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Reengineering

In the early 90's Michael Hammer sparked one of the business/quality fads with a Harvard Business Review article entitled 'Don't Automate, Obliterate', in which he argued that continuous improvement and the use of technology in business processes was insufficient in a climate of rapidly increasing competition. In Hammer and Champy's follow-up book, they defined reengineering as:

"The fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical, contemporary measure of performance, such as cost, quality, service and speed."

Reengineering, then, means throwing away previous concepts and starting again. At its best, it is creative and impressive, adding significant new value to the company. At its worst, it is an excuse for firing people (and it has been used for this). In many cases, what was called reengineering was (and still is), in reality, just restructuring or downsizing.

Like all fads, it was implemented poorly and had a failure rate of around 70% to 80% (spot the Pareto Principle!). The problem lay both with the inadequate understanding of companies (and consultants!), and also with Hammer and Champy's insufficient attention to the people side of things. Their second book, 'The Reengineering Revolution Handbook' almost amounted to an apology and was mostly about change management. James Champy also hit the nail on the head with his book 'Reenginering Management': Management processes (whether they are recognized or not) control work processes, and if you change work processes without also changing management processes the management processes will conspire to put things back pretty much as they were before.

The tools of reengineering include process analysis/design and change management. They also include going right back to reviewing company values, purpose and vision.

See also:

Process improvement

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