The importance of process: A potty training case study

This could be alternately titled, “The importance of process: A potty training case study.”

I found this photo in a daycare classroom. “I can go potty.”

What I learned about process from potty training |

This graphic outlines the 12 steps to going to the bathroom.

  1. Go to the potty (i.e. toilet)
  2. Pull pants down
  3. Pull down pull-up
  4. Go to bathroom
  5. Get toilet paper
  6. Get a wipe
  7. Wipe
  8. Pull up pullup
  9. Pull pants up
  10. Flush
  11. Go to sink
  12. Turn on water

This may be the most simple implementation of a process checklist I’ve seen. Yes, I know, parents, you’re likely groaning as you think of potty training. Non-parents, you may think I’m crazy, but stick with me. I promise there’s good stuff ahead.

The steps above clearly lay out a repeatable system for any child to use the restroom. They also teach us several key principles about process implementation, systems and checklists that can be applied broadly. Let’s explore:

I've never thought about how potty training can teach me lessons for my business |

4 Key Principles of Process and Checklists

1. Process exists in every single aspect of our daily lives.

Process is everywhere, not just in our work environment. We talk more about routines at home than we do about process, but it’s the same thing. It’s not scary, it’s routine.

This potty training example is clearly an effective tool for teaching young children to go to the bathroom. It breaks the process down into manageable steps. It’s repeatable. It’s picture oriented, which is age-appropriate.

2. Every process has room for improvement.

The reasons a process needs improvement vary. Some processes need more clarity to be easier to follow. Some processes could be more efficient by cutting out unnecessary steps. Some processes need revision because the process, technology or inputs have changed.

While our potty training example clearly has proven effective in the environment it’s used in, there are a few improvements that could be made:

From a clarification and easier to follow standpoint, I would recommend that the “get toilet paper” and “get a wipe” steps be an either/or, not one following the other.

Also for clarity, I would edit “pull up” to read “pull up or underwear.”

To complete the process, the remaining steps to washing hands should be added.

Edits based on technology changes even apply to this example. Older versions would have existed before pull ups were invented and likely read “pull down your plastic pants.”

3. The level of detail in any given process naturally changes based on our experience level.

As toddlers, a 12 step process for going potty is not only helpful, it’s essential. Grade school aged children don’t need a 12 step process for going potty. The do typically still need reminders – or a process – to spell out a morning routine in detail. For example, a grade school morning checklist might include:

  1. Go potty
  2. Get dressed
  3. Brush your teeth
  4. Brush your hair
  5. Make your bed
  6. Eat breakfast

(Side note: Our kids, ages 4 and 6, love the morning and evening routine checklists from the Kids’s Responsibility & Money Management Kit.)

As adults, our morning getting ready process may be as simple as “Get up and get ready for the day.” At this stage, the elements that we add to the process that need reminders typically aren’t going to the bathroom, showering or getting dressed. The process reminders are more along the lines of “get up early to have some quiet time, workout, or accomplish a specific goal.”

4. Clear, repeatable process gives us the freedom to do our best work.

The child who doesn’t need to think about how to go potty can quickly accomplish the task and get back to the more important things like playing.

As adults, everything we do has an underlying routine or process. Yes, it’s harder to find the underlying routine or framework in some situations, but it’s always there. Even the most creative work can be broken down into an idea, a starting point, doing the work and wrapping it up. Process and systems absolutely should have the fluidity to match the situation.

Take Action:

We’ve learned that process, systems and checklists matter. Checklists take the guesswork out of any repeatable work that gets done – regardless of how mundane, critical, low-key or high stress that work is.

What can you create a checklist for today?

If this is your first checklist, find an area that works fairly well, but one little thing tends to get forgotten or not go quite right.

1. Write down all the steps that need to happen to get the work done.

2. Test the steps. Run through the checklist, doing the work exactly as written. Did what you wrote down capture everything correctly? Typically a trial run reveals at least one area that was missed or needs to be further clarified. Make those edits (Bonus points if you have someone else not familiar with the process that can test the checklist for you.)

3. Save or post the checklist somewhere prominent, and use it every time the process is done.

Now that you have the tools you need to create your own process checklist, I would love to know you take action and make it work for you. Send me an email at and let me know how it’s working! 

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