Was Michael Hammer A Lean Business Guru?

The name of Dr. Michael Hammer is generally not associated with lean. But as a business author and guru who focused on ways to improve companies, his work should be of interest to lean advocates.

And with the news that Hammer died of a brain hemorrhage this week at the age of 60, perhaps now is an appropriate time to talk about him.

Hammer is best known as co-author, with James Champy, of Re-Engineering the Corporation, an influential business book published in 1993 that spent 41 weeks on the best-seller lists of The New York Times.

I never read the book, although I did hear Hammer speak once. I was impressed by his intelligence and his concepts. The speech was a good number of years ago, before I became a lean devotee.

According to the
obituary in The New York Times, the book

promoted the idea of simplifying and reorganizing business departments by having the workers break down their activities into logical, bite-size pieces, then take a “clean sheet” approach to reassembling their work for greater efficiency and productivity…

Stephen P. Kaufman, a senior lecturer at the Harvard Business School, said in an interview Thursday that after the book’s release, “there was a large flurry of re-engineering projects, led both by consulting firms that would teach the process to companies and by the companies themselves.” Mr. Kaufman added that he “would not quite call it a revolution, but a very useful tool in the tool bag of effective managers.”

Time magazine saw it differently — and laced with an element of controversy.
In its 1996 profile of Dr. Hammer, it said his book “set in motion a revolution the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Henry Ford
introduced the assembly line. Like most revolutions, this one has been extremely messy. Such huge firms as Procter & Gamble, Xerox
and American Standard have successfully taken a Hammer to their structures.”

“At the same time,” the profile continued, “re-engineering has become synonymous with less elegant forms of reorganization, notably downsizing, in which C.E.O.’s fire workers wholesale to make a company more ‘efficient.’ ”

Dr. Hammer and Mr. Champy were deeply concerned about the misuse of their premise.

“It is astonishing to me the extent to which the term re-engineering has been hijacked, misappropriated and misunderstood,” Dr. Hammer told Time, saying that ideally, re-engineering should promote greater production and create more jobs.

It sounds as if Hammer’s concepts and lean concepts have some elements in common.

Have any of you ever worked at a company that applied Hammer’s re-engineering concepts? What was your experience? And do those concepts contain elements of lean? We look forward to your comments.


alanmossman said...

There are some similarities - but there is one key difference. Hammer advocated that change was decided by and imposed on workers by management.

In Lean, workers devise their own changes with the involvement and support of management. this means that the solutions devised are more responsive to local contexts and demands and can be more easily adapted as the environment and customer requirements change because those at the workface understand why process was redesigned the way it was and hence know when a redesign could be an improvement.

with best wishes

Alan Mossman
The Change Business Ltd UK

Dean Bliss said...

I remember Dr. Hammer for two things. One, when Reengineering started to have problems, he came out with "Beyond Reengineering", which addressed the people issues that the original book missed. And two, when my former employer embarked on an SAP installation, we used a video from Dr. Hammer in our training, which was a very effective way to address the massive change that SAP brought to the organization. I credit Dr. Hammer for bringing awareness of "process" to businesses that weren't thinking in those terms. Not necessarily "lean", but process thinking nonetheless. I'm saddened by his passing.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. When it’s left to the media to arbitrarily decide which issues deserve attention, it can often encourage conflict between competing “issues” that ultimately serves the status quo. A better approach, of course, would be solidarity between all parties, but that’s easier said than done!
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