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How an Agile Approach to Automation Can Deliver RPA at Scale

4 min read
May 4, 2020 1:40:20 PM

To address the challenges and failures of scaling Robotic Process Automation (RPA), large organizations should adopt an Agile approach to implement and drive their automation initiatives. What you gain from taking Agile methodology principles and applying them to your RPA efforts is better governance, a more fluid ability to scale, efficiency, and vastly reduced costs because risk and rework can be mitigated.

While most RPA initiatives are still small and tactical, it’s important to adopt Agile principles before growing to enable scale, instead of trying to make the painful transition later.

How Methodology Can Contribute to Failed RPA Initiatives

Robotic Process Automation is a special breed of technological change; it requires software development, implementation, and coordinated change management.

As a basic framework, it needs the integration of the various automation technologies procured to establish an automation toolchain. Then you have to cross-functionally identify automation opportunities, optimize the business processes to be automated, develop them, test them, and then deploy bots.

Because RPA at scale impacts different departments and roles by taking manual processes out of human hands and transferring the workload to bots, robust change management is a necessity. There’s also the massive maintenance effort to consider. Bots are essentially little chunks of code that touch many different systems and user interfaces (UI). Changes to any interconnected piece can cause the bot to break, requiring maintenance to become operational again. And, as we all know, change in the enterprise is a constant, including:

  • New releases of the software/UI that the bots interact with
  • New releases, patches, or upgrades of the operating systems the bots run on
  • New versions of the RPA development platform or ‘action’ components the bots use
  • Business process changes, especially related to the constant evolution of enterprise and regulatory constraints, policies, and controls

Many large organizations are experiencing friction when implementing RPA and then trying to scale because they’re following a project or Waterfall approach. In a project-oriented model, everything is decided upfront and the focus on implementing RPA is doing it on time and within budget, making the initiative very rigid from the get-go and limiting any maneuverability should issues arise.

It’s not uncommon to hear about RPA projects several months in that need to be redesigned because unforeseen issues raised complications; issues that could have been avoided had the initiative followed just a few Agile principles. 

Why an Agile Approach to Automation Drives RPA at Scale

RPA differs from pure software and product development significantly, however basic Agile principles can be borrowed and applied to produce the same outcome: delivering value faster while reducing costs and exposure to risk.

Every principle of an Agile Scrum framework can’t be followed: processes aren’t products and can’t be developed and deployed in the same manner. However, there are various elements of an Agile Scrum approach that can provide undeniable dividends for the companies with the foresight to employ them to accelerate scale and also base their RPA Centers of Excellence (CoE) on.

Dedicated Teams

An agile approach to RPA contains a dedicated team of different stakeholders working closely together that includes developers, testers, and business personas. This not only reinforces the effectiveness in identifying RPA opportunities, but also facilitates governance at scale as a dedicated team can better manage and coordinate automated processes that impact different parts of the business and operations.

Design and Definition

In an Agile approach to Robotic Process Automation, business processes are designed and optimized before any development begins. This allows large organizations to fully standardize and optimize end-to-end, complex, and multi-layered business processes where the real ROI in automation resides. It also provides them with the invaluable opportunity to consider and tie those processes to larger business objectives and enterprise or regulatory constraints, policies, and controls.

Automating basic, tactical processes is much simpler but also delivers significantly lower returns of value in the long run. The major hurdle impeding RPA at scale is automating the more complex processes and ensuring regulatory compliance transparently and effectively. An approach that promotes upfront definition and design to ensure optimization and regulatory compliance is something that has greatly allowed willing enterprises to overcome that challenge.

Maintaining a Backlog

To scale RPA, bots must get bigger and more intricate. A backlog gives you the ability to slice complex, end-to-end processes into multiple work items or stories and prioritize them independently as a backlog.

A backlog is also key to efficiently manage bot maintenance. With many bots and change always occurring around them, maintenance work can consume the backlog and smother new items that deliver value and innovation. An organized approach to prioritization is crucial.

Sprint Planning and Retrospectives

Instead of being tied to a timeline that’s defined at the beginning of a project, planning short bursts or sprints of work affords teams the ability to re-prioritize work should issues arise that need to be addressed, instead of the alternative: realizing something is amiss at the end of a project causing rework and increased costs as a result.

Sprint retrospectives also give teams the ability to take the lessons learned as work has progressed and bake them into their entire RPA effort to avoid committing the same errors downstream and implement good practices on the fly.

How Blueprint Supports an Agile Approach to RPA

Blueprint is a leader in multiple enterprise-class software categories. Better known as market leader in digital process discovery and modeling solutions for Intelligent Process Automation, Blueprint was also recognized by Gartner as a Visionary in the 2020 Magic Quadrant for Enterprise Agile Planning tools.

The Blueprint Enterprise Automation Suite fosters an Agile approach to Intelligent Process Automation because it provides a central repository where all stakeholders can design and optimize complex, multi-layered business processes to be automated, connect them to key enterprise and regulatory constraints, policies, and controls, and then feed that wealth of context directly into an RPA tool to be seamlessly developed.

Discover how Blueprint’s Enterprise Automation Suite promotes cross-functional collaboration and supports an Agile approach to foster RPA at scale in this product demo: