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Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) - 1990

BPR is the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic process improvements, such as cost, quality, service, and speed. While both BPR and TQM focus on processes, TQM is based on the Japanese philosophy of Kaizen or continuous improvement, whereas BPR is mostly based on performing radical change.

Two articles published in 1990, one in the Sloan Management Review by Thomas Davenport, and the other in the Harvard Business Review by Michael Hammer, discussed the growing wave of process innovation and radical business process change. The term Business Process Re-engineering was never used in the two articles; but was rather coined sometime after the two articles. Hammer's definition of re-engineering is probably more synonymous with the term BPR as Davenport considered it to be a more continuous rather than radical change.

In support of Hammer's view that radical changes must be implemented quickly, Tom Peters wrote that if you don't do these things over a weekend, you will never do them at all (Peters, 1992).

“Don't Automate, Obliterate” became the call of those who set out to re-engineer organizations by shifting management's focus from optimizing specialized functions carried out by individual departments to the cross-departmental activities that made up end-to-end business processes that deliver value to customers.

Although re-engineering soon became a dirty word in business, mainly for the predominate side-effect of downsizing, it helped to eliminate disconnects between and among departments. However, re-engineering offered no explicit method for execution for multiple process-related problems. In fact, some re-engineering were spectacular failures. For example, Levi Strauss initiated one in 1992 that would cover the entire organization. Six years later it admitted it was a mistake and scaled back the project. Re-engineering basically starts with a blank sheet of paper, yet an organization is not blank — it has people, facilities, customers, etc. Thus you cannot change everything.

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Davenport, T. H. & Short, J. E. (1990 Summer). The New Industrial Engineering: Information Technology and Business Process Redesign, Sloan Management Review, pp. 11-27.

Hammer, M. (1990, July-August). Re-engineering Work: Don't Automate, Obliterate, Harvard Business Review, pp. 104-112.

Peters, T. (1992), Liberation Management: Necessary Disorganization for the Nanosecond Nineties , New YorK: Alfred A. Knopf.