Tag Archives: Eliyahu Goldratt

Michael Hammer & James Champy: Business Process Reengineering

Continuous improvement had been around for a long time. And that simply built on generations of work to improve the way businesses do things, going back to the Gilbreths and Taylor. But in 1990, a Harvard Business Review article exploded the idea of incremental change, with its provocative title: Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate. It was written by an MIT engineer called Michael Hammer.

And three years later, the revolution was well underway, with a book he wrote with top management consultant, James Champy. Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution was as much a rallying cry for the consulting industry as anything else. But in the few years that followed, hundreds of companies employed thousands of consultants to reengineer their processes and, in so-doing, remove tens of thousands from their workforces.

Michael Hammer & James Champy

Michael Hammer & James Champy

Michael Hammer

Michael Hammer was born in 1948 and grew up in Maryland. He went to MIT to study maths, receiving his BS in 1968. He then took an MS in Electrical Engineering in 1970, followed by a PhD in Computer Science, that he was awarded in 1973.

He remained at MIT becoming a professor in the Computer Science department and also a lecturer at the MIT Sloane School of Management. From there, he formed links with a Boston-based consulting firm, Index, led by founder, James Champy.

In 1990, he authored one of the most influential Harvard Business Review articles,  Reengineering Work: Don’t Automate, Obliterate. This called for a radical approach to creating competitive advantage. It built on thinking that was already around among consulting firms like Index and Boston Consulting Group.

It was so successful that Hammer and Champy collaborated on a follow-up book that was hailed as one of the most important business books of its time: Reengineering the Corporation: A Manifesto for Business Revolution.

Other books followed, along with his own consultancy, and a commentary on the reengineering story as it grew, reached its peak, and then diminished amidst a certain sense of distaste. Hammer confessed to having been naive about the impact his ideas would have on people’s lives, once in the hands of corporations motivated primarily by profit for their shareholders.

Michael Hammer died unexpectedly in 2008, from a brain haemorrhage.

James Champy

James Champy was born in 1942 and studied Civil Engineering, also at MIT. He gained his BS in 1963 and his MS in 1965. He then went to Boston College Law School and received his JD in 1968. From there, he went on to found the consulting firm Index .

In 1988, Index was bought by computer systems giant Computer Sciences Corporation, and became known as CSC Index. Champy stayed on as Chairman and CEO until 1996.  He then went to lead another giant IT consultancy, Perot Systems, until 2009, when it was acquired by Dell.

Champy currently has a wide range of corporate roles, is an independent consultant, and research fellow at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Institute.

Business Process Reengineering (BPR)

A company can get competitive advantage if it can improve its customer service or reduce its operating costs. Continuous improvement methodologies like time and motion studies, and the Japanese Kaizen, had done this for years. But reengineering is a methodology for rebuilding the way a company does things – its business processes – from scratch.

In particular, it emphasises removing whole processes that do not deliver value. The result of this radicalism was obvious in hindsight, though not what Hammer and Champy intended. Companies not only reduced the scope of processes and found significant shortcuts; they removed whole cadres of staff who had previously carried out the tasks that were no longer needed.

The two principle effects of the 1990s’ obsession with reengineering were substantial layoffs and redundancies (described by the now-infamous euphemism ‘downsizing’) and a bean-feast of highly paid work for armies of recently graduated consulting analysts at all of the big consultancies.

By the end of the 1990s, the reengineering bubble had burst, to be replaced by a second wave of technology enhanced cost-saving under the guise of another three letter acronym (TLA): Enterprise Resource Planning, or ERP.

Business Process Reengineering - Michael Hammer & James Champy

Business Process Reengineering – Michael Hammer & James Champy

Some of the Principles of BPR

We can get a sense of some of the principles of Business Process Reengineering from Hammer’s original HBR article. There, he said:

‘At the heart of reengineering is the notion of discontinuous thinking—of recognizing and breaking away from the outdated rules and fundamental assumptions that underlie operations. Unless we change these rules, we are merely rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. We cannot achieve breakthroughs in performance by cutting fat or automating existing processes. Rather, we must challenge old assumptions and shed the old rules that made the business underperform in the first place.’

The principles Hammer and Champy articulated included:

  • Organize around outcomes, not tasks.
  • Have those who use the output of the process perform the process.
  • Subsume information-processing work into the real work that produces the information.
  • Treat geographically dispersed resources as though they were centralized.
  • Link parallel activities instead of integrating their results.
  • Put the decision point where the work is performed, and build control into the process.
  • Capture information once and at the source.

What was clearly missing was a recognition that some changes were always going to be more impactful than others. If you fail to address the principal workflow constraints, or make too many changes, then the resulting corporate carnage can be detrimental. This is something Eli Goldratt had realised ten years earlier.

And whenever I think back to my times at a major international consultancy* in the late 1990s, I cannot help but be reminded of something another friend and colleague (Tony Quigley) used to say:

‘The alternative to incremental development is excremental development’


* I was involved in Programme Management, not BPR

Karol Adamiecki: Management Harmony

We tend to think of leading management theorists as coming from the United States. This seems especially so of Scientific Management. But when the privilege of naming things for the world’s largest audience goes to those who write in English, history creates a bias. And because that audience largely reads only one language, that bias gets amplified.

One of many losers from the Anglo-centric nature of management and business thinking was Karol Adamiecki. He was a Polish engineer, turned economist and management thinker, who can claim to have invented the Gantt Chart before Henry Gantt, PERT before the US Navy, the Theory of Constraints before Eliyahu Goldratt, and much of Scientific Management before FW Taylor.

Karol Adamiecki 1866-1933

Karol Adamiecki 1866-1933

Short Biography

Karol Adamiecki was born in southern Poland, in 1866. He studied engineering at the Institute of Technology in St Petersburg, graduating in 1891. He then returned to his home town, where he took charge of a steel mill. He stayed for nearly 30 years, during which time, he formed his ideas about management.

In 1919, he left the mill, and became a lecturer at the Warsaw Polytechnic, becoming a professor in 1922. There, he further codified and published his ideas. In 1925, he founded the Institute of Scientific Management in Warsaw, becoming its Director and remaining until his death in 1933.

Adamiecki’s  Law of Harmony in Management

While running the steel rolling mill, Karol Adamiecki developed sophisticated thinking around management that was, from our perspective, ahead of its time. The three principal components were:

  1. Harmony of Choice
    Management should select and supply production tools that are mutually compatible. He went on to argue that this should be especially so in terms of their output production speed. This anticipated the Theory of Constraints, and the ideas of Eliyahu Goldratt by 75 years or more.
  2. Harmony of Doing
    Sequencing and scheduling of activities need to be fully co-ordinated to optimise production efficiency. Here, he not only developed a tool that looks very similar to the Gantt Chart, well before Gantt published. His approach also anticipated the US Navy’s Program Evaluation and Review Technique (PERT) and du Pont’s Critical Path Method (CPM) by over 50 years.
  3. Harmony of Spirit
    I imagine the Pharaohs’ overseers were constantly emphasising the importance of creating a good team. But this is another theme that feels very modern – perhaps even more so than the other two. Let’s not forget that Taylor’s view of Scientific Management was mechanistic and process-oriented. It took Mayo to bring humanism to the fore, and ideas of team working in management only started to dominate from the 1970s.

Adamiecki started to publish in 1898, several years before Taylor did so.

Harmony of Doing:
The Harmonograph or Harmonogram (or Harmonograf)

In 1896, Adamiecki solved the problem of sequencing and scheduling in production and published, in1903, his solution. He called it a Harmonograf. And it looks very much like what we now call a Gantt Chart. However, Henry Gantt did not publish until 1910. There is no evidence to suggest Gantt copied Adamiecki’s idea.

In constructing the Harmonograf, however, Adamiecki describes a process that is pretty similar to the PERT and CPM methods. He certainly is able to include critical path and float. These are two concepts Gantt did not consider at all.

As Adamiecki described his methods, he was able to optimise production schedules by sliding paper tabs and arranging paper strips. In a very real sense, he developed an analog scheduling computer.


Without a doubt, Adamiecki’s thinking was of its time, but way ahead of its rediscovery. He possibly failed to realise just how valuable it was. But more likely, he simply suffered from an Anglophone bias in scholarship and manufacturing. Publishing in Polish simply did not get him recognition far beyond the borders of his home country. Even now, it is only in the Karol Adamiecki University of Economics in Katowice, that his name is celebrated.

And I have to ask, could this happen again? Yes. I think it can, will and probably is happening now. Last week, we met Vlatka Hlupic. Arguably, her work is known despite her Croatian origin, because she lives and works in London. With the US and the UK increasingly looking to close their borders for differing but related reasons, the next Karol Adamiecki’s work could well lay undiscovered for just as long as that of the first.

Eliyahu Goldratt: Theory of Constraints

Eliyahu Goldratt was an Israeli business thinker, who popularised his approach to transforming the performance of business processes with a novel. Co-written with Jeff Cox, The Goal has been one of the most influential business books of the late Twentieth Century.

Eliyahu Goldratt

Eliyahu Goldratt

Short Biography

Eliyahu Goldratt was born in 1947 and lived his life in Israel. He studies Physics at university, gaining his BSc at Tel Aviv University, and his Masters of Science and Doctorate of Philosophy degrees from Bar-Ilan University. His PhD research was into the physics of fluid flow, and afterwards, he applied this thinking to systems within organisations.

He used an algorithm that he had developed during his doctoral studies as the basis for creating production scheduling software, which he called Optimized Production Technology. In 1975, he founded a company with the same name, to implement the software within Israeli companies.

The company grew, opening subsidiaries in the US (1979) and the UK (1982), changing the business name to Creative Output. It started to provide training alongside software implementation. In 1984, Goldratt published ‘The Goal‘. This was a business book, about process optimizaton, in the form of a novel. Jeff Coz provided the creative writing, while Goldratt set out the principles. The Goal became an international best seller.

The book’ success, and Goldratt’s response, created tensions with the company’s shareholders, and in 1986, he left Creative Output and founded AGI, The Avraham Y Goldratt Institute (named after his father). Through the late 1980s and the 1990s, Goldratt continued to develop his ideas, which became known as The Theory of Constraints (or sometimes just as TOC).

In 1997, Goldratt retired from AGI, but continued to found consulting businesses and write books, applying his Theory of Constraints to arenas like marketing and project management. He died at a relatively young age, in 2011.

The Theory of Constraints

The Theory of Constraints was not new when Goldratt conceived it. There are many antecedents both for its primary application in process engineering and for other applications like the Critical Chain approach to project management, set out in his 1997 book, ‘Critical Chain‘.

Indeed, many of Goldratt’s ideas are applied in Lean Manufacturing, and overlap substantially with those of Taiichi Ohno. The essence of Goldratt’s approach is three questions and a five step process.

The questions are intended to direct changes that will optimise a system. They  are deceptively simple:

  1. What to change?
  2. What to change to?
  3. How to make the change?

The principle that Goldratt based his theory on is also very simple. If there nothing is preventing a system from achieving higher throughput, then its throughput would be unlimited. This is obviously absurd, so there must be constraints. When you find the constraints and lift their capacity, the system’s capacity and productivity (to achieve its goal) will increase. So the steps for doing this are:

  1. Identify the system’s greatest constraint.
  2. Decide how to exploit the system’s constraints.
  3. Subordinate everything else to the above decisions.
  4. Elevate the system’s constraints.
  5. When you have lifted the system’s constraint, go back to step 1.

Goldratt likened the limiting resource or asset, which constrains the rest of the system, to a drum. Its beat determines the rhythm of the system. If you cannot raise its tempo, you must do everything you can to avoid wasting its capacity. To maximise throughput at this constraint, other elements of the process, that feed it, need to have surplus capacity, to create a buffer  and reduce risk that, if they fail, the constraint will kick in.

This is a principle Goldratt applied in a variety of contexts, and there are now a great many of businesses that consult on these applications.

Goldratt’s legacy has been a highly analytical approach to finding cause and effect. Some criticise it for its simplicity and others because it may not produce the most optimal solutions. And of course, others are concerned about the extent to which he did or did not acknowledge his debt to earlier thinkers. His 2006 article, ‘Standing on the Shoulders of Giants‘ does explicitly reference the Toyota Production System very clearly.

For us, however, the message is clear. The Theory of Constraints is widely used and has made a large contribution to the productivity of many businesses. So for that reason, any manager should have at least a passing understanding of its principles.