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.

Organizational Habits

The Power of HabitI recently read The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg after Zac said, “I have a book recommendation for you, and I won’t take ‘No’ for answer.” It came out in February of 2012 and is both timely and historical in it’s references. There seems to be a bit of bias towards events of the 1980’s, which leads me to believe the author was probably born in the 1960’s. In fact Charles Duhigg was born in 1974 and is a reporter for The New York Times who studied history at Yale and received an MBA from Harvard Business School. The core ideas in this book center around the habit loop, which contains a “cue”, “process”, and “reward.” The scary part is that no one ever really loses a habit – they can be re-instituted at any time with the right cue. The hope is that the middle process can be reprogrammed to take advantage of an existing habit.

Habits are good. We need them to free up our thinking so we’re not always having to figure out how to put our shoes on or brush our teeth. But most of the time you hear about habits is when they refer to something bad. Obviously not all habits are bad and in an organization, they can help employees to do their jobs faster or be used to get along in the “secret hierarchy” that often exists within an organization. When an employee is first hired, their brain hurts because they are having to learn so much information so quickly. This is because nothing they are doing has become a habit yet. This startup area of work has been a focus of mine for a while and so learning more about this process helps me to understand how better to create employee manuals, corporate intranets, and business process design.

Organizational Habits

One term used over and over again in the book is “organizational habits”, which are like unwritten business processes. My twitter bio says I’m, “an IT business analyst in Indianapolis..I’m a Organizational Development and Leadership Consultant,” and I’m currently working on developing a new company centered around how people and technology work together. The socioeconomic effects of people and technology in business is really my core focus and so this book really intrigued me in several ways. As I learn more about Business Process Management and it’s subsequent tools of business process mapping, monitoring, and engineering, I can’t help but think how to integrate this new type of organizational hierarchy that exists in the form of organizational habits into my field of study.

An Evolutionary Theory of Economic ChangeThe Power of Habit references a book called An Evolutionary Theory of Economic Change (1982) by Richard Nelson and Sidney Winter where their central conclusion was that, “Much of firm behavior is best understood as a reflection of general habits and strategic orientations coming from the firm’s past rather than the result of a detailed survey of the remote twigs of the decision tree.” In other words, it may seem like most organizations make rational choices based on deliberate decision making, but that’s not how most companies actually operate. Instead, companies are guided by organizational habits, patterns that emerge from employee’s independent decisions.

Duhigg goes on to give examples of how companies do not act as a single organization moving towards a singular goal of ever-increasing profit, but are more like a group of internally-fighting factions all vying for more power and responsibility. I have seen this with my own eyes while working at two large, regional banks. At each bank, I was not allowed to talk to another department unless I first talked to my supervisor and then the other department’s supervisor. The trouble was hardly ever worth it even though the knowledge transfer may have helped the company as a whole. Although no one died as a result of the lack of internal communication, Duhigg cites examples from Alcoa to a Rhode Island hospital to a London subway where lack of internal communication between workers resulted in deaths. More recently I have witnessed, at one of our biggest clients, people moving offices simply because a bigger one becomes available. What does the size of an office have to do with that employee making the company more money? It has only to do with power and prominence.

Probably the most well known example of failures in intercommunication between departments was highlighted in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. Government agencies were not able to communicate with each other because they either didn’t have the same radios or access to the same databases. They couldn’t talk to each other because before then, they weren’t supposed to. That was the primary reason behind the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the reason you see new radio towers all over the Interstate System in the United States. But one other suggestion came about after 9/11 that hasn’t came to fruition – at least not how it was proposed. The thought was that maybe big cities were a bad idea and that maybe we should have several smaller cities separated by distinguished, un-populated areas. The idea was that maybe bigger isn’t better.

ReworkI would argue that companies may be better off to not grow, but to peel off, keeping the groups small, like the smaller, walled off cities suggested after 9/11. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson certainly argue for this in their book, Rework, which I also recently read and may write about in the future. they believe smaller companies can be better companies because they are more nimble and responsive. It has nothing to do with profitability as a small company can be as profitable or more profitable than a bigger company. Instagram had 13 employees when it was acquired by Facebook for 1 billion dollars. However, even in groups as small as 12, there are still those looking to be the greatest. In the Bible, at the Last Supper when Jesus was telling his 12 disciples that he was about to die, “A dispute also started among them over which of them was to be regarded as the greatest” Luke 22:24.

Successful Organizations

As I learn more about human behavior I get discouraged that there may not be anything that can be done to change things – for people to think less of themselves and more about each other for everyone’s benefit – but Duhigg offers a possible solution. He states, “Creating successful organizations isn’t just a matter of balancing authority. For an organization to work, leaders must cultivate habits that both create a real and balanced peace and, paradoxically, make it absolutely clear who’s in charge.” The “peace” alluded to here is in response to an earlier claim that businesses act more like they are at civil war with themselves – each division vying for more power and responsibility. And it’s from this truce that is part of the solution as well as making sure that when someone needs to be in charge, there will be someone. In this way, it’s more like business continuity planning where you have event-based hierarchy established before things go wrong so that when they do, everyone knows who is in charge. Daily habits get us by and can help us along, but when the cue, reward, or circumstances change, habits break down and so a clear path to leadership helps at these times. The key is that when the leaders are established for the one-off event, there are trickle-down effects that ripple throughout the whole organization, causing them to be more successful all of the time, not just during special or hectic events. Duhigg calls these “keystone habits”.

Keystone Habits

In Success by Management I share that The E-Myth Revisited and Good to Great are both excellent books for those wanting to grow or manage large companies, which you can read more information about in 13 Books for Every Entrepreneur. In Goals as a Function of Success, I wrote, “All team members must buy into the goal. If they don’t then they shouldn’t be a team member.” In other words, the company must have a central goal, like Alcoa had when Paul O’Neill championed “SAFETY”, and those that don’t buy into this goal get fired, like the Alcoa executive in Mexico who didn’t report the safety incident. Once a company has a central goal, the processes inside existing habits are changed. The cues and rewards stay the same – only the middle process is changed. You cannot change a habit, you can only change the process inside it. You cannot change a company, you can only change the people inside it. That is because companies are not whole, they are made up of parts – human and technological – and they all have habits and routines. A strong leader + a strong cause + changed processes = a successful organization.

More to the Book

The Power of Habit BookThere is much more to this book than business topics and if you are interested in learning about how to lose weight or stop smoking, this book may be beneficial for you too. I took from it what I wanted based on my experiences and my topic of interest, which is human behavior in business and how technology can be used by these people to make more successful organizations. It also talks about how habits are used in advertising, which helped me learn things like how suds are not really necessary in toothpaste, shampoo, or laundry detergent, but they are the “reward” people are looking for in a habit and if you don’t learn anything else, just remember that all habits have a cue, process, and reward and that you can’t change the habit, but you can change the process in the middle by hijacking either the cue or the reward.

Business Analyst Glossary of Terms

Business Process Management (BPM)

A field of management focused on aligning organizations with the wants and needs of customers (internal or external). It is a gestalt view of management that promotes business effectiveness and efficiency while striving for innovation, flexibility, and integration with technology. Business process management attempts to improve processes continuously.

Business Requirement Specifications (BRS)

A document that contains the basic requirements of customer that are to be developed as software project cost schedule target dates.


Applications in the R/3 System are combinations of components. The components are held in a hierarchy, which can be displayed in the R/3 Reference Model, that describes the functional scope of the applications in a top-down fashion. The number of components and the number of levels an application has in the hierarchical structure depend on its functional scope.

Enterprise Area

Part of a business area. An enterprise area is a grouping of organization units that have closely linked work and contribute to discrete business processes. The Enterprise Area is the first level of the
Process Flow View within the Business Navigator. Examples are Procurement, Logistics, Organization and Human Resources, and External Accounting. Also called Enterprise process area.

Event-controlled process chain (EPC)

A graphical display form used in the R/3 Reference Model to describe in detail the logical sequence of business functions and events carried out by the R/3 System. The EPC is the fourth level of the model and
may be accessed by drilldown from the scenarios and processes.


An acronym for “Question, Data set, Analysis, and Report / Revision”, which are the four primary steps to any business analysis.

Requirements Analysis

A document that determines the needs or conditions to meet for a new or altered product, taking account of the possibly conflicting requirements of the various stakeholders, such as beneficiaries or users.

Software Requirement Specification (SRS)

A document detailing the functionality, interfaces, performance, attributes, and design constraints of a project.


An acronym for a problem-solving strategy that “States the problem, Defines the Tools, Algorithm (procedure), Implement, and Revise,” which was developed by Andy Harris at IUPUI’s Computer Science department. These are are general steps that can be used to theoretically solve any problem.

Structured Analysis (SA) / Structured Design (SD)

Methods for analyzing and converting business requirements into specifications and ultimately, computer programs, hardware configurations and related manual procedures.

Zero One or Infinity (ZOI)

A rule is a rule of thumb in software code suggesting that arbitrary limits on the number of instances of a particular entity should not be allowed. Specifically, that an entity should either be forbidden entirely (zero), should be allowed once (one), or any number (infinity) should be allowed. Here are some examples of the zero or infinity rule.