The New York Times reports that one of the co-authors of a very popular and influential management book, Reengineering the Corporation, has died. Michael Hammer, a former MIT professor, helped popularize the idea that managers should view their organizations as a "clean sheet of paper" and make them work more effectively for their customers. In the 1990s, the idea of Reengineering a company took over the thinking of managers around the world and led to billions of dollars worth of consulting work.
As it turns out, I have a professional connection to Hammer and his co-author, James A. Champy. Hammer taught me at MIT -- I took a course called Office Automation Systems from him in which he talked about the importance of imagining how a process would work if it could be re-imagined from scratch. And Champy hired me to work for the firm he co-founded with several MIT Sloan School professors -- Index Systems -- which grew dramatically after the Reengineering book was published. Index was ultimately acquired by Computer Sciences Corporation (NYSE: CSC).
Like many management ideas, its period of wild popularity lasted a few years and then faded. But what has stayed with me about the concept of Reengineering is the notion that a business needs to work not to satisfy the needs of its internal fiefdoms, but to make life better for its customers. And that is a legacy of which Hammer might be proud.