Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Reinvention Trail: An Account of One State Agency's Quality Journey

Academic journal article Public Administration Quarterly

The Reinvention Trail: An Account of One State Agency's Quality Journey

Article excerpt


Nothing is as painfully pleasurable as true learning. When organizations learn, the personal perceptions of pain and pleasure vary. The following article presents the author's view of the internal organizational learning to date by an agency that is committed to the continual improvement and learning associated with life on the reinvention trail. Recommendations from the following case study should prove useful to any organization interested in reinvention, reengineering, total quality management, continuous improvement, cultural change, organizational development or, put bluntly, interested in survival.

This article presents the case study agency's original cultural paradigm. How the original paradym was lost and how it is being regained are explored. Seven specific "rules for reinventing" are derived from the internal organizational experiences of the case study agency. These rules are set forth to assist other organizations on their journey. The article closes with a plea for others to follow this example of organizational reflection, critical self-assessment, and open sharing.


An unfortunate maxim exists in organizational life: "All problems beg solution while every solution breeds new problems." This article illustrates that Total Quality Management (TQM) and the "Reinvention Movement" which sprang from it are no strangers to this maxim.

The following case study examines the internal organizational development of one state department of transportation which has embarked on a reinvention journey. Although the agency's journey is not complete, the learning should prove useful to other governmental entities undergoing reinvention. The focus of this article is on organization development within the agency. No attempt is made to examine the numerous external improvements attested to by outsiders.

Briefly, these improvements recognized by external customers and suppliers include: 1) better relations with contractors and consultants; 2) less litigation, saving about $5 million per year; 3) improved products through value engineering; 4) incentives for better paving, resulting in 7 percent smoother roads; and 5) increased public information through a revived public information office. Beyond describing these significant positive external outcomes of the agency's reinvention journey, this article focuses on internal organizational and professional development issues within the agency.

Even though this article is focused totally on internal issues, the views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of the agency or its top managers. Neither are the views expressed necessarily those of a trained scholar seeking truth in the murky swamps of organizational life. Therefore, the reader is warned at the outset against accepting what is presented to be the "whole truth," even regarding issues internal to the agency.

A certain degree of idiosyncrasy is inherent in the anecdotal. case study approach used in this article. The presence of this idiosyncrasy introduces the requirement for caution. Nonetheless, while the specifics presented tend to be the views of a single "reinvented" state government worker, they correlate well with findings from several focus groups and employee surveys conducted within the agency. Although this article does not present the "whole truth," it reflects reality as it is perceived by many employees within the case study agency.

The article begins by defining the organizational culture of the agency prior to embarking on the reinvention trail. Second, is a description of the major ideological and practical problems encountered as the agency's journey progressed. Third, the article delineates some aspects of learning within the agency in its journey to date and some positive steps currently underway. Finally, it concludes with recommendations for those who would embark upon a similar journey toward reinvention. …

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