multiplier which dramatically increases the effectiveness of an individual or group, giving them the ability to accomplish greater things than without it.

If you’re eager to apply workflow automation in your organization and harness its multitude of benefits, don’t hesitate to reach out to us. Let’s take your business to the next level together! 

Nick Trisel

Nick Trisel

Director of Business Development

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