How might the concept of Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) be distinguished from other approaches to work design? Give examples to illustrate your answer

In recent years much attention has been focused on an approach to greater business efficiency known as ‘Business Process Re-engineering’ (BPR). The term was first applied by Hammer and Champy whose definition of BPR is as follows:

“Re-engineering is the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical contemporary measures of performance such as cost, quality, service and speed”.

The aim of BPR is to streamline operations and adapt them to existing market realities. BPR sees it as vital under modern condition of customer expectations and intense competition to move away from the usual attestation on tasks and structures in order to focus on business processes. The typical processes are ordering, buying, manufacturing, product development, delivery and invoicing.

BPR has five goals:
1. Increase productivity by creating efficient processes
2. Optimize value to shareholders including employees, customers, stock holder etc
3. Achieve quantum results in productivity, inventory reductions, cycle time improvements, indirect cost improvements and head count redeployment
4. Consolidate functions and create a leaner, flatter and faster organization
5. Eliminate unnecessary levels of work i.e. non-value added activities

Generally when BPR is conducted, a manager leads a cross-functional team to examine a process and determine ways to improve it. BPR is about ‘changing the way people think and behave. It means investing in employees with power to make decision and encouraging them to take risks.

Most people agree that BPR increases long term competitiveness largely because of thinking, organizing and acting horizontally (in terms of cross functional processes) rather than vertically (i.e. by specialist functions and departments).

At the same time BPR has been criticized for practicing process simplification and not process re-engineering. The critics say that compared to other change processes such as Total Quality Management (TQM), BPR makes people work harder but not smarter. The critics see BPR AS A COVER FOR downsizing the organization with its negative focus on cost reduction and getting more production out of the staff who remain. In this case people become victims rather than beneficiaries of BPR. Critics see the drive to please the external customer as leading to lesser regard for those employees who represent the employees’ internal customer base.

Hammer and Champy answer some of this criticism. They admit that “BPR and TQM are neither identical nor in conflict but are complementary” and on the topic of downsizing they say “whilst some employees may lose their jobs, BPR is a process of reorganizing work, not eliminating workers”.

As authors of this process they recognize that those organizations that have been successfully re-engineered their processes have to accept that there will be need for recurring re-engineering in the future. They say “our long term goal must be to institutionalize a capacity for re- engineering in our companies, so that they view change as the norm rather than as an aberration”;

Despite the abuse of the practice and tarnished name, BPR continues to be popular. Companies continue to re-examine and fundamentally change the way they do business. Competition and a sluggish economy provide the impetus for continued efforts to ‘deliver more with less’. BPR remains an effective tool for organizations striving to operate as effectively and efficiently as possible.

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