Project Management

RPA, Organizational Change and Managing the Skills Gap

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RPA, Organizational Change and Managing the Skills Gap

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This is the fourth post in a series related to Robotic Process Automation* (RPA) and Organizational Change Management. The purpose of the series is to provide support for project managers during this age of digitalization. You can filter posts in this blog to find all related to "RPA".

Do you feel it? We are in the age of digitalization. Manual processes are being automated at an ever faster rate. So you, as a project manager, should be ready to manage automation projects. To be ready, you need to know something about how the technologies work and something about how the organization adapts to the changes brought about by the automation.

One of the technologies used to automate work is robotic process automation, a relatively simple technology that allows automation of repetitive, rule-based, easily defined manual steps in a matter of days. A developer programs a software robot to follow the steps a human would make to move files, fill out online forms, write standard reports from existing data in multiple applications, and more.

Organizational leaders tend to see repetitive, simple tasks as low value and so do workers who do those tasks. Everyone would rather be doing direct customer service or other tasks that are high-value for the organization, saving money, increasing revenue or building customer delight. Yet a project manager coming in with the ability to make fast changes in multiple areas still may not be successful - without a broad knowledge of organizational change management.

One of the success criteria for effective organizational change management is that workers and their leaders are provided the new skills that are necessary once the automation is established. This usually entails

  • What steps are being replaced and will not have to be completed
  • How to manage the workload that remains
  • How to identify and handle exceptional cases that the automation cannot complete
  • How to find and interpret periodic reports that the automation creates  to summarize
  • How to identify and report when the automation is not functioning or not functioning properly
  • How to maintain the automation and request updates/improvements.

When workers do not have the necessary skills, when they conclude that they are not going to be trained or prepared properly, they resist the organizational change. Leaders are the same way. If they do not see that they will be able to manage properly once the automations are in place, they will resist. Resistance to organizational change is one way otherwise impressive improvement efforts fail. Even though there is a strong business case, even though the organization would advance in the marketplace, organizational change will fail if there is resistance on the part of workers, stakeholders or even leaders of the workers.

Here are examples of how resistance can kill an organizational change management effort:

  • Workers make it difficult to transition to having the automation take over
  • Stakeholders, not confident that the change can be executed properly, resist actual implementation of the automation
  • Workers complain to leaders that the automation does not appear ready or the organization does not appear ready to make the change delaying implementation of the automation

Example:  Automated Archivist

Take for example the situation where you are a project manager for an RPA project that is automating a manual process for archiving files for the enterprise that will be used for financial recordkeeping. The process entails moving files from certain shared spaces to a secure archive, allowing for data collection and analysis. The team that does this currently does not like the low value work and would rather spend time on data collection which is highly valuable in their "big data" initiative. The business case also listed reduced risk from human error in the archiving process.

But you do not manage the skills gap properly and then your project bogs down.

  • You find out that workers tell their supervisor that they are not sure this can work. The automation appears to "take over" and not let them do their data collection as usual.
  • Managers raise issues and require additional meetings to address how they will know that the files are archived properly, which they are responsible for.
  • Finance stakeholders want a separate meeting to address their fears that financial records could be mismanaged and no one would know about it. You find out that this fear has been communicated to high levels.

That could get ugly. To avoid this resistance, you have to plan in the beginning to address the skills gap. You must put in place the communications and meetings necessary for workers, leaders and stakeholders. You must make time in the schedule for the training or other activities for the organization to adapt to the change.

So for your stakeholder management plan, add in the groups involved, including the workers, their immediate supervisors, other leaders and stakeholders. Specify what communications are expected. You should have early communications to describe the general scope of the effort, but go further. Include deliverables, such as a "user guide" for the workers and supervisors and stakeholders who will be looking at reports generated by the automation.

And for your schedule, block out time for "organizational change activities" that should be completed before you put the automation into production. That way it will be easier to organize everyone involved to be ready on time.

That wasn't so hard. Once you know more about Organization Change Management, the more you can use your existing tools in a way that will make your automation project successful. Remember, there is more on OCM and RPA in this blog. Filter on RPA. And happy automating!


* Robotic Process Automation:  Configuring a software robot, using one of the relatively new tools available, to complete a certain part of a work process formerly completed by humans. RPA is not Artificial Intelligence, but simply a way of automating the execution of well-defined business rules. Projects are short and bring quick benefits to the organization.

Posted on: January 20, 2021 11:44 AM | Permalink

Comments (3)

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Excellent. Very informative.

Totally agree that one of the success criteria for effective organizational change management is that workers and their leaders are provided the new skills that are necessary once the automation is established.

Very informative. Thanks

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