The Essence of Rethinking in Reengineering

“The future is already here, only unevenly distributed,”
said William Gibson.

Twenty five years ago, Michael Hammer wrote about the essence of reengineering in Don’t Automate, Obliterate# (emphasis mine):

At the heart of reengineering is the notion of discontinuous thinking—of recognizing and breaking away from the outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie operations.

Unless we change these rules, we are merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We cannot achieve breakthroughs in performance by cutting fat or automating existing processes. Rather, we must challenge old assumptions and shed the old rules that made the business underperform in the first place.

Every business is replete with implicit rules left over from earlier decades.

“Customers don’t repair their own equipment.”

“Local warehouses are necessary for good service.”

“Merchandising decisions are made at headquarters.”

These rules of work design are based on assumptions about technology, people, and organizational goals that no longer hold.

The contemporary repertoire of available information technologies is vast and quickly expanding. Quality, innovation, and service are now more important than cost, growth, and control.

A large portion of the population is educated and capable of assuming responsibility, and workers cherish their autonomy and expect to have a say in how the business is run.

The new rules imply a strategic rethinking of work. According to Hammer:

Organize around outcomes, not tasks.

Have those who use the output of the process perform the process.

Subsume information-processing work into the real work that produces the information.

Treat geographically dispersed resources as though they were centralized.

Link parallel activities instead of integrating their results.

Put the decision point where the work is performed, and build control into the process.

Capture information once and at the source.

Replace the word reengineering with digital transformation and see that the principles in the article still hold today, including the quip about resistance to change:

“Every few months, our senior managers find a new religion. One time it was quality, another it was customer service, another it was flattening the organization. We just hold our breath until they get over it and things get back to normal.”

Commitment, consistency—maybe even a touch of fanaticism—are needed to enlist those who would prefer the status quo.

Commitment to change continues to be a stumbling block to get from plan to done. Technology adoption continues to to be the main driving force for transformation. Open networks is where innovation is brewing. Its distributed nature makes it harder to see, harder still to predict.


[h/t Fred Wilson]

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