Recently, I had the opportunity to have
lunch with Tom Davenport, the CIO Columnist, and the Director of the Information
Management Program at the University of Texas at Austin. At the end of our
lunch, he was kind enough to give me a thick folder full of his many column and
white paper reprints.
A few weeks later, I spent a Saturday morning drinking coffee, and
reading through Tom's generous folder. Many of his reprints touched on the
subtle evolution of reengineering, and the new perspective we all need to take
regarding information and business processes. I even pulled out my old copy of
Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business
Revolution by Michael Hammer and James Champy, in order to refresh my memory
regarding the original principles and objectives of reengineering. Very quickly,
I knew I had the makings of another itmWEB feature.
While working as a consultant with Ernst & Young, I had the
opportunity to work on two significant reengineering projects. For each of these
two efforts, my role was to provide Information Technology expertise and
recommendations. I also worked on two Information Systems departmental
organization engagements (one for a company whose television commercials show a
pin dropping by a telephone).
All four of these consulting experiences had elements of reengineering
involved. All four enjoyed mixed levels of success. I am aware of many similar
projects now occurring within numerous companies today. This started me
wondering, has reengineering really died and gone away, or are we just calling
it a by a different name?
Both Tom Davenport and Peter Drucker appear to be having similar
thoughts. In a recent CIO feature, A Meeting of the
Minds, Davenport interviews Drucker regarding his frank assessment of the
numerous reengineering efforts attempted by many companies over the last ten
years. Drucker's viewpoint is that two key failings of reengineering are now
obvious. The first was making the process seem to be easy to learn and
implement, and the second was relying on the reduction of headcount as a primary
measure of success.
Lucinda Halate, reporting in CIO about the reengineering portion of
CIO Perspectives conference held way back in May 1995, was already pointing out
these issues. In her article entitled The People Factor, she
highlights comments from Michael Hammer and a host of CIOs who had participated
on reengineering efforts within their own organizations. One of their clear
warnings: watch out that you don't end up with a "reengineered organization on
the surface and employees carrying on guerrilla tactics of resistance
This low key employee resistance is a major result of showing
insensitivity to the "people impacts" of the changes being implemented under the
reengineering banner. I also saw this negative reaction from a number of the
client employees I worked with on several of the projects I mentioned above. In
one specific case, the guerrilla tactics worked, and the rengineering report
became someone's bookshelf decoration.
Personally, I feel the best way to deeply understand these people
issues is probably just to close your office door and read Dilbert cartoons for
about eight hours. Scott Adams has captured cynical employee reaction to
non-participatory reengineering projects admirably.
"Making the Organization Work
Isn't this the real goal of reengineering? Making the operation more
productive, efficient, and profitable. Are we going to stop doing this? Of
Reengineering as a discipline provided a structured approach for
examining the organization with a focused intensity toward improvement.
Reengineering also outlined a tangible method for forming an "elite" team to
review the business processes and technology, and then to make decisions and
recommendations regarding concrete change for the better. Will this type of
approach stop being used anytime soon? No way!
Reengineering concepts, and the techniques they have spawned, are here
to stay. Whether we continue to use the "reengineering" buzz word is the real
question. Especially since it has been used by many companies as a "cover" for
downsizing and layoffs. These negative experiences will be hard to shake.
So here in this feature, let's declare the "fad" side of reengineering
to be DEAD. In fact, we can all stop using the term "reengineering", and we can
all start calling fundamental business change projects something completely
There is Still a
The practical application of reengineering ideas is still having a
profound influence on the methods and techniques we are employing today to
improve our business operations. Whether a company embarks on a hierarchy
reorganization, a business process modification, or a complex technology
implementation, reengineering has made its definitive mark on the way we
approach these business changes. From this standpoint, I declare the concepts
and techniques developed under the reengineering name to still be alive and
Isn't this what we have been doing for years anyway? Using the best
techniques from each "fad", and then discarding the rest with the buzz word?
To wrap this up, I want to return to one of Tom Davenport's reprints.
In Cultivating an
Information Culture, an interview of Tom conducted by Leigh Buchanan of CIO
also back in 1995, he stated the following:
Given the quirks of human nature, consider how people
really use information. Given the reality of structural and budgetary
constraints, consider how much an organization can credibly change. And,
given the difficulty of developing and modifying systems, consider how IS can
realistically support that change.
That statement may be even more true today. With business and
technology changes rapidly accelerating, with the coming boom in electronic
commerce, and with the expected increase in business to business data sharing -
the techniques and approaches of reengineering are now even more vital than
ever. No matter what we call these efforts, let's just hope we have finally
learned how to get them right.