Past Issues of Government Technology

Dr. Michael Hammer - Public Sector Reengineering

Dr. Michael Hammer - Public Sector Reengineering

by / August 31, 1995 0
Sept 95 Dr. Michael Hammer, famous as coauthor of the international best-seller "Reengineering the Corporation," asserts that technology is a lever to help create new processes for delivering products or services. "Without the creative use of technology, there is no reengineering," he said during a recent interview

Hammer and Steven A. Stanton recently wrote "The Reengineering Revolution," a book concentrating on how to reengineer an organization. The book - packed with case studies and advice from the trenches - is published by Harper Collins Inc

The following interview with Dr. Hammer was conducted by GT Features Editor Brian Miller

GT: What inspired you to write "Reengineering the Corporation?" Hammer: The book was not my first foray into reengineering. I wrote an article on the topic for our business review a couple of years earlier and I was giving talks around the world on the topic. I knew there was a lot of interest in it, so I thought it would be a good idea to write a book that would get broader distribution and be able to communicate the idea to a large group of people

GT: Why do you think the subject interests so many people? Hammer: One reason is because reengineering actually works. As opposed to a lot of management fads which sound good on paper but don't really have any impact on how an organization works, reengineering does work. Companies that apply it and do it in the right way have achieved dramatic improvement in how they operate. It's not a miracle cure, but it does work

Secondly, it seems to sit well with time. A lot of people are coping and struggling with difficult circumstances. Many different industries, including the public sector, are now facing pressures and needs to change

That that kind of environment holds out the prospect of really helping them is really interesting

Thirdly, just the term itself is simple and accessible. It doesn't sound ponderous or intimidating

GT: What do you hope to accomplish with your latest work, "The Reengineering Revolution"? Hammer: To give people the tools to succeed better at reengineering. To give people the techniques and mechanisms to make reengineering work. A lot of people have started at reengineering only to find that they had problems implementing it because they didn't know how. This is to get people to know how

GT: Shifting to the nuts and bolts of reengineering; what do the public and private sectors have in common? Hammer: They have most things in common. It turns out that reengineering is not about profit and loss, and it's not about the stock market. It's about how work is conducted - how it's performed

Public sector organizations work just like private ones do. The reengineering seeks to create better mechanisms for doing productive work

There are some differences between the private and public sectors, but it's my experience that differences are much less important than similarities

It's sometimes harder for the public sector to identify the customer

Reengineering is customer focused. It asks, "how do we deliver better value for the customer?" If it's hard to name your customer, then it's hard to figure out what to do for them

Also, in the public sector there are more limitations on degrees of freedom because of statutes or regulations. That doesn't mean you can't do things, but that you have additional challenges. There are a number of very successful reengineering efforts that are underway in the public sector now

In reengineering, people learn the most by looking at industries other than their own. The public sector has a lot to learn from the private sector

Just like I tell the insurance people, they should look at automotive and automotive people, they should look at electronics. Just looking at yourself in the mirror can get awfully boring. Looking at other kinds of organizations and seeing what ideas they came up with and then seeing how you can apply them to your own situation is where other opportunities lie

GT: You mentioned that there are some additional challenges in the public sector that are not found in the private sector. How should public sector managers go about identifying these issues and resolving them in a reengineering project? Hammer: I have a chapter in the book Reengineering Revolution subtitled "Reengineering in Mission-Driven Organizations." And by mission driven, I mean organizations that are not there primarily to make money, but to accomplish a mission, which includes public sector organizations. That chapter discusses some of the specific issues that need to be addressed

I don't think identifying the issues is the hard part. I can't tell people how to deal with them because there's no cookbook answer. What's required above all is what I call passion and determination. If the senior leadership of an organization is passionately committed to making this kind of change happen, then they'll find a way around all obstacles. And if they're not, they'll use obstacles as an excuse to back off. So it's really not an issue of techniques as much as it is an issue of serious commitment

GT: For a state or local government employee reading this who is considering beginning a reengineering program, where should they begin? Hammer: The place you start reengineering is by identifying your processes

Processes are the real work the organization does, not the names of the organizational units. It really identifies the work - the value-creating work - you do

Networking typically cuts across your departmental structure. So you have to start by identifying your processes because those are the things reengineering applies to. What you then do is have someone put in charge of these processes. In the traditional organization, no one is in charge of them so they fall through the cracks

Now you're really off to the races. You put together a team of people who are going to be commissioned to look really hard at a process, give them the resources they need and the freedom to break the rules and do what's necessary. That's how you get started

GT: What sort of person should the project leader be? Hammer: It has to be a senior-level person. Reengineering is not tinkering at the margin. Reengineering is cutting into the very basics of how the organization operates. Only someone at or near the top really has the authority to facilitate such an effort and the stature to ensure that it succeeds. This is not a project that can be undertaken by someone bottom up or by someone in the information systems organization

The ISO has an important role to play, but that role is not leadership. If the ISO tries to exercise leadership in this area, by and large it will fail. What they can do is act as a catalyst to persuade a senior person that something needs to be done. But after that it's got to be the job of a senior person to make it happen

GT: Are their specific personalities, attitudes or backgrounds for people in reengineering leadership positions? Hammer: They vary and there's no single pattern. There's the executive leader who commissions the whole effort and there's the person who has operational responsibility for it. At the moment we're talking about the latter - an information systems person. They are comfortable with change, appreciate what technology can do, are risk-tolerant and have a broad view of the organization. The disadvantage is that they often rely on overly structured methodologies to get everything done, which takes too long

Though in terms of mindset, they often are well-positioned to play a key role in reengineering

GT: In the Reengineering Revolution, you wrote - and I'm paraphrasing - that technology's role in reengineering is to enable new process designs, not create new mechanisms for performing old ones. Can you expand on that concept? Hammer: Without the creative use of technology, there is no reengineering

Reengineering uses technology as the lever, a tool to break the old ways of working and to allow you to work in new ways. The appreciation of what technology can do is central to the reengineering endeavor. It has to be a stimulator of people's thoughts. You have to have a situation where people are trying to be creative and ask questions like what could EDI do to help us? What could an expert system help us with here? And use that to recognize that there might different ways of doing the work based on the potential of the technology

GT: How can reengineering leaders identify when and how to use technology which is beneficial? Hammer: Look at technology and try to identify the rules that a new technology breaks and identify how that rule breaking can help you in that process

GT: Can you expand on that? Hammer: For example: EDI. The rule that it breaks is that organizations have boundaries. Who you are doesn't matter because anybody has access to the information. That allows anybody to do the work with the information, and not just the organization that originated it. You start a very profitable line thinking about opportunities like this