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Business Process Reengineering (BPR)
BPR has been developed to support rapid and large-scale transformation of organisational processes led by senior managers. While less well documented than many other approaches, the key underlying principles may be summarised as:
- BPR requires radical rethinking of how a process works that will often be very different to what happened previously;
- The direction of change is set by senior (top) managers;
- Organisations should be redesigned around key processes rather than previous functions and structures; and
- Specialist roles should be replaced with generalist roles, organised within self-managing teams
At the heart of BPR is discontinuous thinking, requiring a holistic perspective on organisational change as opposed to more linear, sequential approaches. Rather than defining a problem and then seeking to develop solutions with stakeholders from a range of options, BPR is given as the solution; executives are encouraged to "...seek the problems it might solve, problems the company doesn’t even know that it has" (Hammer, 1990: 85).
Implementation Steps in BPR
- Prepare the organisation: through clarifying the opportunities and challenges facing the organisation; clear stating the objectives and strategy; and communicating these throughout the organisation;
- Fundamentally rethink work processes: through identification of current core processes (‘process mapping’); specification of new performance objectives; and design of new processes consistent with objectives. These key tasks are typically well resourced and performed by a cross-functional team to encourage new ways of working. Existing processes are redesigned in accordance with the following rules:
- Processes start and finish with expressed customer needs;
- Simplify old processes through combination and elimination of steps;
- Attend to social as well as technical aspects of processes;
- Do not be constrained by past practice;
- Identify crucial information required at each step;
- Perform activities in their natural order;
- Assume that work is done correctly first time;
- Listen to people who do the work
- Restructure the organisation: around the new processes identified; and
- Implement new measurement systems: to reinforce the changes
Adapted from Iles & Sutherland, 2001: pp. 50-1)
Strengths and limitations
Results have proved disappointing, BPR typically achieving much less than expected. Indeed, reported failure rates are as high as 70%. Successful reengineering cases have been shown to be characterised by a clear future vision, specific change goals, use of IT to support change, commitment from executive management, clear measurement of milestones and the training of participants in process analysis and teamwork.
Evaluations of BPR projects within the NHS suggest that a pure imposed BPR model is unsuited to professional organisations which require bottom-up commitment from professional staff, as well as top-down commitment from senior managers, in order to succeed. The NHS evaluations reported that BPR projects were implemented in an evolutionary way, and struggled to be able to identify generic processes demanded by the model.
In relation to social care change, BPR would seem to clash with the principle of engaging people who access services, carers, staff and other stakeholders in the change process and its emphasis on senior management forcing through changes may lead to mistrust and poor engagement in future.
- Bowns, I and McNulty, T. (2000) Reengineering Leicester Royal Infirmary: An independent evaluation of implementation and impact. Sheffield: School of Health and Related Research, University of Sheffield
- Buchanan, DA (1997) The limitations and opportunities of business process reengineering in a politicized organisational climate, Human Relations, 50, 1, 51-72
- Dixon, J. (1994) Business process reengineering: improving in new strategic directions, California Management Review, 36, 93-108
- Hammer, M. And Champney, J. (1993) Reengineering the corporation: a manifesto for business revolution. London: Nicholas Brealy
- Lessem, R. (1998) Management development through cultural diversity. Routledge: London
- Packwood, T., Pollitt, C. and Roberts, S. (1998) Good medicine? A case study of business process re-engineering in a hospital, Policy and Politics, 26, 4, pp.401-15
- Wastell, DG, White, P and Kalawek, P (1994) A methodology for business process redesign: experience and issues, Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 31, 1, 23-40