When to build a wall

In the book that originally launched the concept of business process re-engineering (Re-engineering the Corporation), Michael Hammer and James Champy paint three scenarios to answer the question: when is the right time to re-engineer?

You’re travelling along the road and you run headlong into a wall. You have to re-engineer now, or you can’t get past it and continue your journey.

You’re travelling along the road and you see a wall in the distance. You have time to re-engineer and identify a good path around the wall.

You’re travelling along an open road, and you think to yourself: “This would be a good place to build a wall”.

Re-engineering may not be what you want, but however you go about reinventing your strategies, the relentless pressure of market changes and fast moving new competitors will not let up. So when is the right time to build a wall?

I would suspect that few business leaders feel as if they are on an open road. Today’s issues always feel like big boulders. Is the forward order book healthy? If it is, can we grow our resources fast enough to satisfy it? How happy are we with the cost and quality of our work? There is always urgent stuff to do, which makes it all too easy to leave wall-building for the future.

The challenge is to find a way to continue to perform at your best for your customers today while simultaneously focusing on innovating for the future. If doing the day job today consumes all your attention and resources, there will be nothing left for the future. It’s no good either to tuck a few innovators safely out of the way of those of you doing the day job. This is a mainstream activity. How can you build up the capability to give it the attention it needs?

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