Hammer-Ing Home Reengineering the Gurus of a New Management Tool Talk about Its Impact on Corporations

By Shelley Donald Coolidge, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, May 2, 1995 | Go to article overview
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Hammer-Ing Home Reengineering the Gurus of a New Management Tool Talk about Its Impact on Corporations


Shelley Donald Coolidge, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


MICHAEL HAMMER has been called the founder of a "movement" -- a popular way of looking at work, organizing work, and devising corporate strategies that is called "reengineering."

The former Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor co-wrote "Reengineering the Corporation," a 1993 book that spent weeks atop national bestseller lists. Now a consultant, he has written a new book entitled "The Reengineering Revolution: A Handbook" (HarperBusiness). He wrote it with Steven Stanton, a colleague at Hammer and Company, in Cambridge, Mass.

The Monitor caught up with the two as they kicked off a nationwide publicity tour.

How do you define reengineering?

Hammer: {The} technical definition is: the radical redesign of business processes for dramatic improvement, which can be translated into plain language as starting over with a clean sheet of paper. It's rethinking how a business operates starting from scratch -- forgetting the past.... It says don't worry how you did things yesterday and try to make them better. Pretend we're starting the business today.

Could you differentiate between downsizing and reengineering.

Hammer: Downsizing is basically leaving the work as it is and eliminating people. Reengineering means rethinking and eliminating unnecessary work. Sometimes when you're done, you may need fewer people, but not necessarily.

How far along is corporate America in the reengineering "revolution"?

Hammer: Reengineering is about 15 years old. I don't mean that chronologically. That's where we stand in the evolution. It's survived the traumas of infancy and childhood, but it still has a long way to go. Even companies that have done a lot have barely scratched the surface. And the few companies who have really reengineered everything are finding that they have to start over because the world has changed.

How does a company know when it has to reengineer?

Hammer: One is you're in trouble, and that's pretty easy to tell. You're losing money, your customers are unhappy, your competition is beating the pants off you. {Another reason is} you see change on the horizon. You can recognize that what you have now isn't going to help you in the future. Or you decide you just want to get ahead of everybody else. You're not in trouble, you want to make trouble.

What do successful reengineerings have in common?

Stanton: The first is that they've got strong leadership. They've clearly mobilized the organization to be prepared for change. Second is that they've taken a group of people who are the designers, and they've ... given them latitude and the scope to do that. And the third is that they've come up with an innovative way to implement those changes based on speed and early returns.

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