James F. Pestaner
I am semi-retired, dividing my time between writing fantasy fiction and working limited hours as a Direct Support Professional. If you take a brief glance at my background, it seems complex and, perhaps, whacko. Over my career, I have worked in a number of disciplines, served in a variety of roles. I have been a soldier, electronics technician, programmer, computer repair technician, program manager, sales representative, direct support professional, health and wellness consultant, instructor, case manager, field engineer, project manager, and adjunct professor. I have worked for the U.S. Federal Government, hundreds of microbusinesses, a college, a certification training school, a private school, individual clients, in offices, animal and in vitro laboratories, homes, online, in classrooms, and even door-to-door. While these work environments and tasks appear to be vastly different, you may not recognize the common thread: process improvement.
Make things Simple by recognizing Essence
It is not always easy to see the threads that bind seemingly diverse activities. Multiple activities create the impression of complexity; sometimes they are what they appear to be. Sometimes not. All activities have purpose and, from a behavioral perspective, a neutral value.
When I work with a client, I document activities and determine the complexity and ease of ‘repair’ for various processes. Repair or correcting a process seems straight-forward but in real life with egos and territories, nothing is simple even in the smallest of organizations. Team work is supposed to make accomplishing goals easier, possible, if not enjoyable. “Many hands make light work” is the message; however, what is often communicated at the operations level are inconsistent, conflicting, and autotuned processes with outdated goals and objectives. A simple task becomes complex.
If I find complexity, I ‘simplify and refocus.’ I look for clues to reveal processes that began simple and became complex. Listen to the stories people use to explain a process history. I like to pay attention to the people, actors who are animated within a story. Sometimes people enter the story and introduce new or evolving attitudes or provide diminished attention to proces details. Sometimes stories describe tools that are now broken or not used such as system documentation that lay on a shelf. These stories may also describe ‘weeds’, processes that are growing out of control. An example would be home grown software or shortcuts that are employed throughout an organization but created by individuals and even passed from one person to another. Fences may have been erected that mark territories due to equipment, software, or management limitations.
All of these conditions, broken tools, sprawling weeds, and standing fences serve a purpose and have meaning but their functions may be replaced using current technology or simplifying the process. I hope you recognize the power of stories to provide historical context and clues to process malfunction and potential to simplify the design of streamlined processes. This streamlining effect is created by compacting. Stories compact “facts” by ignoring details and accentuating others for the purpose of presenting disparate experiences in a logical and orderly way.
My BIO is an attempt at creating a “logical” story from a collection of data points, many contradictory and certainly not linear in progression. The storyteller may choose to insert history to explain the existence of certain conditions. The storyteller may choose to try and just paint a picture of how certain conditions exist. Either way, it is important to extract the most poignant and clarifying factoids. Each factoid is a decision to identify and label. There is a conscious effort to discriminate, filter, and accentuate.
A life story, like my BIO, is often compacted at “death” and presented to show the essence of one’s life. Thankfully, I am not dead yet, as far as I know. However, I will present my BIO as if I were dying however it is subjective and at times, contradictory. At the point of death, many people’s curiosity is to seek wisdom or closure from a dying person’s last words or wish (DPLW) or a convicted man’s address to the courts or victims. The DPLW may conflict with all the other factoids that are presented to clarify the person’s life. The DPLW is an approach for simplifying and deriving essence. A DPLW provides clarity of purpose. But again, in my BIO no one is dying, not yet. Another way to understand the DPLW is to consider how it is constructed. A DPLW is an unscripted and spontaneously crafted reflective statement that focuses on what was important at a single-moment in time. Again, a DPLW does not necessarily make sense or fit.
Stories may simplify by providing a clear understanding of complex facts.
A story can be used to create simplicity. Obviously, a story can be used to create confusion as well. Consider the often used phrase, “made-up story”. A story can be used to “spin” what actually exists to appear differently. But we are employing this technique for the purpose of clarifying and improving. We will not consider the use of this for destructive or manipulative purposes such as gaslighting. All stories are constructed or “made-up”.
Leaders as Organizational Storytellers may identify statements made by people who comment on what they experience. These reflective statements that be inventoried by the story. If the storyteller’s intention is to identify a DPLW, she must ensure that such statements are spontaneous and factual in the subject’s eye. The DPLW helps to find essence, that is, meaning and importance.
Here, I try to demonstrate Simplify and Focus with my BIO. Please remember, my life has many instances where my assumptions were not correct and evolved or were manipulated. I did not always learn from past mistakes quickly and some may say never. Sometimes, I was not aware of what I was learning. I, like anyone writing a BIO, leave those instances out and try to make learning a linear progression. Often, the many lumps on the head for not getting something right are minimized or left out. My life is an enigma to me; I am still trying to figure out what I am doing. Here, I am trying to make the most sense of what has happened and present them to you, … whoever you are.
Two of My BIO Stories: Pious Jim & Process Improvement Jim
One story of my life is Pious Jim. This story includes my relationship with God and with people, presented in a positive light. This story begins with my grandparents, John Castro, and his wife Lucy, my Papa and Nana. They were self educated and they lived to serve their church. They are my examples of piety and strength that I use to envision my path of life to follow. My Papa and Nana were extremely religious and in my child’s mind, an embodiment of clarity of focus. This aspect of their life was sumarily ridiculed by my parents and my siblings. I love them and would like to be like them. Of course, now I know they were flawed humans but I focus on the positive messages I can extract from the precious time I spent with them. I remember sitting under the tree in our backyard and he would tell me ridiculous stories. He would whistle songs and laugh in a way that you knew was honest laughter. My grandmother worked all day in the kitchen preparing marvelous meals for us: hungry and mostly unappreciative family thinking she was caring for us because that is what she does, not to model how we should live. They were presenting an example of a godly life.
Interestingly, within Pious Jim, my parent’s part is not so clear. My parent’s taught me and my siblings that education was to be valued. They seemed more money-focused. I disregard that my father was not forthcoming about who he really was. He fabricated a story about his father, his failed marriage, and his abandoned child. He hid most of this from the children. I grew up having no idea of my heritage until my brother posthumously did some detective work. My mother accepted my father’s stories whole cloth. She seemed content that the rest of her family resented her and her husband. Regardless of these flaws, I love my parents and choose not to focus on the bad experiences. My father liked strategy and from what I have figured out, he liked to look down on others when he could beat them. He was a poor loser and my mirror now when I deal with anger. My father would not talk to me but seemed to present me as a failure. My relationship with others in my family has also been disappointing. I know I accept partial responsibility for this. My family stories are a point of stress for me.
Pious Jim includes lessons learned from my grandparents and my parents that resulted in my desire to help others. Some may think that I sought approval and I suppose that is true to some extent. As a boy, I loved to cook and make people happy with food, like my Nana. I liked cooking for my parents and my brothers and sister. I still enjoy cooking for friends and family. In Boy Scouts and religious training, I learned about service. In my Pious Jim story, I wanted to live a religious life. As a teenager and young adult, much of Pious Jim was destroyed. The story was corrupted as I dealt with depression and bad decisions. For much of my adult life, I have tried to resurrect Pious Jim and include him in my other pursuits.
I have another story I use to present my life. Let’s call the story Process Improvement Jim. The story begins when I was in grade school and I had a summer reading requirement. I read the book, Cheaper by the Dozen and became fascinated with efficiency, as touted by the popular father figure, Frank Gilbreth. At the time I became interested in other inventors and read numerous biographies about Thomas Alva Edison and George Washington Carver. While many other experiences happened and shaped my understanding of process and improvement, this time was pivotal when I look back.
However, it was many years later, when I was thirtyish when I learned of another Gilbreth, Frank Gilbreth’s wife, Lillian Gilbreth. From reading about Lillian’s accomplishments, I learned about adapting the environment to others rather than teaching others to adapt to the environment, or making the environment intuitive. Now Pious Jim and Process Improvement Jim merged. I tried to persuade several strategic people in HR and heads of divisions of places where I worked, to hire handicapped employees. I also discussed with men and women with disabilities and sometimes their support people. I have learned that there are many variables that make the employment of the disabled an ideal rather than a normal practice. In a similar way, I have tried to help the homeless, as well. The church’s leaders, the pastors, are more concerned with managing the flood of requests for help. Religious leaders create artificial bureaucratic barriers to make the issues manageable and affordable.
I see my employers and even religious leaders in a different light today. They were afraid to change their rules to help others. I must use their stories to focus my efforts today. I am currently struggling to see how I can help others when it is not convenient for me. I cannot change others, I can only work on myself.
Early Life: An interest in Process Improvement
As a youngster, I attended Catholic schools: Mater Dei in Potomac, MD for the 7th and 8th grades. and Saint John’s College High School in Washington, DC. As a teen, my best friend Tom Marshall and I created a door-to-door sales business; we resold products we bought at People’s Drugstore. Tom created the database on a computer his father, a vice-president for General Electric, brought home for evaluation. At 19, I created a computer camp experience for daycampers attending the Mater Dei Summer Camp. In the fall, I taught 7th and 8th grade students on the weekend about programming concepts.
Around the same time, in the 1980s, I came up with my first process improvement concept, the McDonald’s Concept, which was the spark that began my pursuit of improvement, but I did not realize it at the time. I was fascinated by automation. Microcomputers were in their infancy. IT was going to be my starting point but the fledgling microcomputer industry was just getting ready to explode.
I met a man named Jim Rose who stopped me to discuss the importance of local politics. I was more interested in talking about how to improve the results of his staff. After I gave a short presentation to Jim about how the production of a McDonald’s hamburger applied to innovating politics, Jim asked me to work on his campaign. I learned later that I could have been talking about anything and he would have asked me to work on his campaign.
I had no particular affection for any political party, but I joined his campaign team. Later, he asked me to become an employee of his company, Rose Associates. I applied my ideas of McDonaldization to his business’ main product, Big Name Badges. I recruited my father to help with a programming task. My father and I worked on coding a program that printed convention badges on one of the first commercial laser printers, the Xerox 9700. After an embarrassing clash between Jim Rose and my father, I left Rose Associates and went into the Army.
Military Service: Electronics Tech/IT Programming
I began my career as an electronic technician in military service. After basic training at Fort Jackson in South Carolina and Advanced Individual Training (AIT) at Fort Gordon, Georgia, I served in the US Army Signal Corps during the Cold War Era at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. About a year later, I completed writing an inventory control program to report combat readiness to the Battalion commander. One year later, I received orders to report to the Clay Compound in Berlin, Germany. After 6 years, I completed my active-duty military service.
Professional Experience IT Tech/System Mngr/IT Programming: ATAC, NNMC, FDA
When I returned to civilian life, I morphed into designing, selling, and supporting the emerging personal computer in a business environment and the early days of computer networking and IT infrastructure with a consulting firm, ATAC Corporation, and their franchise store, Computerland. A year later, I moved to the National Naval Medical Center as a System Manager and Network Engineer. I streamlined the approach for clinic purchasing of IT equipment and network infrastructure. I remained in government service, supporting offices and labs at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). At the labs, I developed and programmed a tool for Drs. John and Fred Alleva heading a protocol capturing hamster wheel-running. The findings using my software were published in Chronobiology Today.
UMUC Academic Pursuits: Master's Degree
I became concerned about the business consequences of rapid technology evolution and implementation consequences. I decided to research the application of technology in grad school. My master’s thesis examined the phenomenon of knowledge loss and knowledge deprivation within an organization during downsizing. With a stated goal of improved profit or shareholder value, observers should realize that the value of the organization was reduced in a way that is unseen in financial reports. I created an approach to identify and track knowledge products aka information products (IP) that defined knowledge stores.
I explained how to re-purpose IBM’s IPO algorithm diagramming process to identify IPs and examine activity within micro or virtual components of the organization. I argued that these micro organizations are hidden on the organization chart but accomplish critical work at all levels (strategic, tactical, and operations) in informal decision making that often goes beyond organization borders. I argued that such a process was necessary for understanding how changes to structure and policy affect an organization’s value. Furthermore, I posited that focusing on and simplifying the information marketing process of primary and secondary information products would increase the organization’s capacity to handle market changes and be competitive.
Note: My failed PhD dissertation that I discuss a bit further on, Synthetic Dissent, proposed creating a competitive project acceptance and review board that would use current IP (including IP generated by vendors) and shifting market assumptions to determine the present and future value of various projects. I argued that this could reduce catastrophic failures due to leadership “blinders” and increase leaders’ sensitivity to changing critical market conditions. My dissertation board thought this was better suited for the school of psychology than a school of business.
Professional Experience: FDA, Digital, FLRA, CUC
I spent a few years teaching technicians on the job as the senior tech on one of the FDA Helpdesk (CDER), and hopeful adult learners with certification training at Digital Learning Center, an independent IT school for professionals. I was asked to help with Helpdesk performance issues at the Federal Labor Relations Authority. Over a 3-month period, I identified critical processes performed by the Helpdesk and developed a process improvement plan. I also taught an introductory data communications course and IT certification courses at Columbia Union College, now Washington Adventist University.
I was hired by the FLRA as an IT Specialist. I operated as a co-Network Manager and contractor POC. I developed a network cut-over plan that was recognized for its innovations. I developed a revised document review process that resulted in a large savings for the FLRA. I was a key participant for the FLRA Emergency Preparedness Committee. I was given monetary rewards for these projects.
Capella Academic Pursuits: ABD Organizational Management
I worked on my PhD in Organizational Management, obsessed that a process improvement approach could be generically applied in a competitive vendor environment, as I had done at the FLRA. I posited that technology acquisitions/moves are (a) performed routinely for competitiveness and survival, and (b) determined on a set of information and result in an outcome e.g. acquisition, policy, or action. I believed that information siloing was to some extent responsible for shunting an organization’s decision-making process and that a methodology must be developed to remove blinders, to reveal hidden information.
I researched organizational decision-making and considered the similarity to scientific and clan thinking which tended to create bubbles that held information in the major power holder’s worldview. This barrier to considering fledgling industries, technologies that required uprooting existing infrastructure, or technologies with few early adopters woud naturally affect the ways leaders make decisions or at least how they assemble the information to determine an outcome. I attempted to research an idea I called synthetic dissent, a way to use vendors to reveal hidden criteria in a non-adversarial environment. (note: Another similar approach that is widely used is opposition research, but that is a valid choice when there is an adversary.) My dissertation commitee felt that my topic was not suitable for a business school. I left without completing my degree but I used these concepts to create a modified Agile project management approach characterized by innovative solutions within a competitive multi-vendor and multi-cultural environment.
My Global Channel: 2012 - 2016
In 2012, I decided to close my IT career and build a community of microbusinesses. I called the community My Global Channel (MGC). The idea was fairly simple, direct the types of businesses I defined in my master’s thesis to specialized websites I offered to them as a member of MGC. I presented the concept regularly to chambers of commerce, business incubators, college students, and targets from street marketing. I designed templates for 6 business types and worked with a developer in Bangladesh and New York to build the community using CodeIgnitor. It took 5 years to build. Despite some success, I had to close the doors in 2015. There was a short period where I tried to resurrect using WordPress and associated plugins to shortcut the development process.
Pestaner Services - Direct Service Provider: 2016 - Present
In 2016, I decided to apply process improvement to private organizations that work with social issues. I applied my ideas to organizational processes and individual improvement. I believed strongly, and still do, in exercise and mindfulness using an abridged ABA approach. I wanted to work where I would be able to apply my philosophy. Since I started providing services through Pestaner Services and various agencies, I provided direct services to the homeless, substance addicts, adults and children learning life skills, and autistic adults and children.
Later, Lead4Life hired me to be a case worker for them. My assigned clients were teens and adults who were at risk: homeless, illicit substance users, and others who were involved with the justice system. I provided referrals to social programs, worked with other programs advocating for my clients to receive assistance from Cornerstone, Shepard’s Table, and InterFaith Works, for example. I also performed ADL evaluations, and coordinated with other caregivers with Lead4Life. I was promoted as a program manager and to expand programs into Frederick County in Maryland. I developed ties with various churches and local organizations to provide assistance to homeless and needy clients. I designed promotions to build ties within the community. Some of these efforts was the Frederick On Our Own, the Frederick Rescue Mission, and the Gale House. I set up a safe place for clients to bathe, have access to the internet, rest, and visit with a therapist. I provided a plan to the former Frederick On My Own Center Director to create a hub-and-spoke model for peer-to-peer PRP services in Maryland.
For the past 10 years, I divided my time between consulting services to microbusinesses and working on various individual improvement projects. Much of my work is as a volunteer and sometimes with compensation as a nanny, tutor, companion, and mentor. I provide date-night and overnight care! I work with agencies and independently to assist my clients to deal with a variety of issues including homelessness, mental illness, mobility challenges, confidence, and executive function challenges. I have experience working with non-verbal and self-injurious children and adults dealing with stress and depression.
I have over 40 years in process improvement experience in a variety of settings that includes microbusiness consulting, direct services with disabled, homeless, and ex-offenders, teaching online and in the classroom, and work in the US Government civilian and military service. I have shown my abilities to define innovative initiatives in agencies as a Program, Project, and Case worker in organizations with tight budgets, strict legal restraints, and conflicting goals. I have an MS in Technology Management and BS in Computer Information Systems. I am a Veteran of the US armed forces serving in the US Army Signal Corps during the Cold War Era at Fort Huachuca, Arizona, and the Clay Compound in Berlin, Germany.
Looking back, I am very proud of my personal triumphs. I have diabetes and successfully lost significant weight using a low carb high fat (LCHF) diet, Intermittent Fasting, exercise, and mindfulness. My wife and I live in Rockville, MD; we have been married since 1982. We have two boys and three grandchildren, so far.