John D. Sanders, Ph.D.,
Whether you are an individual in a research organization, manager in a governmental agency, corporate executive, or a person just defining future employment plans- if you're using up your reserves, watching the clock on the job, failing to identify a realistic market for unfettered research, bored at work, or even feeling a little overpaid in your organization- then, today's competitive market is probably going to soon bring Business Process Reengineering (BPR) to your doorstep.
BPR isn't really new. The fight against bureaucracy in the sense of static, bloated or non-competitive organizations is "as old as the hills." Darwin saw it in his "survival of the fittest." Murphy, Parkinson and Peter- with their laws and principles- appropriately identified basic people problems that inevitably smother static organizations? And now, technology in new products, processes and services is radically reducing the time frame in which organizations must respond to remain competitive through being more productive.
"Being more productive!" Let's look at that statement. First of all, the immediate results of this is either to have less people producing the same overall output or to have greater production with the same people. Therefore if the immediate result of being more productive isn't to increase the output, then the short term management decision is obvious- a reduction in force. We see this in certain large companies where many thousands of jobs at all levels are being eliminated. In some organizations these actions are a true recognition of being competitive in the marketplace while "doing the same thing." The better scenario is where new products and services are expanding markets and providing more opportunities for growth, with competition requiring greater output per person of input- a fact of life in today's worldwide economy.
Murphy's Law says, "If something can go wrong, it will." Therefore any organization without reserves of time, talent and money will eventually be damaged by the unexpected. The obvious antidote is therefore, "Always be Prepared." The amount of expectation for the unexpected will define the damage control.
Parkinson's Law says, "In a static case (bureaucracy), work expands to equal the time allotted for it." His corollaries also expound on retaining documents and information to the extent file cabinets are available. (I guess a modern equivalent would also be to ask how often does one purge computer memory prior to running out of disc space.) However the main thrust is that without new opportunities or challenges- or competition- the natural order for human beings is to seek a certain production level and remain there.
The Peter Principle says, "In a bureaucracy, a person rises to his/her level of incompetence." There are a number of ways in which this Principle can be played out. For example, an employee does a good job in a production function and then is promoted to management where he become ineffective. Or, a person is placed in a position where her partner doesn't enjoy working together. Another instance would be to promote an individual researcher to a high profile project where certain customer interaction causes too much time to be used in preparation of presentations. Whatever the cause, the effect is greater limitations on productive output. When this happens, is the organization ready to quickly admit its mistake and correct by replacing that limited person into a position for best results? If not, then the whole organization becomes saturated with persons who are effectively incompetent in their current positions.
Applying these laws and principles, combined with the current rate of innovation through technology, is resulting in the most exciting and dynamic period of economic growth in history- as a world, a nation, for organizations and even on a personal basis. The challenge can really be fun. And as we have discussed before, "Never be afraid of being tested by the market!"
I would appreciate comments; contact me at Technology Transfer Business magazine: phone: 703-848-2800, ext. 151; fax: 703-848-2353; InterNet: firstname.lastname@example.org.
prepared for the February, 1996 Issue of the Federal Laboratory Consortium NewsLink