Automation’s Evil Twin, Sunk Cost

Automation, I know your allure. Your promise is powerful. The reduction of work is thrilling. Yet, I have been disappointed so many times. I am an automation junky. It started right after college when I used VBA code in Excel to automate myself out of my job in 6 months. To reward me with my effort, I was laid off. Since then, I have been looking for the holy grail. Along the way, I have made some cool stuff, tried more tools than I can mention, and even created a VBA YouTube Channel with over 2 million views (link).

Along my Automation journey, I have learned that automation isn’t the right solution a lot of the time. I learned this by wasting a lot of time building, perfecting, and tweaking with automation. Then I would change a piece of the process that would break the automation I would fix. Case in point, I built elaborate automation when creating a Youtube video. When I made the video, it would create a folder structure post a downloadable dropbox link in a text file on my PC. Next, Trello would create a task to track the video posting, and when I published a video, the Trello card would automatically move to the complete. Did they help me make more videos? No, the automation created potential, but it was just an excuse. Creating potential is easier than actually doing work (in my case, making a video).

10 Automation Challenges that can lead to Sunk Cost

  1. The underlying process isn’t standardized.
  2. Process changes break automation.
  3. The effort isn’t worth the benefit, but often you won’t know this until you have gone too far down the rabbit hole.
  4. Automation introduced unneeded complexity.
  5. Adding complexity introduces breakpoints in the process.
  6. Simplifying the process is often better than introducing complexity.
  7. Automation creates a black box action that a new person might not understand.
  8. Maintaining automation has a cost, and not accounting for it can lead to a sunk cost.
  9. The complexity of the automation is beyond the tool’s capabilities being used to automate. I have used spaghetti automation. I used Zappier,, and IFFT in my YouTube solution. [face palm]
  10. Automation can be a distraction (A problem I know well).

Bad processes can kill good people, and adding automation needs to serve the process and not hamper it. So be careful when you add automation. Work on simplifying the existing process before automating anything. Good candidates for automation are standardized and stable. If the process hasn’t changed for six months to a year, automation can be a great solution if it serves the underlying goal.



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