Reengineering (BPR)

Norman Frank (
Sun, 25 Sep 1994 08:47:09 -0400

Below is an article/book review that should get some discussion
Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business
Revolution, Michael Hammer & James Champy, published by
HarperBusiness (c/o HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 10 East 53rd
Street, New York, NY 10022), 1994, 223 pp, $25.00 (list)

A Book Review by Norman C. Frank, PE, CQE, CQA
CER Corporation

No less a personage than Peter F. Drucker says that
"Reengineering is new..." Not so. This is a rehash of old
quality information from the 1970s and 1980s. What makes it such
a hit is that it has B-school [business (MBA) school] acceptance.
True, the authors claim this is different from the advocations of
the quality field, but this doesn't make it so. The authors
would like you to believe that their theory is new and try
throughout the book to distance themselves from the quality
movement even to stating in the introduction, "Reengineering
isn't another idea imported from Japan." They also try to
distance themselves from other business actions, such as
downsizing (current buzzword is "rightsizing") and restructuring.

This "breakthrough" theory is really an adaptation from the
quality field that originated in the 1950s and began to become
prominent in the 1970s and 1980s. What makes it acceptable now
to businesses is that it is couched in B-school terms by authors
with the appropriate B-school recognized credentials. The book
is aimed at managers who expect miracles because they are trying
to find shortcuts to paradise.

Reengineering, as given in this book, is basically a quality tool
that has been pulled out, glorified, put on a pedestal, and
touted as the latest management technique. In reality it is the
third nail in the fourth board under the left-most window on the
east side of the house of quality. The biggest flaw in the
theory of reengineering is that it fails to address the customer.
Sad, after all these years and books the authors, in the words of
the late W. Edwards Deming, "still don't get it." What is even
sadder is that management (ignorant in the ways of quality) is
buying this.

Mr. William E. Conway in his book, Winning the War On Waste
(available from Conway Quality, Inc. 15 Trafalgar Square, Nashua,
NH 03063), describes the trap these authors have fallen into:

"Most organizations do not really understand continuous
improvement. They think it refers mainly to
improvements made at low and middle levels of the
organization. Continuous improvement includes such
changes, but the most important changes are those
fundamental and major changes [read "reengineering"]
that only top management can lead."

Conway goes on to say:

"The business world is flocking to reengineering and
business publications are awash in articles about it.
This has reduced effort on continuous improvement
because many people believe that reengineering replaces
continuous improvement. Actually, reengineering is
part of continuous improvement and it always has been."

The fact that continuous improvement includes the concept of
"reengineering" (and has since the 1950s) is either missed or
ignored by the authors. Tiffany A. Moore of Addison-Wesley
states, "Experts across the country now agree that focusing on
continuous improvements of the core business and engineering
processes with an organization will lead to the most meaningful,
long-term improvements and production of the highest-quality

The authors' theory fits nicely with the B-school desire to only
do something once to get big, instant, short-term results,
collect big bonus checks, then move on. The definition of
"reengineering" is given as "the fundamental rethinking and
radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic
improvements in critical, contemporary measures of performance,
such as cost, quality, service, and speed." This fits well with
miracle-expecting management thinking.

Some of the results of reengineering (eliminating local
warehouses) are also contrary to the proven results of Bill
Creech in his book, The Five Pillars of TQM (available from
Truman Talley Books/Dutton, 375 Hudson Street, New York, NY
10014). Thus, we have two books giving advice that leads to
opposite results. The results of TQM (total quality management)
and continuous improvement are a spreading out of authority to
the location of the user. The results of reengineering are often
consolidation and removal of concern from the location of the
user. Wide-spread application of consolidation in the 1960s led
to many of the disastrous problems of the 1970s and 1980s and has
proven to be a poor approach to management in the 1990s.

Thus, the positive successes of TQM and continuous improvement
are tossed away in favor of the quick fix. The authors would
have their companies "leap ahead" using reengineering. Funny,
where they are leaping to is where quality was in the last
decade. It seems obvious that after their leap, the continuous
improvement and TQM companies will have moved ahead again, thus
requiring these miracle-expecting managers to make another leap
ahead, probably using the latest management fad.

Abraham Maslow stated, if all you have is a hammer, everything
else looks like a nail. Throughout the book the authors state,
"...the only way to achieve what they must is through business
reengineering." This line has obviously been swallowed hook,
line, and sinker by many people. The authors have the tool
"reengineering", thus everything else looks like it should be
reengineered. This makes the authors, and those who believe
this, one-tool managers.

In places the authors say that reengineering is not geared to
flatten the organization, then they state "The only way to
eliminate bureaucracy and flatten the organization is by
reengineering..." Similar conflicts can be found in other places
in the book.

Dr. J. M. Juran, in his keynote address to the 1994 Annual
Quality Congress in Las Vegas also addressed reengineering:

"To make matters worse, much of our society seems to be
mesmerized by buzzwords -- excellence, reengineering.
Often these are merely attractive new labels for old,
well-known concepts. However, some upper managers are
not aware that those concepts are old and well-known.
So there is a market for buzzwords, and the
opportunists know this. Our media amplify the effect.
They are ever on the lookout for new hot topics. If
they can't find a hot one, they warm up a cold one."

OK, so I'm not impressed with the book. Reengineering, as a tool
in continuous improvement, does have some good theories and
approaches that would be good to review. Sometimes the effort
leads to good results. The stories of three companies form the
backbone of the supporting success stories: IBM Credit, Ford
Motor, and Kodak.

The most important reason to be familiar with the contents of the
book is that it is what is being read by your management. Books
such as this are more readily read by management than are books
on management from the quality viewpoint.

Buy this book from any book store. For this book, I recommend a
discount bookstore.
Mr. Frank has over 25 years experience in the field of quality,
in the areas of nuclear quality assurance, research and
development, and consulting. He is currently in Washington,
D.C., with CER Corporation out of Las Vegas, Nevada, and can be
reached at 202-488-5444.

PS: Since writing the above I have seen an article in Time
magazine where Hammer states that the reason companies fail in
their implementation of "re-engineering" is that they are too
stupid. His intent was to say that nobody could do re-
engineering without him and his consulting firm.

I have also learned that several people are using this miniscule
portion of the quality field as the basis for obtaining advanced
degrees from B-schools. Isn't it nice that only a small portion
of the quality field is such a challenge to the B-schools?

Norman C. Frank
MCI Mail:  4573434