Quality Management Journal Book Reviews - April 2003 - ASQ

Quality Management Journal Book Reviews - April 2003


X-engineering the Corporation: Reinventing Your Business in the Digital Age.

James Champy. 2002. New York: Warner Business Books. 232 pages.

Reviewed by James B. Kohnen, St. Mary’s College of California

Technological, economic, and infrastructure changes embodied in the concept of globalization prompted James Champy to expand the idea of reengineering he and Michael Hammer fashioned in 1993. Their pioneering work served the business community well through the 1990s and may be in part responsible for the conditions today. These conditions require an even bolder initiative to capitalize on the gains organizations made by reengineering. To this end Champy offers X-engineering, which goes the next step in coping with the current business climate.

X-engineering is based on three key elements: process, proposition, and participation. Process has been expanded from an internal focus to an external one that includes the participation of suppliers and customers to make the value-added system function effectively. Proposition deals with what is offered to the customer and how its value can be increased. Champy has isolated seven universal value propositions that can be offered to a customer: customization, innovation, price, quality, service, speed, and variety. Participation explains the “X” in X-engineering that symbolizes the crossing fronts of organizational boundaries. Participation is said to have four levels of inclusion, with the first addressing internal reengineering processes and the remaining three addressing external entities of suppliers, customers, and partners in the global reengineering process. All of this is predicated on open communication of processes and progress by everyone concerned. The result of X-engineering is to reshape the market served to take full advantage of technological, economic, and infrastructure changes that are emerging in the 21st century.

Champy defends his concepts with anecdotal evidence that he gathered from corporations successfully coping with the environment in which they thrived. In some cases the firm adjusted by reengineering processes. Other stories tell how the firm’s upstream processes were improved by working with its suppliers to be more effective at delivering the goods and services the firm needed. Downstream processes stories illustrated how customers used X-engineering in their universal value propositions. A few instances are cited showing how working with partners can result in a paradigm shift in the operation of a market.

Two chapters use the anecdotal evidence Champy gathered in a unique way by introducing new tenets of management and by recounting mistakes that should be avoided in X-engineering. One of the new tenets of management is expressed as replacing the truism to “manage change as an event and appeal to intellect” with “manage change as a campaign and appeal to feelings.” A touching Hallmark story of symbols, a ship christening ceremony, is used to launch the firm’s reengineering efforts.

Underestimating the adoption time is one of the mistakes Champy cautions against. He suggests that 10 percent of customers will accept X-engineering without hesitation, but the remaining 90 percent require time, money, and persistence (p.186). His advice is to manage the change campaign for the long term.

First, last, and always Champy’s management advice is to execute flawlessly (p.162). Because X-engineering is done in the open, everyone will know when a firm makes a mistake. The cumulative result of an error will erode the confidence that suppliers, customers, and partners have in the firm and the processes it endorses.

X-engineering the Corporation: Reinventing Your Business in the Digital Age provides a framework for the future. The evidence that Champy offers is that many are embracing the reality of technology-driven change in the processes they are using. These industry leaders will continue to shape the market in which their followers will compete.


DEADLINE!: How Premier Organizations Win the Race Against Time.

Dan Carrison. 2002. New York: AMACOM. 246 pages.

Reviewed by James B. Kohnen, St. Mary’s College of California

DEADLINE! provides an insightful look at how an organization can cope with the time element of projects. The thesis of the book is that effective planning is the key to using time effectively. The book is about more than planning, however; it is about leadership at all levels of an organization executing the plan under stress. The plan becomes a guide to solid decision-making during the situation that prompted people to function in extraordinary circumstances.

It specifically addresses the schedule portion of the cost, schedule, and quality components of project management by retelling the stories of six organizations that effectively managed time-sensitive projects. Each story is well written, with time management commentary interspersed within it. The stories cover the design and building of the Broncos stadium in Denver by Turner Construction Company, the 777 wide-body airplane by Boeing, and the 2001 Odyssey Mars orbiter by Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Lockheed Martin. The story of how Airborne Express captured the movie-theater film distribution market provides a model for the service industry. The public sector is covered with an FBI kidnapping tale that comes to a successful conclusion. And the mobilization of employees of Conoco to assist victims of Tropical Storm Allison in June 2001 covers the volunteer segment.

Each story is followed by a checklist of deadline management techniques that were subtly introduced in the story. The checklist really is a reflective review of the key elements of the story and supports the recurring themes found in the book’s concluding chapter. Here the importance of the schedule is emphasized above all other factors in the race against time. In each case the schedule was not found to be a capricious document; rather, it is well planned and carefully executed at all levels of the organization. The effectiveness of the effort to maintain the schedule, adjust it only when data clearly indicated it was necessary, and celebration of milestones along the way resulted in the successful completion of each task and the project.

Partnering summarizes another recurring theme that involves everyone in the project. This includes employees who must communicate openly with one another for the greater good of the project rather than their individual interests or fiefdoms within the organization, but it goes beyond the organization to suppliers and customers. Each supplier must understand the importance of its contribution and focus on providing goods and services that contribute to the project’s schedule. Customers must be prepared to permit processes to be developed and used that will result in successfully completing the project within the specified time frame.

All of this is not without risk. Some organizations are not prepared or willing to take the risk. Airborne Express accepted the Technicolor Challenge to create a new movie-theater film distribution system that would break the National Film Service hold on the business. Competing firms, UPS and FedEx, were not willing to take the risk. Boeing was shown to take a risk of promising United Airlines that its first 777 would roll out of the hanger certified for transoceanic flight, even though the Federal Aviation Administration had not agreed to modify its certification practices. Conoco accepted the risk of liability from the natural disaster victims and the people mobilized to help them after the project was completed.

In final analysis, the race against time is about people. Dan Carrison captures the zeal that people in organizations can put forth in something they are passionate about. In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America’s Best Run Companies by Peters and Waterman espoused this phenomenon 20 years ago. Camp championed the idea in Benchmarking: The Search for Industry Best Practices that Lead to Superior Performance. And now, DEADLINE!: How Premier Organizations Win the Race Against Time rekindles the passion of people engaged in a collective effort that leads to superior performance. The book is thought provoking as well as inspiring.


Winning in FastTime: Harness the Competitive Advantage of Prometheus in Business and Life.

John A.Warden III and Leland A. Russell. 2002. Montgomery, Ala.: Venturist Publishing. 224 pages.

Reviewed by Becky J. Starnes and R. I. Arceneaux, Alabama State University, College of Business Administration

“Leaders who think strategically and execute passionately have the ultimate competitive advantage—the power to spark their own success, illuminate the future, and ignite the energy of all their stakeholders” (p. 4) is the argument of the authors of this book. Their thesis is that successful businesses must “decide what they want their tomorrow to be and then make it happen faster than the rate of change in their competitive environment.” (p. 8)

They call their framework for designing and achieving such a future “The Prometheus Process.” This process is derived from the Greek mythological character Prometheus, who gave man the power to create the future through forethought and fire (passion). (p. 4) It consists of four imperatives:

  • Develop the future: Understand the forces driving the direction of change, develop a picture of where the organization wants to be in that future, establish acceptable standards of behaviors and boundaries for operating within that environment, and create a system for measuring success.
  • Target for success: Map the system to identify critical targets for achieving the desired effects.
  • Campaign to win: Apply organizational resources effectively and create organizational structures that “support, rather than hinder, success.” (p. 153)
  • Finish with finesse: Identify the right time to exit the strategy.

Are these suggestions radically different from those fostered by others in the quality planning and management literature? Not really. The Prometheus Process encompasses many aspects used before, such as environmental scanning, vision statements, setting standards, identifying goals and objectives, teamwork, and measuring for success.

The value of this book, however, lies in the strategic techniques and tools suggested by the authors for achieving these ends. The notion of a large planning team working in the same room, obtaining information in real time, sharing information across boundaries, and the use of a “campaign orchestrator” definitely has merit. To those who have worked in stovepipe planning cells encumbered by bureaucracy, lack of resources, and seeking step-by step concurrence, Prometheus would have been a dream come true. Other noteworthy tools include a five-rings model for identifying critical targets, the application of parallel planning principles for achieving rapid and deep changes within a system, and implementation of the three-echelon rule for ensuring effective communications. Probably most useful is the concept of endgame planning, since this is an area that tends to get overlooked. The authors do an excellent job of leading readers through the typical product life cycles and how to consider the appropriate end.

The book concludes with a discussion of “Cardinal Rule,” which could easily be translated into a checklist for use by anyone seeking to make a change from the status quo. An essential ingredient that makes the entire process work is empowerment, that unique ability to be decisive and unencumbered when making decisions.

When reading the preface and the comments of reviewers, one’s initial thoughts might be that this is another former military officer trying to repackage military jargon and lexicon for use in the modern-day business environment. The book uses military terms such as Instant Thunder, Desert Storm, centers of gravity, and rules of engagement, all of which are familiar to the modern-day military and make a parallel case for use by modern-day business leaders.

At times the authors’ overuse of high-energy terminology (seismic shifts, hyper-change, precision revolution, high-velocity environment, warp speed, and so on) can be distracting. In addition, readers may get weary of the old business examples (buggy whip makers and the automobile industry, the Japanese automakers and Detroit, Apple and IBM compatible PCs, and Kelleher and Southwest Airlines), which have been overused in the quality management and planning literature. A third weakness can be found in the book’s subtitle, which applies the Prometheus Process to “life,” which is arguably not covered in this book.

The Prometheus Process definitely has a place in today’s business environment. This book is an easy read for all professionals interested in leadership and strategic-thinking business colleges, and schools looking for supplemental reading or a textbook for upper-level courses definitely should consider it. The authors present a refreshing way of conducting strategic planning in this hyper-velocity information age. The bottom line: The Prometheus Process is a different way of thinking and looking outside the box.


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