Who, What, When, How, and How Much?

Copyright 1994

Written by E.D. Johnson; fist printed in Quality Management Forum in late 1994  and reprinted in 1995.

ReEngineering -- it’s the hottest thing around, the latest buzzword. If your organization is not in the midst of ReEngineering, you must surely feel that you are on the brink of losing all competitive advantage and all serious chances of leadership in your industry. But, while everyone is doing it, what exactly is it that they/we are trying to accomplish?

That issue is the focus of this article -- not another dissertation on the conceptual issues relating to improving business processes, but, rather, a specific and detailed explanation of the methodologies used in ReEngineering and the strategies which will start your organization on the path toward improved processing economies, greater teamwork and cohesion, and an improved competitive advantage.

 What is ReEngineering?

Technically, the term ReEngineering means starting over, sitting down with a blank sheet of paper to completely rethink the way in which a process is accomplished. Already, some important terms. A process is the specific group of tasks which comprise the achievement of a product or service that is of value. An effective process is results driven. It does not derive its form from an organizational structure, the titles or positions of those staff members who perform the process, applicable regulatory requirements, the computer processing systems in place (and especially not the ones planned!), current workflows, or even existing staff and skills base. In its classical sense, ReEngineering is not a matter of merely redesigning workflows and procedures or reinforcing procedural compliance. It is a complete re-thinking of the broad-based ways in which an organization develops and delivers its products.

To ReEngineer means to develop a vision of an optimal final product and completely re-consider the best possible way to deliver it.

Are you uncomfortable with this? You should be!! ReEngineering is disruptive, expensive, traumatic for staff and management, and offers no up-front guarantee of real improvement. Is it necessary? Maybe. Maybe not. How do you know?

 How do you know if you need to ReEngineer?

Does ReEngineering need to be an "all or nothing" proposition?

These are extremely important questions, and deserve serious consideration prior to undertaking any efforts at process ReEngineering. While most managers have a basic "feeling" when processes need improvement, there are three accepted conditions under which full ReEngineering may make sense for an organization. These conditions are:

bulletYou are experiencing a significant downturn in your business;
bulletYou have recently completed your latest (of several?) reorganizations, and little has improved; or
bulletQuality of product has deteriorated significantly, and/or customer complaints have increased significantly;

Essentially, you consider ReEngineering when you are in trouble and something has to change in a dramatic manner. In these cases, dramatic solutions are in order and an organization is willing to invest in the pain of completely rethinking the way it does business. We’ll talk further about how to do this.

But, suppose your organization is not experiencing the situations detailed above, nor do crises appear to pose an imminent threat. Nonetheless, management has nagging concerns that there are unrealized opportunities for improved performance. Does it really make sense to "start over?" Probably not. But does it make sense to defer or ignore these more incremental process improvements? Definitely not.

At J-E-T-S, we like to consider the question of when to ReEngineer by using an automotive analogy. As the owner of a vehicle, you realize that on-going maintenance keeps the vehicle operating at its most effective performance level. However, there are degrees of maintenance that are appropriate at different stages of the vehicle’s usage. There are times when your car needs a tune-up, times when it needs a minor overhaul, and times when it needs a major overhaul. There are similar needs in your organization. You might need a major overhaul (i.e., starting over with a clean sheet of paper to completely rethink full processes), but you may just need a minor overhaul or tune-up instead.

Perhaps the organization just needs to conduct an independent review of business processes, the procedural direction which enables them, and the staff performance in executing their job responsibilities, with an eye toward improving an already acceptable and effectively functional process. This minor overhaul will enable you to refine the processes, eliminate the unanticipated bottlenecks, and improve operating effectiveness.

At a different level, you may determine that your existing processes already enable optimal processing, but employees are inadequately prepared to understand and fulfill expanded job responsibilities. A tune-up of the training or selection programs will bring all aspects of your processing into sync, enabling expected performance to become a reality.

While any improvement program can offer positive economies for an organization, a full-blown ReEngineering effort can represent over-kill in many cases. However, a modified ReEngineering program can almost always identify opportunities for improvement. Throughout the remainder of this discussion, we will use the term "ReEngineering" to include all three levels of improvement -- tune-up, minor overhaul, and major overhaul.

OK, we need ReEngineering -- to some degree. Where do we start?

There are three basic prerequisites to beginning the ReEngineering process. The organization must have a clear consensus regarding the following business elements:

  1. Business Objectives;
  2. Service Objectives/Customer Expectations; and
  3. Valid Constraints.

 1. Business Objectives

What is your organization’s strategic direction over the next three years? Are there new markets or products to consider? Are financial issues an overriding concern? What are senior management’s "hot buttons?"

In order to develop workable processes, your ReEngineering efforts must not only support, but must enable, the organization’s business objectives.

2. Service Objectives/Customer Expectations

A process is defined as those steps required to produce a product or service that is of value to the customer. To be of value to the customer, your product or service must do more than just be available for purchase. To be of value, products and services must meet or exceed customer expectations, including delivery, follow-up, and support of long-term customer satisfaction.

These quality issues represent your service objectives. A well-engineered process builds in an ability to meet or exceed customer expectations.

3. Valid constraints

In any organization, there are systems, staffing, and products in an continuous state of flux. You will never have the luxury of ReEngineering a process in a vacuum. Instead, the ReEngineered process must anticipate changes that will be part of the corporate reality. However, the ReEngineering efforts will not be successful if they attempt to incorporate the anticipated reality of systems, staffing changes, or product changes which will not be imminently available.

For example, if a major support system redesign is under way, but it has endured many delays and redirections during its development, you may want to acknowledge the need to ReEngineer based on those existing systems which will probably still be in place when the ReEngineering efforts are concluded. (In fact, you may want to reconsider the system redesign, based on insights gained during the ReEngineering efforts.) Similarly, if there are regulatory constraints on your business processes, they must be accommodated, even if they require a less-than-ideal process.

Who Should Do the ReEngineering?

You are convinced that some degree of ReEngineering is needed in your organization. Who does it? What are the skills needed to be part of a ReEngineering team?

It is helpful to consider the outcome you want from the ReEngineering process. An organization’s ultimate ReEngineering objective is a new or refined process that better supports business and service objectives while accommodating valid processing constraints. This means you are, to some degree, changing the way you do business!

Experience has proven that a multi-disciplined team is the best way to approach ReEngineering. This team should be comprised of individuals from a cross-section of involved departments. The ReEngineering effort should never be "done" by a single department, as this precludes the broad ownership that is essential in identifying and implementing an optimal process.

The ReEngineering team should ideally be headed by the organization’s highest ranking operations executive. More importantly, the team should be led by the highest ranking operations executive who has a proclivity to deal with the details of a complex group of tasks. Furthermore, the ReEngineering process will be subjected to all the interpersonal issues associated with organizational change. The leader must possess the interpersonal skills and organizational respect to intervene effectively, keeping the team on a path that is not encumbered by organizational politics and change resistance.

The team itself should consist of a mix of managers/supervisors and workers from the areas affected by the process. The team should also include representatives from other departments that interact with the process, such as systems, accounting, regulatory interface, methods and procedures, human resources, and other groups as warranted. There should be a mix of seasoned staff (who can tell you why you’ve always done things a certain way) and newer people (who bring a fresh perspective on why you may not need to continue doing things a certain way).

What personal skills are most valuable to the team? Probably the two most important traits are open-mindedness and communication ability. The most effective team members are those who will question any existing procedure until a better direction is established or ruled out. "Why do we do it that way? So what?" You want individuals who can exercise creative thought to get outside the existing "logic box." The best teams also have the ability to effectively communicate the logic and analysis of the ReEngineering efforts to workers and management.

Certainly team members should be well-respected within the organization. They are making recommendations that will change the day to day activities of workers in the rest of the organization; their credibility and communication skills will help to "sell" the ReEngineering recommendations at the time of management acceptance and at the time of implementation.

Should team members be dedicated full-time to the ReEngineering effort? In most cases, yes. ReEngineering efforts should progress as quickly as possible. Full time participation is essential to timely recommendations. Additionally, full-time participation reinforces the importance senior management places on the ReEngineering process.

What role does the external consultant play in the ReEngineering process? An external consultant can provide invaluable direction on the ReEngineering process itself, insights into the processing approaches taken by other companies, and an objective appraisal of the existing process and recommendations for a ReEngineered process. However, an external consultant cannot effectively do your ReEngineering for you. An essential element of ReEngineering success is the ownership claimed by your staff and their commitment to the success of the ReEngineered processes. A ReEngineering team led and staffed by in-house personnel and supplemented by external consulting support can be highly effective.

Let’s ReEngineer!

OK, you have now determined there is a need to ReEngineer, you have the right team, and you have a basic understanding of your business environment and current processes. Now what?

1. What are we doing now?

Before you can ReEngineer any existing process, you must have a solid understanding of what that existing process entails. You must know, in reasonable detail, what tasks are presently performed; you must also understand why they are performed. The element of detailed understanding is one that is disputed among experts on ReEngineering and should be discussed to some degree here. Work processes are not high-level activities. They are comprised of all the things all staff members do as part of their jobs each day. When you redesign these processes, you must be prepared to provide detailed instruction on the new process. This instruction must anticipate and address staff concerns about tasks being eliminated or substantially changed. You must be prepared to explain a sound basis for all elements of work elimination or redirection.

If you cannot adequately explain the basis for process differences, either of two difficult situations may result. First, you may have overlooked something while developing the ReEngineered process; maybe you missed a valid processing requirement or process interface. You will need to do more study and analysis to correct this. Second, the inability to explain the basis for why a change should take place reduces employee confidence in the new process. The ReEngineering process will lose credibility with the worker group upon whom a successful implementation depends. Therefore, based on our extensive experience in process redesign, we have become convinced that a casual or rudimentary understanding of an existing process may ignore essential elements of that process and can erode staff confidence in the adequacy of the new process. The implementation of the ReEngineered process may not be fully supported by workers and the expected improvement may not become reality.

2. What would we like to do?

This is the "clean sheet of paper" part of the ReEngineering process. The ReEngineering team will spend a great deal of time at this point brainstorming about all kinds of possibilities, ranging from eliminating the process all together (major overhaul), to making a variety of significant changes (minor overhaul), to making only minimal changes (tune-up). Brainstorming and open thinking are essential for moving outside the "logic box" to consider a full scope of alternatives.

The alternatives must then be analyzed to identify those which are reasonably feasible, are cost-effective, support the organization’s business and service objectives, and accommodate valid processing constraints.

As the team gravitates toward specific process improvements, it is important to compare them to the existing process. Where are the gaps? What is the impact of those gaps? What needs to be reconsidered?

As the analysis continues, the team closes in on an effectively ReEngineered process that represents optimal process achievement. It is time to prepare the new process for presentation to management and staff.

3. Developing the new processes

The team must now embark upon the less exciting but equally important task of developing clean and clear presentations of the revised process details. These presentations should take the form of revised workflows and procedures of sufficient detail that a qualified worker could follow them to achieve the expected results.

The team must also determine interfaces that must change to implement the new processes. Remember to be practical about the reality of actually getting these changes made! Thorough cost-benefit analysis is a key element of good ReEngineering practice.

As part of developing the new process, the ReEngineering team should identify the criteria used to measure the process. Measurement is essential to ensuring that actual implementation meets the objectives of the ReEngineering effort. A maximum of about 80% of ReEngineered processes will be successful; effective measurement can identify and correct the other 20%.

Management must formally accept the recommendations and agree on the schedule for implementation, resources required, and measurement criteria.

4. Testing the new processes

Now that the new process has been developed and documented, it will need testing. It is important, throughout the testing phase, to remember that every presentation or discussion represents an opportunity to build support for the new process. It is essential to effective ReEngineering that all members of the organization feel that the redesign has been collaborative, is beneficial, and that they have some ownership in its success.

The most effective approach to testing the new process involves pre-pilot presentations, refinement, and pilot processing.

Pre-pilot presentations are opportunities to share the ReEngineered process with a number of representative processing groups. Generally, these presentations should be done in person by members of the ReEngineering team, rather than sending the new process to be read and reviewed. Remember, there will be many questions about the changes and the steps the ReEngineering team has eliminated or redirected. The confidence and support of the operational groups will be enhanced by a planned and effective presentation of the ReEngineered process and clear and forthcoming explanations of why tasks were changed or omitted. The operational groups must understand how the ReEngineered process better supports the organization’s business and service objectives, while accommodating valid processing constraints.

At the pre-pilot presentations, the ReEngineering team should acknowledge the issues and concerns raised by the workers. If workers suggest refinements which should be made immediately, acknowledge the improvements and incorporate them into the new process. Otherwise, ask the workers to live with the new process and procedures for the remainder of the pilot to see what other issues and concerns might be identified. The ReEngineering team should return to the group a week or so later to discuss and address additional items of comment.

It is our experience that approximately 30% of the affected operational groups should participate in these pre-pilot presentations, with not more than 15 individuals at any single presentation. This approach will yield a good cross-section of concerns and comments. It will validate the new process or suggest the need for additional ReEngineering work.

5. The Pilot Process

Once the ReEngineering team has refined the process and has enough evidence to ensure a conceptual buy-in from the pre-pilot participants, it is time to do a full-blown pilot of the entire process.

The right worker group must be selected for the pilot process. As a general rule, don’t select the best or worst operation. Instead, select an operation that represents a middle ground for size, complexity, worker skills, and staff support. Clearly, the pilot group must be free from any pressing problems that would divert staff attention away from the arduous task of evaluating and refining a comprehensive new work process. The pilot group should have been one of the pre-pilot participants, to benefit from the understandings already gained.

The ReEngineering team should plan to provide on-site support throughout the pilot, with full time support until the staff is comfortable executing the new process. Throughout the pilot, staff members should be encouraged to express all concerns and questions to the ReEngineering team members. All issues should be noted to ensure they are adequately addressed in the final procedures.

When does the pilot end? It ends when the ReEngineering team and line management are confident the new process has been implemented and is functioning at the expected level, or when the ReEngineering team determines the process needs further extensive rework and no additional insights are to be gained from the pilot group. Remember to measure the ReEngineered process against your previously identified criteria to verify the effectiveness of the process.

6. Implementation

Once the pilot is concluded, supporting organizational or system changes are in place, and any additional refinements are incorporated into the ReEngineered process, the entire organization is ready to begin the process of implementation.

In larger organizations, a proven approach is to have the ReEngineering team, supported by personnel involved with the pilot, introduce the new process to each work group or location. The team should provide an overview and detailed walk-through to representative workers. As with the pilot, the team will want to thoroughly address any questions or concerns, with team members available on-site to assist with the first few days of implementing the new process.

Continuous improvement -- or -- This process goes on forever!

Any process is a dynamic activity. Just as the organization itself is constantly evolving and reacting to external influences, so must the processes by which we produce products and services for our customers also evolve. The insights and disciplines gained during the ReEngineering process are valuable tools for continuous improvement in maintaining a new operational direction. Continue to encourage employees to question the value of their activities. Continue to foster a connection in the minds of all employees between the activities they perform and the contribution those activities make to the products and services they produce. Integrate the disciplines learned by the ReEngineering team into the on-going refinement of the new process. To the extent organizations can incorporate these ReEngineering practices into their day-to-day operations, they can ensure continuous improvement and often eliminate the need to ReEngineer again!


ReEngineering, in its classic sense, represents a potential for both opportunities and disappointments for an organization. ReEngineering can change the way an organization works, but can also be a painful and expensive experience. A staged approach to ReEngineering represents an opportunity to adjust the ReEngineering process to the needs of the organization. Why do a major overhaul when a tune-up is all that is needed?

As you have seen in this article, there are specific steps and criteria that have proven successful in implementing a staged approach to ReEngineering. When used correctly, these steps can enable an organization to redefine, refine, and continuously improve operating effectiveness.

About the Author

E.D. Johnson is a process management consultant and Principal with J-E-T-S, Inc., Quality Consultants, in Charlotte, NC. J-E-T-S provides a variety of quality consulting services including process integration, quality improvement initiatives, performance-based independent assessments, operational effectiveness reviews, quality training, and quality program development, for commercial and governmental clients. For the past 20 years, Ms. Johnson has been involved with a variety of process improvement programs and has helped organizations achieve real, measurable, practical improvements in their operations.

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Last modified: October 31, 2018