It is 9 PM. The Finance Team is the only still working. They have already ordered some pizzas, for they know they still have many working hours ahead. They already have the information that was available in the company’s system, but there is still a lot of manual reconciliation to do. This scene is quite frequent in many organizations, big or small, especially when the end of the month is approaching. No matter how big the effort, the day simply does not have enough working hours to complete all the tasks.

But, is the problem solved by working more hours? What if the team had, at least, an hour and a half of additional time per day without working overtime?

Looking for an answer, I found Thomas Oppong, an expert in productivity and network behavior. Oppong proposes to obtain -at least- this additional 20% in our daily working time by changing paradigms: identify and focus in high added-value tasks, instead of continue dedicated to low added-value tasks.  Sounds like common sense, right? I believe that one of the first things we lose in organizations is precisely common sense, and we find ourselves full of goals, commitments, targets, new regulations, instructions from the board, audit requirements… All this helps us lose common sense. That is why I believe Oppong is right: to keep ourselves focused is one of the key factors for success. Being focused on what is important is very powerful, because it puts common sense again on top, and gives us discipline, priorities and effectiveness in what we do daily. It allows us to differentiate urgent matters from important ones, what divides and destroys our energy, from what puts us closer to our targets. When we are capable of making a list of those activities that add value for our job and ourselves, we regain control over our lives, and this fills us with a powerful sense of progress, because we are moving ahead on what we really care about.

Therefore, the best kept secret to be more productive is to apply common sense, and to focus on high added-value tasks. Let us see some other Oppong ideas to help us regain some common sense:

  1. Put your cell phone facing down, and stop checking for notifications. Our cell phones affect us more than we are willing to admit. Some surveys from Gallup show that it takes us up to 23 minutes to refocus back to what we were doing after an interruption. We are distracted even if we do not interact with the phone: it is enough to check the screen to lose our concentration.
  2. Dedicate specific time to check emails. Take control of your time. Replying every single email the moment we receive it makes us reactive and disperse.
  3. Learn to delegate. Take those high added-value tasks under your control, and leave low value task to someone else. As simple as that.
  4. Identify and avoid “time killers”. Do not get involved in things for which you do not have the time. Resist the tyranny of urgency. Protect your time. Learn to say “no”, and say it more frequently.
  5. Start to automate…. quickly. Oppong says “low value tasks are easy to automate. If you find yourself doing the same again and again every day, find a way to automate it and use the free time for something else.”

This last recommendation really surprised me, because it has deep implications, both at personal and work team level. Let us get back to our scene of the Finance team: which is one of the most repetitive and time-consuming tasks? Reconciliations. This is one task traditionally done manually, comparing information sources against ledgers. 20 years ago, systems to automate reconciliations task were expensive, complex, and difficult to operate. Plus, the higher the information volume, the higher the number of persons necessary to perform the task.

Fortunately, this has changed. Today, we can find Robotic Process Automation (RPA) tools at very accessible prices. These tools make processes more effective and efficient. The automation of reconciliations may very easily provide that additional hour and a half per day that any Finance team needs. And common sense tells us this should be the first thing to automate, right?

Yes, Robotic Process Automation could sound as something quite distant from Finance, closer to huge machines inside a car manufacturing plant; but the concept is closer to the business and to the end users than what could appear at first glance. A definition of RPA provided by ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) and KPMG is “RPA is a software that end users may easily program or configure to perform high volume tasks, repetitive and rule-based, in today’s world, where multiple systems integrated flexibly are frequent”.

Of course, automation for the sake of automation is not an intelligent solution. Neither RPA, nor any other technology provides a solution for a wrongly designed process. We need to dedicate time to simplify and streamline the process before automating it. A consultant specialized in RPA tools could help us review our processes in a very short timeframe. However, we may also make good progress towards this goal by using the ESSA (Eliminate-Simplify-Standardize-Automate) methodology. ESSA has been a very successful approach for Shell in the automation of their processes in the Finance area worldwide:

  1. Eliminate. First, try to eliminate any waste in the process. In every process, there are tasks that add no value.
  2. Simplify. Next, simplify each step of the process, by eliminating those that are unnecessary, or dividing them in simpler tasks.
  3. Standardize. After simplifying, standardize the processes.
  4. Automate. Once the processes are as standardized as possible, look for automation opportunities, around specific tasks or workflows.

In our next articles, we will go deeper on specific opportunities to automate business processes, particularly with RPA technologies, how these have been adopted in some real world examples, which are the benefits they have brought to organizations, and how Conciliac helps automating processes with solutions that are real, accessible and with a lot of common sense.

Author: Jorge Oropeza


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