Tool Effectiveness

Recently I’ve seen quite a few questions around automation tool effectiveness. What are some KPI’s? How do I know if it’s efficient?

This question really got me thinking: how do we determine the effectiveness of any tool?

Now that question got me thinking, what’s the most effective tool of all time?

A hammer.

A hammer works so well because it amplifies human effort. It’s application is limited to our imaginations, it works for any task that needs a sudden jolt of precise force. One very common usage is to drive a nail. That led me to think of a nail gun.

Have you seen a construction crew framing a house, putting plywood on a roof, or molding in a room? Nail guns turn tasks that would take minutes into tasks that take seconds. Nail guns are portable, convenient, easy to use, and enormously reduce human effort.

How does the nail gun accomplish that reduction in effort?

Instead of amplifying human effort, it replaces that effort. It has to supply an energy source. It has to have a feeding mechanism for the nails. It needs safety features to prevent lawsuits. In addition to requiring all these features, it has a much more limited set of tasks it can be used for than a hammer.

We see here a correlation between tool complexity, task specificity, and human replacement. As a tool aims to amplify human effort, it is often simpler and be applied to a broader range of tasks. As the tool aims to replace human effort, it necessarily increases in complexity and specificity of task.

Tools are balanced between replacement and enhancement of the human effort.

The balance between replacement and enhancement of human effort is very important to consider in tool design. The more of the human element you want to replace, the more exactly you must define the task and the more complex you must make the tool.

The following chart maps the relationship and plots a couple sample tools. Their exact placement on the diagram is mostly arbitrary just to give a general idea.

Tool Design