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Transcending organisational boundaries

Notwithstanding the above, partnering does, however, differ from BPR in at least one important respect – partnering is something which transcends organisational boundaries. In contrast, BPR tends to be applied within organisational boundaries; its origins lie in the prevailing concerns about ‘fat’ organisations which were perceived to be uncompetitive. To repeat the core argument, the imperative was to eliminate waste that does not contribute to the customer. In the case of the UK construction sector, by the mid- 1990s the structural changes described in Chapter 3 had in the most part already happened. BPR arrived rather late on the re-structuring scene and was embraced by practising managers because it reflected and reinforced what was already happening. But given the contracting sector’s reliance on subcontracting in the mid-1990s, the popularity of BPR was bound to be short-lived. Simply put, client organisations and contracting firms alike had already become so lean there was little in the way of downsizing which remained to be done. But client organisations still demanded better service from the construction sector, and they were prepared to use their market muscle to achieve it. Thus, efficiency through downsizing gave way to effi-ciency through partnering with the supply chain.
Partnering also differs from BPR in that from its very inception it was situated within project environments characterised by multiple organisa-tions. However, partnering was soon to be extended beyond the boundaries of single projects. Several sources make the distinction between ‘project specific’ partnering and ‘strategic’ partnering, the latter phrase being used to denote a situation where the partners work together across several projects (Bennett and Jayes, 1998). Strategic partnering supposedly allows the benefits of improved understanding to be carried forward to subsequent projects. However, at the same time, the philosophy of continuous, measured improvement demands that each project exceeds the performance of the previous one. Long-term relationships are not therefore valued as an end in themselves, they are only valued if they lead directly to improvements in performance. Despite the seductive discourse of ’empowerment’, ‘working together’ and ‘relationships’, the success of any partnering initiative ultimately seems to hinge on cost improvement. The emphasis on steadily improved performance might perhaps also translate too easily to a regime of management-by-stress. This of course is pure conjecture, although the literature does occasionally hint that something vaguely unpleasant might happen should the advocated targets not be met.

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