This is an abbreviated version of an article that originally appeared on our blog called How Legal Teams Determine What They Can (and Can’t) Automate. You can click here to read the full article."
Coming up with new use case ideas can be difficult, especially for authors who are not simultaneously the subject matter experts or subject matter experts with limited knowledge about what automation can achieve
A 6-step process for identifying automation use cases
Before you dive straight solution thinking and into automation use cases, take a step back first: The best way to solve a problem is not to immediately come up with a solution, but to first take the time you need to fully understand your pain points and problem statements. The better you understand your needs, the easier it will be for you to prioritize ideas and select the right technology that will ultimately help you succeed.
So, while this process will indeed lead to valuable use cases for automation, it’s best to let go of the idea of automation or any specific technology for a moment and think about what it is you’re trying to improve.
By following the steps outlined below, you might discover opportunities to optimize your team, processes, and workflows totally separate from automation. And that’s a good thing! Remember — technology is often a crucial part of the solution — not the whole solution itself. So, as you begin this process, keep an open mind and pay attention to all problem statements you encounter along the way. Technology should always be used to solve a real need and is only part of the solution to create effective and efficient teams.
1. Identify pain points
To begin, you want to have a clear idea of the problem(s) you’re trying to solve. You’ll need to gain a very granular understanding of your team’s pain points.
Ask yourself and the teams you work with the following questions:
- What tasks do you spend most of your time on?
- What part of your job would you like to dedicate more time to?
- What tasks would you ideally want to do less of or get rid of completely and why?
- What are some of the most frequent questions and requests you and your team receive from internal and external stakeholders?
2. Discuss identified pain points
Once you and your team have responded to the questions, continue by visualizing the identified pain points on one large whiteboard or shared digital space.
- Are there any commonalities between the different answers?
- What processes cause the most frustration to the team?
- What seems to be blocking progress, efficiency, or output?
- Create an open forum with everyone who submitted responses and discuss your findings together.
- Ask for additional detail and context where needed to ensure the full scale of each pain point is clear.
3. Get feedback from an expanded set of teams
In this step, you’ll include additional context and learn the full impact of each pain point. Take a look at your findings and consider which other teams form part of the identified pain points and inefficiencies.
Remember — Generally, improvements can only occur when individual participants want them to occur. Get other teams’ feedback to involve them in your process early on and add your findings to the whiteboard. At this point, you’ll likely already begin to notice some areas that are ripe for improvement.
4. Discuss requirements for a solution
Now that you have gained a clear understanding of pain points and opportunities for improvement, start thinking about the requirements a solution would need to meet to be successful.
Remember — we’re still not thinking about automation specifically yet. We’ll get to that in the next step. For now, just think generally about what components are necessary for any solution to effectively improve one of your pain points.
Consider these key questions:
- What does the solution need to be able to do?
- Write out the exact task, decision or process the solution needs to perform
- Are the requirements you identify critical to solving the original pain point?
- How would you measure success to ensure the individual requirement is met?
- What positive business outcome do you expect if the requirement is met successfully?
Below, have a look at an example table commonly used to set out the required capabilities for each solution. Start by translating your findings into required capabilities and then start filling out the remaining columns.
Solution requirements for legal automation
Once the first draft is complete, share this table with your team and other teams involved to get feedback and fill in the gaps.
5. Discover automation potential
So far, you have identified some of your team’s core pain points and understood the required capabilities needed to solve them. Now it’s time to select the right approach to ensure a successful solution.
This is where you start considering automation opportunities. Some of the pain points you identified may lend themselves well to automation, others may be solved differently, e.g., with a change in the make-up of the team or a shift in responsibility.
Select the right opportunities for automation
When considering what to automate, consider tasks and processes where the (legal or compliance) rules are clearly defined. This doesn’t mean that the lawyer, compliance manager, or business expert won’t still be part of the workflow or decision itself. Their expertise is essential and they will remain at the heart of the process, even if they are removed from the more tedious, lower-complexity tasks. For example, they’ll still need to evaluate and assess collected information or to approve decisions.
Automation is a key part of workflow optimization, but there are still complex areas where the business expert needs to remain involved. Automation helps focus the expert’s energy where it’s needed most.
What we are looking for when trying to identify automation opportunities is the type of scenario that happens with a certain repetitiveness and frequency. Mundane and time-consuming tasks that occur only once or twice a year are less likely to justify tech investment than tasks and processes that are not only time-consuming but also happen with a certain frequency (at least a few times a month) and are a low value add to the overall business.
6. Understand urgencies and create a shortlist of automation use cases
With an in-depth understanding of your team’s needs and solution requirements as well as an understanding of the costs and benefits of potential solutions, you are now in the position to set priorities.
It is important to consider the urgency to solve a specific pain point for two main reasons. First, urgency makes it much easier to gain internal buy-in on a solution. Second, urgency also supports a successful roll-out and adoption of the new solution.
Go over the individual pain points identified and consider which of these happen most frequently and create the biggest inefficiencies for the team. Then take this list and ensure that each proposed solution for these pain points forms a strong business case.
Once you have the business cases listed in order of urgency, you have identified your shortlist of solutions with strong automation potential! Now all that’s left is to pursue those solutions with the right technology provider.