Business Process Reengineering in the Public Sector

Business Process Reengineering: “The fundamental rethinking and radical redesign of business processes to achieve dramatic improvements in critical modern measures of performance, such as cost, quality, service, and speed”. Hammer and Champy, 1993

Speed, quality, cost – pick any two” - old business adage


So Business Process Reengineering (BPR) is by definition 'radical change'; that phrase does not spring immediately to mind when we consider the public sector. Of course there are good reasons for that.

Leavitt’s Diamond, a long-established approach to looking at organizations, proposes that every organizational system is made up of four main components:

  • People - the employees of the organization, considered from the perspective of both their role in the organization, and the skills and knowledge they bring to the task.

  • Task - again, two perspectives to consider; how are things being done, and what are we trying to accomplish.

  • Structure – includes the hierarchical structure – i.e. the org chart - but also the flow of information, accountability and responsibility between management levels and work units.

  • Technology – the various tools, both hardware and software, which aid or facilitate tasks.

A fundamental observation from Leavitt’s Diamond is that changing any of these 4 components will necessitate changes in the others as well. And as all of us current and former public sector managers know, there are constraints against change in the public sector.

So does this mean 'radical change' - i.e. Business Process Reengineering - is impossible in the public sector? No, it just means you have to 1 – be clear on the vision of what you want to achieve; 2 – constrain the scope of your Business Process Reengineering initiative to something manageable within your authority / responsibility envelope; and 3 – have tolerance for uneven progress and the inevitable roadblocks that will appear.

Here's an example from a records management reengineering project I conducted a number of years ago. The basic objective was to prepare the organization for the advent of electronic records management.

The tasks included consolidating 11 separate records repositories into one, investing in both new hardware and software, integrating the mail and distribution service with records management, and training people on new systems and work processes.

We had a clear vision of the end state; in fact I hired a graphic artist to render a picture of the new combined Mail, Records and Distribution Centre. We built a strong business case demonstrating the benefits. We had the director with responsibility for both mail and records on board. And we patiently, systematically dealt with objections and obstacles raised by both staff and customers of the current records centres.

For example, many records customers believed that if we took away – i.e. consolidated – 'their' records centre, service would suffer. They were absolutely sure they needed a records repository immediately adjacent to their work location.

We overcame this objection by focusing on service standards; in other words, we helped them understand that what they needed were records, not records offices. We asked key client groups how quickly they records requests needed to be fulfilled, and offered them choices.

The answers tended to cluster around 'within 8 hours' of request'. So we created a service standard that said all records requests received before 2PM would be fulfilled same day; requests after that time would be fulfilled the next morning by 9AM.

And we used the mail-room staff to deliver the records on their regular mail runs in morning and afternoon. Of course customers could still choose to come to the new service centre to pick up records quicker than that is desired.

Besides the other objectives, we also achieved an annual 6-figure cost savings for the mail and records operation, a relatively small section of the department. Another Business Process Reengineering initiative I was involved in achieved a 1,000-per cent increase in throughput i.e. a 10-fold improvement.

If you follow a structured approach, manage the scope appropriately, and work within your limitations, dramatic public sector change is possible (bin dere, Dundas).



New training: If you are seeking efficiency and service delivery improvements in your organization, you might be interested in an exciting and excellent new series of training workshops for public sector managers and executives coming this fall.

The courses will be led by top-notch subject matter experts, many of whom are former public servants themselves. I've known many of them for years, and can vouch for their expertise and ability to transfer knowledge (I'm not much better myself ;-) You will have seen many of the names in Canadian Government Executive Magazine.

I will be delivering one of the courses on 'Business Process Reengineering and Change Management in the Public Sector'. If you need to find some efficiencies in your organization, this course will be a good place to start.

We are currently setting the schedule of courses, so check out the list below; if you are interested in one or more, let us know and we'll give those choices priority scheduling. If you want us to send you more information, include your contact info in the form.

We can also arrange custom training on your site for any of the topics shown below.


I'm interested, tell me more . . .

Business Process Reengineering
Data and Information Management
Governance and Accountability
Integrated Management
Knowledge Management
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