Water, coffee beans and business processes


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Gary Comerford called it his favorite BPM posting ever and it’s still the most popular entry on this blog. “Let coffee be your guide to Process Experience” describes the difference between the internal view on a process (“What do we do”) vis a vis the implications on the customer’s process. Talk about Outside-In, customer centricity or client-focus, the coffee experience example shows you what it’s all about.

Unfortunately, the process problems connected to getting my daily dose of caffeine don’t stop with the recognition of my own process. There is also the issue of interpreting processes – a particularly grave problem when it concerns my espresso.

Lately I’ve started to ask waiters about how they make a double espresso before ordering one. Usually I get a straight answer and then the fun begins. I suggest you try this experiment. Once the waiter has given you an answer, ask him to check with the person actually working the espresso machine. Chances are, the waiter will return with a second answer, different from the first.

You may wonder why we regard this as a process problem. On the face of it, the process is clearcut:

1. Customer: Order double espresso, 2. Waiter: Take order, 3. Waiter: Transfer order to Barrista, 4. Barrista: Produce double espresso, 5. Waiter: Collect double espresso from Barrista, 5. Waiter: Serve double espresso to customer, 6. Customer: Enjoy – Or not!

Easy? Easy! But I probably won’t be getting what I want.

What I expect from a double espresso is twice the amount of espresso beans and the usual amount of water: Double espresso. Can’t imagine how anyone could fail to understand the meaning. I do realize though that the usual interpretation is ‘double the water and double the espresso’, in other words, press the button for a single espresso twice in a row. I’ve also come across bars and restaurants where they have machines that are programmed to produce a large weak espresso, i.e. a single espresso made with twice the amount of water. The sub-process in this case would of course be different but the result might also be called a double espresso.

So imagine what the person designing espresso machines will make of the requirement for a double espresso. Does he just envisage the single espresso button you press repeatedly? Or should his design also include the capability to separately select the amount of coffee and water? In reality, he’s in the same position as an IT department. There’s something he can do that conforms to his interpretation of the requirements. But how should he know that you actually meant something else entirely? Chances are, he’ll go ahead and build the machine … and get it wrong.

OK, so this is trivial compared to the grand BPM strategy you’re currently following. But would you like to guess what the most frequently used task in process models is? The one that everyone seems to want to include in their process designs and which is never questioned? It’s: CHECK DATA. Sounds good, sounds important and let’s admit it: checking data can never be really wrong.

But what does it actually mean? Ask the question, lean back, enjoy the ensuring heated discussion and discover why process validation helps you not only understand the structure and logic of a process but also its meaning. And you may also discover one of the reasons why less than 20% of process projects deliver according to expectations. ‘Reading’ the process model is no substitute for actually experiencing the process. At the Process TestLab we can let you work in your process before you start to implement it …. and we serve a double espresso according to your personal specifications.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Thanks for reposting this. Love the mix of serious point with humorous method. “Unfortunately, the process problems connected to getting my daily dose of caffeine don't stop with the recognition of my own process. There is also the issue of interpreting processes – a particularly grave problem when it concerns my espresso.”


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