Document automation, as you’re probably aware, can have an outsized positive impact on your productivity. By extension, you’re able to get more done, save money, and indirectly make more money.

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Those are all great things to have but there are some mistakes that people often make when getting started with document automation. These mistakes prevent the positive benefits of document automation from being felt.

In this guide, you’ll learn the common document automation mistakes and what to do to avoid them.

The document automation mistakes to avoid

Before we dive in, a quick caveat. These aren’t all the document automation mistakes you can make. Think of them as a starting point or the most common ones to avoid.

Always be on the lookout for how you can improve your document automation initiatives.

Thinking that document automation is a silver bullet

This is one of the biggest misconceptions and mistakes associated with document automation. It is not designed to and will never be able to fix all of your document management problems. In reality, it’s just a tool that amplifies whatever you already have.

If you have broken processes that produce subpar documents or that have more steps than necessary, automating that process will not improve it. You’ll get all of the negatives plus speed.

If, on the other hand, you have processes that are working well, are streamlined, and produce quality documents, automating that process will give you all those benefits plus speed.

To truly gain the benefits you expect with document automation, you’ll be required to do the setup work on your document processes and the dynamic templates you’ll be using. The setup work doesn’t need to be complex but it is necessary to achieve the best outcome.

This includes standardizing processes (which we’ll touch on in the next point), removing unnecessary steps, and bringing stakeholders on board.

Not having standardized processes before automating

This mistake builds on the last one we discussed. Many organizations and individuals that get started with document automation believe they can jump in head first without any prep work.

This is only possible with the simplest documents.

For documents that have even a bit of complexity and additional processes associated with them, you’ll need to prepare properly.

Let’s look at an example.

If a document goes through multiple steps before creation and after creation, you’ll want to make sure that process is clearly defined. Which step needs to come first, second, and third? Who does the document go to after it has been created? Does it need to be approved or signed by a specific person or functional area in the organization?

If you don’t have the answers to these questions and a clearly defined process to support them then document automation won’t yield the results you’re looking for.

We go through the steps in this process extensively in our training program – Document Automation Mastery. For you, right now, I recommend doing a simple audit to understand the process a document goes through. After that, make tweaks as necessary.

Only automating simple documents

The truth is that any document can be automated. You may not be able to automate it 100% but it can be automated at least partially.

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When people say our documents are too complex, we often look at them and realize that’s not the case at all. With our dedicated automation team, we’re often able to completely automate the documents.

You reap the most benefits when you can take complex documents that will usually require hours to edit and automate them. Hours turn into minutes.

It’s alright to start with simple documents but as you get more conversant with your document automation software of choice, it’s essential that you move on to more complex documents. That’s where you start to see a massive ROI on your document automation initiatives.

Not thoroughly checking and editing the master template

The document produced through automation is only as good as the master template used. That means if your master template has grammar errors or spelling errors, the document produced from it will have the same issues.

Think of your dynamic document template as a document that you’ll publish for the world to see. For example, a blog post. It should go through multiple rounds of edits and each edit should have a different goal.

One round of editing should be for clarity. One round of editing should be for grammar. One round of editing should be for spelling. Ideally, you’ll involve multiple people in the editing rounds in addition to the creator of the document.

Why?

Because the brain works in a funny way. If you write a document, you may subconsciously ignore errors because your brain knows what you were trying to communicate. A third party won’t have the same constraints.

They’re seeing the document for the first time so they are paying more attention to the details. This helps them catch errors more readily than the original writer.  

Skipping testing with end users

The final step in any document automation workflow should be to test with a small group of end users.

There are many things to check for:

  • Are the questions in the interview clear?
  • Does the output document meet or exceed your expectations?
  • Are the automations you set up through integrations working as expected?
  • Are there any unforeseen roadblocks that users encounter?
  • Etc.

Skipping this step may result in issues that you never even considered popping up.

Testing with end users doesn’t have to be a complicated affair. Just 5 – 10 of them will help you catch most issues. Let them know you’re trying a new way of doing things and would like for them to use it and share their feedback.

This is an important step because it’ll put them in the right frame of mind and they’ll be on the lookout for any issues. Their feedback will be timely and useful to you as a result.

Not checking the formatting of the output document

This is one of the more overlooked aspects of document automation. For complex documents, you’ll likely add and remove content.

Sometimes, the formatting may get mangled based on the settings you’ve applied to other aspects of the document. For example, you may have a heading above the text that’s added and the new text inherits the heading formatting. Or maybe the bullet point formatting and numbering are off.

These things are easy to correct but only when you’re on the lookout for them. Whenever you’ve finished automating a document, generate the document and look at how it’s formatted to make sure everything is working as expected.

If it’s not, take the needed steps to make sure it’s in line with your expectations. Most of the time, you only need to make a few simple tweaks to get the formatting right.

Creating silos around document automation

The last mistake and one that should be avoided at all costs is to create new silos around document automation. The entire goal of automating documents is to create more efficiency in the organization. If silos are created then the purpose is defeated.

This isn’t to say that everyone should have access to your document automation platform. That can be counterproductive.

Instead, communicate with and train people on how to make the most of the automated workflows. Don’t hoard the information in a specific department or with a few people that understand how to use the software.

Make it public so that if those people ever leave, it won’t take much time to train the next person on how to use the software or manage the documents that have already been created.

Conclusion

Document automation is a powerful tool in your arsenal when it’s used correctly. Unfortunately, it’s easy to use it the wrong way or make common mistakes. This list has gone over some of the most common ones but it’s up to you think about how your own document processes work and take steps accordingly.

Let me know what you think of these document automation steps in the comments and don’t forget to share.