All I Really Need to Know About Process Management I Learned Washing Dishes

The first job I ever had was in during high school at a fancy restaurant called Heiskell’s Restaurant and Lounge. I washed dishes 3 nights a week (Thursday, Friday, and Saturday). Although I worked there with several of my friends, it was still one of the worst jobs of my life. For 3 years I traded my precious weekend evenings washing someone else’s good times down the drain, but it’s from this literal pit of despair that I learned all I really needed to know about business process management or BPM.

Pots and Pans

When you first show up to work, the prep team is just wrapping up and the wait staff have yet to arrive, but the pots and pans have already piled up. There’s a mound of crusted cheese and baked on food to work through before your first dish hits the Hobart. This is where you learn the first business process management task, Design. Before the night heats up, focus on the “work flow, the forces that act on it, interruptions, deadlines, procedures, service level agreements, and inputs and outputs.”

“Good design reduces the number of problems,” for the rest of the night. “Whether or not existing processes are considered, the aim of this step is to ensure that a correct and efficient theoretical design is prepared.” The flow you develop washing the pots and pans, getting a feel for the water hose, dealing with interruptions from the chef, and preparing for deadlines (“We need more cups!”) will help you meet the service level agreements you and your business have made with the customer.

Inputs and Outputs

After the first orders come in, it’s only a matter of time before the dishes start to come back. First comes the bread and salad plates, then comes the dinner plates, followed by the cups. Wait staff will bring huge trays of dishes all at once and often times there will be several people trying to drop off a tray full of dirty dishes at once. This is where Modeling is learned. “Modeling takes the theoretical design and introduces combinations of variables to determine how the process might operate differently.”

“What if the wait staff staggered their trips in and out of the kitchen? How would that affect the time spent dropping off dishes?” or “What if I anticipated the next tray of dishes by stacking dirty dishes to make room for more trays from the wait staff?” We call this process the Staffing Model or Utilization Model, depending on its use. “A Staffing Model is more of a predicting tool for management, whereas a Utilization Model is more of a reporting tool after-the-fact, but both are effective BPM tools.”

Forks, Knives, and Spoons

While plates stack nicely in a tray, silverware lay loose in a tray and need sorted after they come out of the washing machine. As a result of this process, silverware is saved up and ran only when the tray is full (or when we need more silverware washed to meet demand). This creates a “packet size problem”  that exists in everything from Internet traffic to Items Processing runs. In business process management, we call the study of figuring out the best way to do something, Optimization.

“Process optimization includes retrieving process performance information from modeling or monitoring phase; identifying the potential or actual bottlenecks and the potential opportunities for cost savings or other improvements; and then, applying those enhancements in the design of the process.” Based on those inputs, “Recommendations will be made that overall creates greater business value.” Over time a dishwasher learns the optimal number of silverware per tray.

We Need More Cups

Cups, like silverware, run in batches, but there is a finite amount of cups that can be loaded per tray. This is where Monitoring comes into play. “Monitoring encompasses the tracking of individual processes, so that information on their state can be easily seen, and statistics on the performance of one or more processes can be provided. An example of the tracking is being able to determine the state of a customer order so that problems in its operation can be identified and corrected.”

“The degree of monitoring depends on what information the business wants to evaluate and analyze and how business wants it to be monitored, in real-time, near real-time or ad-hoc. Here, business activity monitoring (BAM) extends and expands the monitoring tools in generally provided by BPM. Time studies can also depend on whether or not the business consultant is recording times as they are or as they should be,” which every dishwasher who’s ran a Hobart knows well.

Kitchens are for Closers

In the end, it’s all about Execution. “In practice BPM analysts rarely execute all the steps of the process accurately or completely. Another approach is to use a combination of hardware and human intervention, but this approach is more complex.” It doesn’t matter how good your procedure is, sometimes the silverware tray tips over in the bottom of the Hobart or the garbage disposal gets clogged. No matter what, you’re going to have to stick your hand down in a deep, disgusting, wet hole.

“As a response to these problems, BPM processes have been developed that enables the full business process (as developed in the process design activity) to be defined in a way to improve business operations. Compared to either of the previous approaches, directly executing a process definition can be more straightforward and therefore easier to improve. However, automating a process definition requires flexible and comprehensive infrastructure,” which is something a dishwasher knows well.