What is business process reengineering?

Having two teams who work on different aspects of the same process come together can lead to greater efficiency.

Having two teams who work on different aspects of the same process come together can lead to greater efficiency.

In a 1990 article for Harvard Business Review, management author Michael Hammer put forth the theory of business process reengineering (BPR). The article, titled "Reengineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate," pointed out that the route to process improvement that many businesses were taking at the time involved using computers to speed up old processes rather than redesigning the processes themselves.

Hammer argued that this method does not address the "fundamental performance deficiencies" of the processes being digitized.

BPR, he went on to explain, is about innovating new ways to solve old problems. That includes completely rejecting processes that no longer serve their purposes. He issued a call to action:

"Instead of embedding outdated processes in silicon and software, we should obliterate them and start over."

Hammer then outlined the basic principles of the BPR theory.

  • Define job roles based on outcomes rather than tasks. Doling out steps of a single process to multiple departments will inevitably lead to misunderstandings.
  • Don't silo specialized procedures completely — "have those who use the output of the process perform the process." Sharing the responsibility of doing day-to-day tasks, Hammer explains, will allow specialized departments to focus on more important work (e.g. having employees order their own pens will allow a purchasing team to focus on acquiring expensive equipment).
  • The organization that produces information should be the one to process it. Hammer provides the example of enabling a receiving department to do the work that would have previously been done by accounts payable.
  • Decentralized resources should be treated "as though they were centralized."
  • Processes that are done by separate departments and integrated at the end should be coordinated during, not after, the process.
  • Give the people performing the processes control over them rather than having higher-ups that are divorced from those processes make the decisions.
  • Get your information directly from the source.

If your organizing is looking to reengineer and streamline its human resources processes, the right HR software can help.