The purpose of automation

Of late I have been wondering what is the purpose of automation?

  • Is it improved Quality by elimination of erring manpower and delegating the work to machines?
  • Is it saving Time by eliminating coffee break taking manpower?
  • Is it bringing down Cost by eliminating unionizing manpower?
  • Is it elimination of manpower for the sake of elimination?

The questions sound too theoretical. However, depending on how you answer, approaches to automation may change!

For example,

  • if you put Quality over Time and Money, you may end up designing a 100,000 dollars hammer. You may end up so complex automation that by itself may require testing. Just think of automated fab! It takes years to build and years to test before it goes into production.
  • if you put Time over Quality and Money, you may end up spending fortunes.
  • if you put Money over Time and probably Quality, outsourcing may be easier than automation.

I have designed automation systems that each optimize one of {Quality, Time, Money} at the cost of the other one or two. The management (of any company I was working with) often changed the need half-way – and then wondered why automation efforts are not paying off.

As a designer, it used to tick me off a lot.

Only when I became an experienced manager, I realized that it is not a simple myopia – it is a case of astigmatism! Priorities do pose themselves in a jumbled manner! For a year, you are competing hard in a growing market – and Time reigns supreme. Next year, you see that the market has screwed up and Money becomes the priority at yet another time, your best engineer has left the job and automation better ascertains Quality, even if the release can go a week later.

I have also realized that (in test automation at least) it is possible to come up with a system that optimizes all the three parameters. However, it requires laying down foundations of the automation framework very carefully. More on that later 🙂

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