Business Process Reengineering

Article excerpt

A retrospective look. Part one.


This paper cites recent research into two public sector/local government organisations (LGOs), as they attempted to implement change through Business Process Reengineering (BPR). The unfortunate but not entirely unpredictable outcomes of the research were that these organisations were not 'ready' for change of such a 'radical' nature as BPR, that senior managers did not really understand the concept or its implications, and that cultural inertia, resistance to change and lack of effective leadership at senior levels were all contributory factors.

A key issue is the nature of the way people in leadership positions in these organisations actually 'think', and how this 'thinking' needs to fundamentally change before the organisations themselves are likely to benefit from radical improvements. Gershon's Review has been in the headlines this year (April, 2009) and the requirement for such change is as present as it was when his report was first issued five years ago.


Recent research into the potential implementation of Business Process Reengineering (BPR) in two local government organisations (LGOs) within the UK (Chamberlin, 2008), suggests that these organisations were not 'ready' (Hammer and Stanton, 1995) for change of such a 'radical' nature as BPR, or even the move towards becoming more process- (or system-) based organisations.

The study commenced by reviewing the literature surrounding reengineering - or BPR, as it had become more widely known - including, as appropriate, other approaches to quality and change management. Focusing also on critical 'success' and 'failure' factors (CSF & CFF; Al-Mashari and Zairi, 1999), two key issues emerged that were relevant to BPR's potential for success in such organisations; the concepts of 'Organizational Readiness' (Hammer and Stanton, 1995), and that of 'degrees' of BPR, or 'Project Radicalness' (Kettinger et al, 1997).

A qualitative research approach was adopted using two case studies (Hartley, 1994), with 28, semistructured, in-depth interviews held with 29 participants from the two co-operating LGOs. 'Purposive sampling' (Saunders, et al, 2000) was employed with participants selected from those organisations' BPR training cohorts and those involved more directly at junior, middle and senior management levels. Access was also granted to meetings and organisational documentation. Impact analysis was undertaken with group and individual interviews.

The outcome of the study, and its reasons, were not entirely unexpected:

* Inadequate understanding of the concept of BPR itself;

* Lack of effective leadership at senior level(s);

* Cultural inertia;

* Resistance to change.


The research discovered no real evidence that anyone, at any level, amongst those espousing the virtues and intended application of BPR, in either organisation, had made any real attempt to understand - ie, fully understand - what this might mean. It is contended that any organisation - but more especially any large organisation so mired in cultural drag as had been acknowledged in those two LGOs - that was beginning to consider embarking upon an approach to change that by its own definition was to be 'radical', should in the first instance seek to fully understand what that might mean.

Whilst the right language was used in documentation, presentations and other communications to staff, the resultant 'understanding' itself was at the very least inconsistent, and in reality was quite inadequate.

This was a senior management leadership responsibility, yet degrees of understanding and commitment at this level also were, at best, inconsistent.

My own experience, also of a UK corporate organisation that reduced from c250,000 employees to around half that, over the first half of the 1990s, at the same time making a serious shift towards becoming a process-based organisation (Harvey, 1995: 29/31), was that its middle and senior level managers had to change, in both the way they behaved, and the way they thought. …