Business Process Reengineering: 90s Remix Edition

Mike Madelin, HR Transformation consultant at Veran Performance writes for myHRcareers HR blog on HR process Change.I’m one of those annoying people who has been blessed with awesome co-workers. Admittedly this comes at a price – if your wit isn’t quick on the draw you’ll be gunned down by repartee rounds before you’ve got a shot off.

Chit-chat turned one day to 90s music, which naturally got everyone in the team excited. Whilst we relived the days of the “Scatman” and quabbled over which Vengaboy was least detestable, I was working like a beaver on a proposal for Business Process Reengineering.

For those unfamiliar to this methodology, BPR began life in the early 1990s and focusses on business results by totally overhauling processes and rebuilding them in revolutionary (and potentially risky) ways to deliver massive performance increases. More info can be found in the original literature here.

Now, when BPR first hit the scene I wasn’t close to being in the workplace… in actual fact I was a terror of a three-year-old living life abroad, permanently sporting a pair of tie-dye Speedos. Naturally, process reengineering wasn’t the biggest blip on my radar.

Fast forward two and a half decades and after entering the consulting world for an ambitious and competitive client, this methodology swiftly became a focus of attention in planning how best to help them deliver their exciting and aspirational strategies.

I have to give credit to BPR. The success stories are numerous; from Ford’s 75% human capital saving in their finance department through to Kodak cutting new product development time from 70 to 38 weeks. Impressive stuff, right? Certainly the kind of “do or die” gutsy move that kept these huge brands in business.

However, thinking back to the nineties myself, I feel an icy shudder as I recognise I’m soon to be thirty, as will be the BPR methodology. I’ve long outgrown that hideous bathing suit I wore 25 years ago, so surely businesses have outgrown BPR, or just now recycle the strategies of those who used it successfully once upon a time?

Globalisation, the development of faster technology, less reliance on physical assets – it’s more competitive out there these days than a Friday night in the Swindon video arcade used to be (Mortal Kombat, anyone?).

True, a lot has changed, but nothing that a little “remix” can’t bring back (in fact, I’m sure I saw some hipsters wearing MC Hammer trousers in Hackney last week…).

One could argue that taking a revised focus on process reengineering can still deliver the same kind of results today that it did when Harry Enfied ruled BBC evening TV.

This, my BPR mix-tape thus consists of the following hits:

  1. People Get Ready

The biggest criticism of BPR (and rightly so) is that the methodology didn’t give any consideration to effects on staff themselves. Efficiency isn’t always about cutting heads and automation as a cost-saving. Southwest Airlines defied the norm of the time, making huge profit gains by engineering a culture of exceptional service. They did this by investing time and communication in their staff, who radiated the value they felt onto their customers, earning them exceptional customer service records and repeat business. Use your people to become successful wherever possible, from recruitment and onboarding until the very last day they’re with you.

  1. Are You Experienced?

Many organisations have applied the methodology not only to traditional production/purchasing/auditing processes, but also to reinvent their Customer and User Experience. Gutsy marketing teams have broken all the rules and targeted different customer groups, redefined old-hat products as fun and sexy (Old Spice nailed this) or kick-started a new culture and image through the medium of social media. Others have radicalised their end products or even the customer’s experience of purchasing goods or services.

  1. Computer Age

IT levers are a crucial consideration of modern BPR. Whether you’re undertaking an ERP programme or moving to cloud tech, BPR is an essential pre-requisite to cut costs and headaches down the line. Get your processes as productive and trimmed as possible and you’ll be rejoicing at go-live (see Veran’s Phase Zero blogs for more). Look at IT levers in your own processes. If you have a blank canvas, how will tech developments help you reach your process objectives?

  1. All Together Now

Have some gusto! Don’t sit back on your inflatable sofa and stare at the lava lamp; revisit all of your processes and ask “why?” Why do we do things this way? Is this driving the best performance possible? Innovation is not exhausted, there are plenty of revolutionary ideas left undiscovered. You may be due one yourself! 

  1. Round and Round

You ran a BPR activity once before? Nice one. But are your “new” processes still adding the most value? Revisit and revisit. Don’t get left behind those who continually seek to improve.

And to close, here is my young self all the way back in 1990. Keep on raving, ravers…

Mike Madelin writes for myHRcareers blog about HR process change