What’s Your Threshold for Manual Processes?

Dimitris Glezos
November 7, 2016
6 min read

Last month, we migrated to a new marketing automation system. If you’ve ever been a part of a migration, you know it’s not as easy as turning one system off and the other on. There’s a lot of time that goes into planning, specifically to make sure that any and all data is transferred correctly, with little to no downtime or disruption of daily activities.

During our migration (which I’d consider a success!) I worked closely with one of our engineers who helped with the technical aspects of the migration; pieces of the puzzle that I, as a marketer, don’t have the skills or knowledge to complete myself. I came away from the process with a lot of new learnings, but what surprised me the most was a key difference in our way of thinking. I don’t typically publish on the Transifex blog from the first person point of view, but this conversation got me thinking and I wanted to share it with our readers because it’s becoming more and more relevant in the tech, SaaS, and startup industries.

Why do the same thing over and over again if you don’t have to?

Marketers and engineers approach things differently, and that’s to be expected as both are generally tasked with different projects within the same organization. What I didn’t realize was so different was our threshold for manual processes. The best way for me to explain this “threshold” is to give an example, so let me share a quick story.

When we migrated from our old marketing automation system, we thought we’d update a few of the fields in our forms to get a better idea of the customer journey. However, there were a few days of overlap and we were collecting data using the old and new form fields at the same time. With better insights and reporting being one of the main reasons for migrating to a new system, we knew that we’d need to map the old form fields to the new form fields for a clean, consolidated view of user data and behaviors.

The data overlap was recorded in an excel sheet which had around 30 contacts, all who had given us information based on the old form fields. I volunteered to manually add a new column in the excel sheet based on the new form fields, update each property (my thinking was there were only 30ish contacts which should take less than 10 minutes), and upload the new information back into our new marketing system. Voila! The problem would be fixed.

The engineer who was working on the migration had something else in mind. After I’d volunteered to do the upload manually, he looked at me and immediately responded “Why would you do that? You shouldn’t be doing that. It’s going to take way too much of your time. You should just automate it.” And he made a good point. Until we were able to update our form fields in every place that a form appeared, and this goes beyond our own marketing site because we collect data via other outside channels, we’d be forced to do this manual process each time. It may only be 10 minutes this week, but it could easily be 40+ minutes next week.

If you have to do the same thing 10 times, it’s too many.

So we found a way to automate the change, and this automated workflow would be applied each time we ran into a similar problem. Don’t worry, I won’t bore you with the specifics. But I came away from the entire process with one piece of smart and actionable advice from my colleague. If you have to do the same thing 10 times (manually), it’s too many.

So far in my career, I’ve focused on marketing projects and I’d say that my threshold has always been pretty high for manual processes. Truthfully, a lot of marketing technologies have only become robust solutions in the past 5 to 6 years, with the old and more traditional options requiring a lot of workarounds. Even WordPress, a company that’s known for being a simple, straightforward content management system, is far from the ideal or comprehensive solution for a non-technical marketer.

For marketers and marketing teams, these inefficient solutions or roadblocks as you might call them, are just par for the course. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it shouldn’t be this way considering all the technological options available to us. There’s an app for everything these days, isn’t there?

We’re all trying to maximize our time.

The engineers I’ve worked with have almost always taken the approach of “get the most out of your time” when it comes to their daily work-related tasks. I do share this thought process, and think most of us try to maximize our time as best we can, but I personally don’t evaluate how I can reduce or eliminate manual processes from my daily tasks on a regular basis. In fact, using automation to fix a problem isn’t usually on my radar when it comes to solutions.

At Transifex, I’ve started to see this same pattern with new prospects who are engaging with our team. A lot of the developers understand the pitfalls of manual localization processes – the time consuming manual extraction of translatable strings from the source code, putting strings into a spreadsheet for translation, getting the actual translations back in time to release with the next update, and actually uploading the translated content back into the code base. Not to mention the potential for errors with each manual step.

Marketers, project managers, and those new to localization, to name a few, are in a different camp. They have business objectives to deliver, like gaining traction and product adoption in new international locales. Moreover, they’re not looking for an automated solution, just a reliable way to get content translated. If the solution is a manual process, that’s okay. But (and there’s always a but), at the end of the day, you know what you’re missing out on by not automating and in most instances, automation provides value. Automation is essential for increased time savings, productivity, and peace of mind – or in my experience, it’s just one less thing to think about.

Ready to kick the manual process habits?

Think your manual process threshold is too high like mine? Before you answer, I’ll leave you with one final thought. My colleague was telling my (crazy) idea of using an excel sheet to manually change each contact to a fellow engineer at Transifex. When he heard about the “10 times” manual process rule, his response was “10 times? No. If you have to manually do the same thing 3 times, you have to automate it.”

Dimitris Glezos

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