Brainfood: Master class - Re-engineering

What is it? Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) is a radical, back-to-the-drawing board approach to organisational change. Supporters argue that many businesses cling on to inherited systems and processes simply because those are the ones they have always used. Start again with a blank piece of paper. What would be the most sensible and effective form for this business to take? What activities can we outsource or eliminate? And what implications does this have for our headcount? Managers who want to look decisive talk re-engineering to get everybody's attention.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Where did it come from? In 1993, when belts were being tightened, Michael Hammer and James Champy threw a hand grenade into the boardrooms of the world's corporations with their book Re-engineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution. Here was the case for radical, top-down business transformation, powerfully argued: it was time to 'break the china', the authors said. Reinvent your industry and build barriers to entry by taking the tough measures others are too squeamish to pursue. For CEOs looking to justify huge 'downsizings', the book came at just the right time.

Where's it going? As a fad, re-engineering proved irresistible to a certain kind of boss. But as the recession dragged on, the wave of downsizings (later 'rightsizings') provoked outrage in the industrial world. CEOs who sacked thousands of workers and then got millions of dollars in 'compensation', were soon known as corporate killers. John Birt re-engineered the BBC to within an inch of its life - and although the corporation may have been 'saved' for the digital age, his regime inflicted wounds from which it is still recovering. BPR may retain some of its logic today, but sensible bosses proceed with extreme caution.

Fad quotient (out of 10)

Five (and falling).

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