Continuous Process Improvement versus Process Reengineering!

Reengineering is not completely different from total quality principles. The issue is not Kaizen versus break-through improvement. In fact, Juran talked about breakthrough improvement long before Hammer and Champy popularised the term reengineering.

Incremental and break-through improvement is complementary approaches that fall under the total quality umbrella, both are necessary to remain competitive. In fact, some suggest that reengineering requires support of total quality management in order to be successful.


If reengineering alone is driven by top management without the support and understanding of the rest of the organisation, the radical innovations may end up as failures. The total quality philosophy encourages participation and systematic study, measurement and verification of results that support reengineering efforts.

Continuous Process Improvement versus Process Reengineering:

Some organisations shy away from process reengineering because they feel it is too costly and too time consuming. The questions asked by them are: “Why scrap a process when we can try to fix it instead?” The answer is to investigate and appreciate the problem. We need to determine whether a certain process within the organisation requires minor healing (continuous process improvement) or major surgery (process, reengineering).

Both continuous process improvement (referred to as CPI) and process reengineering are necessary to drive “break-through” (significant advances) in organisational performance but they differ in a number of ways. The differences are:

(i) Management Involvement:

CPI typically involves employees at all levels and emphasise continuous incremental improvement of work processes. Process reengineering typically involves managers in a more “hands-on” role, since it often leads to changing organisational structure and redesigning jobs.

(ii) Intensity of Team Member Involvement:


CPI involves team members on an “as needed” part-time basis over an extended time frame. Process reengineering requires much more intensive involvement of team members, often on a regular full time basis over a condensed time frame.

(iii) Improvement Goals:

CPI results in the achievement of successive incremental improvements over a period of time, starting from how a work process currently operates and improving upon it. Process reengineering is periodic and focuses on the achievement of dramatic improvement, radically redesigning how a process operates without being constrained by how things were previously being done.

(iv) Implementation Approach:

CPI builds on making incremental improvements that add up to significant improvement overall for an organisation. Process reengineering focusses on outcomes and on making break-through improvement at one time instead of adding up the sum of multiple gains.

(v) Magnitude of organisational change:

With CPI, organisational changes happen over an extended period of time, often with limited disruption of existing jobs, management systems and organisational structures. With process reengineering, radical process changes go hand in hand with changes in job design, management systems, training and retraining, organisational structure and information technology.

(vi) Extent of focus:


CPI focuses on narrowly defined processes, which often involve frontline employees who are working to improve a sub process which is part of a higher level process. Process reengineering focusses on broad-based, cross-functional processes that span the larger part of an organisational system.

(vii) Dependence upon information systems:

Organisations using CPI occasionally reinvent a process whereas those using process reengineering use information technology to pave the way for radical improvements in reduction of cycle time and information access.

Both CPI and process reengineering have a place in today’s organisation. While CPI is the mainstay, process reengineering is necessary at certain times in certain situations, when CPI is not adequate for the job.