Reengineering Can Work!
(Written in 1996)
by
James P. Finfera
 
 

I wrote the following article in 1996, but it is particularily applicable in identifying a solution to today's political polarization as well as a solution to reducing our country uncontrolled deficit. Read it and give me your insights and thoughts. My email address is jim@finfera.com, office phone is 727-565-1909, and cell phone is 727-692-5144.

I have been personally involved with reengineering for several years. I have been the Deputy Technical Director for Command Reengineering of my organization, Aberdeen Test Center, and have been on the Army's Team responsible for reengineering of the acquisition work force. I can see first hand, the struggle to reengineering any organization, can be most painful and can generating untold dissident and hard feelings among all involved. I have worked in this effort, I have observed the interactions, and I have done some research. Through all of this, I have come to the conclusion that reengineering can work if we understand the basics (yes, only the basics) of the reengineering concept, and the appropriate leadership characteristics and organization culture that applies the necessary stimulus to reengineering efforts. Since I am a working manager, most of this paper will be based on my personal experiences, some rather limited research, and my analysis. If others, in particularly academia, feels that I maybe on to something, I suggest experimentation and further research to collaborate or refute my assumptions. In short, I believe reengineering will work if we have leadership and a culture built around trust. You can only generate trust if you have ethical and principled based leaders and organizations. Now let me tell why I say this.

At a symposium last fall sponsored by the International Test and Evaluation Association (ITEA) in Huntsville, Alabama, Dr. Jerry Westbrook who is a Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering of the University of Alabama presented a most interesting model. In his model, the organizational culture plays a predominant role in the degree of success any reengineering effort is realized. He felt that reengineering will not work unless you have the proper organizational culture. If I recall correctly, he stated that 85% of the reengineering efforts end in failure and this failure is primarily a result of an organization not having the proper culture. While at the symposium, the Air Force's Arnold Engineering Development Center (AEDC) briefed an example of a very successful reengineering effort they had with their jet engine test facility. They were able to reduce the turn around time for testing a jet engine from an average of four weeks to less than four days. An order of magnitude improvement which was in the true spirit of the pioneers of reengineering, Hammer and Champy. What most impressed me about this effort was not so much the output (using the language of GPRA) but how it was obtained (outcome: in the language of GPRA). Before even starting on any reengineering effort AEDC set out to change the culture of their organization. Over a two year period, the entire work force and the managers were indoctrinated and coached in interpersonal and interpersonal activities espoused by a Steven Covey in his book titled "The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" which was published in the early 1990's. Only after the culture of this organization was thoroughly ingrained in accordance to the Covey habits did they venture in their reengineering effort as espoused by Hammer and Champy in their book "Reengineering the Corporation" which was also published in the early 1990's with just the types of results that Hammer and Champy said were possible (order(s) in magnitude improvements).

So, what am I driving at? We are in a period of rethinking the way we do business. You might say a revolution, a business revolution, where computer technology is the primary catalyst. We have a reengineering revolution that primary has its orgin or conception by Hammer and Champy. Many people are aware of this. However, there is an equally important revolution called the culture revolution which has its origins in Covey. I fully agree with Dr. Westbrook that reengineering will only work if the culture is right. However, the AEDC experience offers strong indications that we have the ability to change cultures of organizations to that which would offer the highest probability of success of any reengineering effort resulting in radical process improvements (Figure 1).

I intend to give my rational on why I feel the Covey Habits should always achieve the success realized by AEDC; however, before I do let me briefly clarify both reengineering as defined by Hammer and Champy and Covey's Habits.

Hammer and Champy tells us that the management structure of most organizations are built around a hierarchy. However organizations are really process driven and that these process evolve rather than be designed. As an sad outgrowth of this, no one really has the ownership of the process. And because of this, processes and/or the multiplicity of processes have become very complex and therefore not very efficient. People are really great and quite ingenious of doing their own particular jobs very well, however the value added to the process may be minimal at best. Also since process evolve rather than be designed, every time we encounter a particular problem, we modify the process to include the situation at hand. Because of this, we have processes that are structured to handle every conceivable situation. This could make that particular process very complex and subsequently not very efficient. Hammer and Champy suggested that maybe process should be simplified to handle, let's say 70 to 80% of the situations rather than the 100% solutions. They gave very convincing examples of where this was done. For example, in the insurance claims adjustment area, the efficiencies in the orders of magnitude were achieved. They show that one could have a multi skilled team handle the 70 to 80% solution and keep a small group of higher trained experts to handle the remaining 20%. The bottom line according to Hammer and Champy is: 1) Why do we do what we do? and 2) Why are we doing it the way we are doing it? If we are not satisfied with the answer, then we need to reengineer. Another very worthwhile recommendation they had was to structure the organization around the process such that all process would have an owner. Often under the conventional structure processes had no owner and just happened in a rather haphazard manner. With an owner, processes have a higher probability of being designed rather than evolve. So in summary, reengineering is really the recognition of , simplification of, and consequently optimization of processes. It is really a very radical effort that generate improvements in the orders of magnitude. All too often many of us tend to call any reorganization reengineering. No! reengineering is the radical redesign of processes.

So, why do so many reengineering efforts fail? Well, as stated earlier, you need the proper culture. So then what is the wrong culture? Well, let me share some of the problems I observed and encountered in attempts to implement reengineering. There seems to be a group of people who have really great difficulty handling change. Often, they request in depth studies, requiring details that would require years to generate, to verify the need for the change. There seems to be lack of trust and among many of those who resist. If people being affected by any reengineer effort do not trust the leadership who is driving the effort and are afraid for their very jobs, they resist and even try to sabotage the efforts. I have often found that when leaders encounter these areas strong resistance, there is a natural temptation to avoid the pain by forming stealth committees so as to think out the approach without scaring the people. The net result is even more distrust and even greater resistance and sabotage. It becomes an ever increasing spiral, that if not checked, can result in the failure of a very worthwhile reengineering effort. Obviously, these scenarios are quite the opposite of what was recommended by Hammer and Champy who stressed involving all affected people in the process redesign. However, I am afraid these problems happen more often than not. Dealing with people, especially in reengineering efforts, which involve substantial changes, is delicate process with many pit falls that can trap the best of managers. There are really no easy fixes. However, considering the success of the AEDC reengineering effort, and the fact they changed their corporate culture to be more in accordance with the Covey Habits, I feel we need to take a very close look at the Covey Habits. Just what are these habits?

I must admit that I almost stumbled on these as if by accident. I was in the midst of the reengineering efforts or struggles of my command when a good friend recommended that I read Stephen Covey's book on Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Like so many others, I got into the reengineering of my command knowing really very little of what reengineering really was, so I was doing much reading at the time. I was very impressed with the wisdom of the book. I was particularly impressed with the breadth of research Covey performed. We often limit our research to information that is current. Covey did not. His research covered a span of 200 years or more. He noticed a pattern. He noticed that literature on management of the past concentrated on characteristics such as character and integrity where now we look to quick fixes. He suggested we need to refocus on these refound attributes. He made another good point, nothing comes easy. He also observed that the culture of an organization is usually set by the individual at the top. If you have a leader who lives by a set of principles, you will have an organizational culture that will be governed by a comparable set of principles. He gave an analogy that I think can both help and guide us change artist in the understanding of people dynamics. He mentioned our relations with people can be akin to how we may handle a savings account. There are some smart people who always keep adding to this savings account so when an emergency comes they have ample funds to withdraw to address the need of the moment. However, there are also those who just keep withdrawing. When the unexpected emergencies come, there is no money left to handle the situation. They are stuck. We leaders can do the same with our people. If we are good and "effective" leaders, we keep investing in our people. You know, there are many ways: encouragement in tough situations, listening to them, admitting when you are wrong, thanking them, appreciating them, giving them responsibility, looking out for their interests, etc. Then, when the time comes to make a large withdraw or if we as leaders let them down (because all of us are not perfect and can and do fail), they willingly let us make the withdraw or forgive our failure. However, if we as leaders are constantly asking, or worse, taking and taking from our employees (for example being overly critical, etc.), then when the time comes and we need to make that big withdraw or make the mistake, they will not cooperate or will not forgive us. What a simple principle, but how few of us really consider this.

In short, Covey's Habits offer a structure of building trust and respect of each other. For example, he also advises us to seek first to understand then to be understood. How often do we criticize those who do not agree with us and our point of view without really taking the energy or extra effort to really understand why they are opposed to us. Covey tells us that we may really be surprised and find out that the other person, just maybe, could be right.

Of course in this very limited space I am overly simplifying Covey's Habits, however, I feel that if an organization follows the structure or approach offered by him would change their culture to that which would offer a very high probability of a very successful reengineering effort. I would go so far to say that there would be a very low probability that reengineering would not work if you do not have this culture of trust. Why? I will give my rational in the following paragraphs.

I feel the greatest cause of failure of so many reengineering efforts is not poor management per se but a clash between roughly two sets of people who really see the world from to different aspects. This was really brought to my attention in a team exercise I was involved in at an Executive Seminar. Our team crashed in a pattern that was very similar to group dynamics I seen in my reengineering experiences and heard from other who had similar experiences in reengineering. The similarities were most striking. Our team also resurrected itself and accomplished the task at hand. I did a little research on our team, which was easy, since all of us had a Myers-Briggs profile. I found that our team clustered instinctively into two groups: those whose way of looking at the world were anchored in "What is"! and those whose ways were anchored in "What could be"! Myers-Briggs would classify these as sensing and intuition respectively. For the sake of this article let's call them realists (What is!) and the conceptualist (What could be!). The realist are anchored in the real world and are outstanding in details. And of course the conceptualists are anchored in the world of possibilities and are real good in concepts. In that team I was telling you about, when the conceptualist got together and start talking, the realist dropped out. I asked one of realist why they dropped out. He stated matter of factly, that they did not have the foggiest notion what the conceptualists were talking about. You probably came to the notion that I am a conceptualist. You are right, and when the realists got together, we really could not understand all the details they were able to assimilate and also were lost. In another interesting observation, I found the realist would argue their point and to strengthen their position would bring up even more data/details which thoroughly snow the concepts folks. Also, when the conceptualist would want to strengthen their point they would give greater and more in-depth conceptual models which would completely snow the realists. The arguments would only intensify, the rational get stronger, tempers would flair, and soon stalemate. This pattern was the very same pattern I have observed and heard about in most reengineering efforts.

So! You might ask. What does all of this have to do with trust? Plenty and everything! We have an interplay of the dynamics of two sets of our population who for all practical purpose have two distinctively frame of references. Let's say we have reengineering efforts are directed by the conceptualist. I understand that by large, 25% of the population are conceptualists, and the remaining 75% are your realists. That means that probably 75% or at least the majority of the work force are realists. That also means that the conceptualist who are driving the reengineering effort will be carrying the extra baggage of having the majority of their work force who will have a very hard time understanding the concepts behind the reengineering effort of their agency. One might say, that's simple, let's get rid of the realists, all they do is obstruct progress. I don't think so. Most the realists I know are really good at getting the job done and it could be the jobs thought up by the conceptualist. So, do the conceptualists really need the realist. You bet. Another possibility is the conceptualist may very well come up with a pie in the sky concept that would never work if they do not have a realist near by assuring they do not lose sight of the real world. Now, let's say you have a realist heading an reengineering effort. Not a bad proposition because the realist is outstanding in getting the job done and understanding even the most complex of processes. However, it is just as important the realist has somewhere very close to her/him a conceptualist who can see the big picture. Because if you do not, you could have the realist really doing a great job of fixing the process only to find out it was the wrong process. So in the reengineering effort you really need both. You need the conceptualist who can come up with the broad vision and you need the realist who gets the job visualized by the realist done.

So, you are probably asking, where does the issue of trust come from? We agree you need both the realist and the conceptualists to get any reengineering effort done. We also agree that people in each group have a very hard time understanding each other if at all. We also agree the areas of greatest conflicts in any reengineering efforts comes from these two groups. One might argue, it just cannot work. No! It can work, if we incorporate that little word "trust". Since a realist may have considerable difficulty understand much of the reengineering concepts generated by the conceptualists, yet they have to build the processes, they will only follow the conceptualist if they trust them because in all essence they often will have to follow them blindly. You can be sure they will not follow anyone who they do not believe will look out for their interest. If the conceptualist whom they are following is one of those leaders who are constantly making withdraws from their people, there is no way they will follow them.

Conversely the same argument holds for the conceptualist who has to follow or rely on the realist but cannot really understand all the details or data generated by the realist in accomplishing his/her job. The conceptualist must have the same willingness to blindly follow the realist. Now, in this case the realist must be worthy of earning that trust by her/his demonstrating their interest in the concerns of the conceptualists plus demonstrate they are not those leaders who are constantly making withdraws.

Remember, my saying my team in that Executive Seminar resurrected itself. Well, we did it because we really began to develop that bond of trust. All of use had to be willing to be led blindly at one time or another during our effort and because of that we actually developed a very good product.

Now in these previous examples I really two extreme examples of leadership characteristics of individual leaders that encourages or discourages trust. Most of us are not in either extreme and probably can get away in our management endeavors if we stay in that middle territory unless we embark on a serious change mission such as dictated by the reengineering concept. If we do not change, for the better and we are pushing for serious change, there is still a very high probability we will still have a significant lack of trust problems because reengineering does very easily get into serious blind areas of both the realists and the conceptualists. We will get into very serious trouble. If we as leaders are very serious about reengineering, we had better first reengineering ourselves. One very good approach at doing this is the first three habits of Covey's seven habits formula. In doing this we mode ourselves into principled based leaders. Then and only then can be effective at reengineering.

So let me summarize what I said. I believe reengineering can indeed work. It will only work if you have the right culture for the effort. The right culture must be built on principled based organizations which are driven by principled based leaders. Principled based leaders develop an atmosphere of trust because they are ethical and look out for the good of their employees as well as the good of their organization. The general population can be divided into two groups: the realist and the conceptualists. If we are to have successful reengineering efforts, we need both groups. If the two groups are to work effectively together, their relationship will only work if they share a mutual trust.

What can we draw from all of this? I feel not only can reengineering (you call it any other name if you like) work, it must! The potential payoffs are just too great for everybody. We can have optimal industry and optimal government with untold savings to all. I mean all. The consumer, the tax payer, and in particular the work force. Why the work force, you are asking? Let's face it, the work force is really over worked and as a result, they so very often have to sacrifice their families and ones who matter the most in their lives. We all need incentives for what we do. So if we generate the savings that are in the orders of magnitude, let's turn a third of that savings to our customers, a third to our organization, and a third to our work force to ease their burden. An unrealistic dream? Maybe, and maybe not!

All of this can be achieved if we are willing to expend a little energy, in the beginning, to develop ourselves into ethical leaders who in turn create ethical organizations and cultures with untold potential for the greatest of benefits. A truly win win scenario. The choice is ours.