Towards Understanding why most Business Reengineering Projects Fail

Today, more than ever before, the business environment is characterized by intense competition, shifts in customer demands and expectations, rapid globalization trends, and the ever domineering convergence of technology.

To maintain a competitive lead under these conditions, many organizations have turned to business process reengineering to fundamentally revamp critical business processes that have become outdated and are no longer efficient or economical to maintain (Angus & Goodman 2).

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Too wade through the harsh economic waters presented by the complex interplay of the stated micro and macro factors, many enterprises globally have adopted process-based thinking and transformation as a business strategy aimed at bringing about change (Tarantino 76), and trigger revenue growth and competitiveness (Jeston & Nelis 23).

However, it intrigues many scholars and practitioners why many organizations, in spite of developing exceptional process redesign plans, fail in producing the kind of fundamental change required to drive revenues and maintain competitive advantage (Tarantino 76; Grover & Kettinger 34).

This paper therefore purposes to bring into the limelight factors that make many business reengineering initiatives to be unsuccessful. It is believed that the knowledge of the factors that contribute to the failure of most business redesigns will go a long way in assisting practitioners to effectively implement process redesigns aimed at assisting enterprises to adapt to changes presenting in the internal as well as the external environment.

The most prevalent definition of the term ‘reengineering’ comes from Michael Hammer and James Champy, the chief architects of the concept (Morgan & Smit 187), who describes it as “…the fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical, contemporary measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service, and speed” (Angus & Goodman 2).

This definition illuminates the fact that business process reengineering (BPR), if implemented effectively, can serve as a business strategy intended to maximize performance while maintaining competitive advantage.

A multiplicity of factors, however, continue to work against the spirit of BPR, ensuring that organizations do not achieve the gains or benefits promised by this strategic initiative, with statistics demonstrating that three out of four reengineering initiatives fail (Manganelli & Klein 10).

Why, then, do these projects fail? These authors posit that for successful reengineering to be realized, an organization first must be completely clear about what it is attempting to realize and how it will go about realizing the objectives. As it turns out, many organizations develop ambiguous objectives and immeasurable goals, precipitating failure (Jarrar & Aspinwall 175).

Weak process enablers and immature enterprise capabilities have also been blamed for excessive failures of reengineering projects. Hammer proposed five process enablers (design, performers, owners, infrastructure, and metrics) and four enterprise capabilities (culture, leadership, expertise, and governance) as critical to the success of business reengineering initiatives (Tarantino 76).

To achieve a high level of performance and competitiveness in reengineering efforts, therefore, organizations need to ensure that the process enablers outlined as well as the enterprise capabilities are at their highest level.

Third, it is indeed true that many organizations implement reengineering projects “…tactically, as one of the many improvement efforts linked to – or far removed from – corporate strategy” (Manganelli & Raspa 39). Such organizations fail to understand that reengineering obliges a holistic approach to redesigning a business process (Sussan & Johnson 48), and therefore must be deployed strategically rather than tactically (Harari 50).

Indeed, strategic management literature demonstrates that business reengineering efforts should not be separated from the organization’s overall strategy; on the contrary, such initiatives must be driven by the corporate strategy and must be guaranteed of unequivocal support from the highest levels of the organization for them to produce meaningful results (Manganelli & Raspa 39). Sadly, this is not the case in most organizations, resulting in massive reengineering failures.

The forth factor as to why most business reengineering initiatives fail to succeed, and which is intrinsically related to the third, is the perceived lack of support and commitment from senior leadership (Tarantino 39). Available literature demonstrates that senior leadership must be dedicated to system thinking, not mentioning that they must assume pole position in leading process efforts (Harari 51).

In most modern organizations, however, senior leadership is known to exercise its leadership from the perspective of command, authority and control rather than projecting vision, understanding and control. Such a predisposition always brings disastrous results in as far as the implementation of reengineering projects is concerned.

Lack of skill and expertise in the implementation of business reengineering initiatives can be cited as the fifth factor explaining why BPRs continue to fail in spite of their immense competitive advantages.

Available evidence demonstrate that organizations must have in their possession formalized mechanisms for developing, training, and maintaining process skills if they are to successfully undertake critical redesigning initiatives (Tarantino 39). It is however surprising to note that most organizations fail to embed process management, skills development, and redesign skills in the training of key members of staff charged with the responsibility of implementing reengineering ventures (Jeston & Nelis 68).

To conclude, it can be argued that most organizations have failed to implement BPR as a business strategy, not because the concept has any weak links but because of haphazard execution.

Indeed, available evidence demonstrate that most organizations have so far failed to redesign their processes and systems for optimum performance and productivity due to “…poor preparation, poor follow-through, power foresight, poor business acumen, and a marked dearth of vision, courage and persistence from executives” (Harari 50).

These factors have been well covered in this paper. The task for management, therefore, is to implement the recommendations contained in this paper if they are to reap the immense benefits promised by business reengineering

Works Cited

Angus, F.R., & Goodman, A.L. Reengineering for Revenue Growth. Research Technology Management 39.2 (1996): 2-13

Grover, V., & Kettinger, W.J. Business Process Change: Reengineering Concepts, Methods, and Techniques. Idea Group Inc. 1995

Harari, O. Why did Reengineering Die? Management Review 85.6 (1996): 49-52

Jarrar, Y.F., & Aspinwall, E. Business Process Reengineering: Learning from Organizational Experience. Total Quality Management 10.2 (1999): 173-186

Jeston, J., & Nelis, J. Business Process Management: Practical Guidelines to Successful Implementation, 2nd Ed. Oxford: Butterworth-Heinemann. 2008

Manganelli, R.L., Klein, M.M. A Framework for Reengineering. Management Review 83.6 (1994): 10-16

Manganelli, R.L., & Raspa, S.P. Why Reengineering has failed. Management Review 84.7 (1995): 39-43

Morgan, N., & Smit E. Contemporary Issues in Strategic Management. Cape Town: Pearson South Africa. 1996

Sussan, A.P., & Johnson, W.C. Strategic Capabilities of Business Process: Looking for Competitive Advantage. Competitiveness Review 13.2 (2003): 46-52

Tarantino, D.P. Why do Process Redesigns Fail. Physician Executive 33.4 (2007): 76-79


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