This supposed classic, updated in 2001, is rather disappointing. Its big idea is that businesses processes that are broke need fixing (sometimes even before they are recognisedly broke). But the fixing cannot be little incremental tweaks, it must be radical.
The way in which their success stories have reengineered has been (a) to move away from the fracturing of tasks that characterised the Adam Smith division of labour and Henry Ford's assembly line production and (b) to use information technology. The authors are at pains to point out that the use of IT by itself will not revolutionise businesses but it is equally clear that none of the proposals they make could succeed without IT.
Another idea is that they have to consider customer satisfaction because nowadays customers demand almost personalised choice.
They also point out that a company is people. However, many of their success stories involve sometimes significant down-sizing. They get angry about workers resisting change suggesting that many businesses cannot survive without their radical reengineering proposals but they fail to see that the workers facing redundancy may prefer a few more years of staggering on before the business goes bust to immediate dismissal.
I did like their characterisation of a hierarchy as being inherently resistant to change: "For an idea to win acceptance, everyone along the way must say yes, but killing an idea requires only one no."
One of their solutions relies on the fact, probably true, that the vast majority of customer requests are effectively the same so that a small number of standardised processes can cope with them. In other words, a process triage can divert 95% of tasks to be done quickly by cheap less trained staff using standard templates or scripts and then send the remaining 5% to the specialists. Therefore part of reengineering involves creating standard process templates for workers to use.
I liked the following quote: "To understand what is being changed a team needs insiders; but to change it, a team needs a disruptive elements. These are the outsiders."
Another idea they include is benchmarking. In fact they have included a lot of ideas all of which I have encountered elsewhere. But they claim that only when all these ideas are put together in the reengineering package will years achieve the radical improvements they are touting.
I was confused by this quote on page 195. "There is no guesswork or subjectivity involved in deciding these rewards [performance pay bonuses]. They are based on subjective measures."
Overall this book contained a few ideas I had met before packaged together. There was a lot of padding. In particular the three new chapters which are detailed case studies of three companies. These were unnecessary but without them I guess they couldn't have sold another book.
September 2014; 246 pages.