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Benchmarking

Benchmarking is the process of comparing the cost, cycle time, productivity, or quality of a specific process or method to another that is widely considered to be an industry standard or best practice. Essentially, benchmarking provides a snapshot of the performance of your business and helps you understand where you are in relation to a particular standard. The result is often a business case for making changes in order to make improvements. The term benchmarking was first used by cobblers to measure ones feet for shoes. They would place the foot on a 'bench' and mark to make the pattern for the shoes. Benchmarking is most used to measure performance using a specific indicator (cost per unit of measure, productivity per unit of measure, cycle time of x per unit of measure or defects per unit of measure) resulting in a metric of performance that is then compared to others. Also referred to as 'best practice benchmarking' or 'process benchmarking', it is a process used in management and particularly strategic management, in which organizations evaluate various aspects of their processes in relation to best practice, usually within a peer group defined for the purposes of comparison. This then allows organizations to develop plans on how to make improvements or adopt best practice, usually with the aim of increasing some aspect of performance. Benchmarking may be a one-off event, but is often treated as a continuous process in which organizations continually seek to challenge their practices.

Types of benchmarking
Process benchmarking

The initiating firm focuses its observation and investigation of business processes with a goal of identifying and observing the best practices from one or more benchmark firms. Activity analysis will be required where the objective is to benchmark cost and efficiency; increasingly applied to back-office processes where outsourcing may be a consideration.

Financial benchmarking

Performing a financial analysis and comparing the results in an effort to assess your overall competitiveness.

Performance benchmarking

Allows the initiator firm to assess their competitive position by comparing products and services with those of target firms.

Product benchmarking

The process of designing new products or upgrades to current ones. This process can sometimes involve reverse engineering which is taking apart competitors' products to find strengths and weaknesses.

Strategic benchmarking

Involves observing how others compete. This type is usually not industry specific meaning it is best to look at other industries.

Functional benchmarking

A company will focus its benchmarking on a single function in order to improve the operation of that particular function. Complex functions such as Human Resources, Finance and Accounting and Information and Communication Technology are unlikely to be directly comparable in cost and efficiency terms and may need to be disaggregated into processes to make valid comparison.

Procedure

The following is an example of a typical shorter version of the methodology.

Identify your problem areas

Because benchmarking can be applied to any business process or function, a range of research techniques may be required. They include: informal conversations with customers, employees, or suppliers; exploratory research techniques such as focus groups; or in-depth marketing research, quantitative research, surveys, questionnaires, re-engineering analysis, process mapping, quality control variance reports, or financial ratio analysis. Before embarking on comparison with other organizations it is essential that you know your own organization's function, processes; base lining performance provides a point against which improvement effort can be measured.

Identify other industries that have similar processes

Because benchmarking can be applied to any business process or function, a range of research techniques may be required. They include: informal conversations with customers, employees, or suppliers; exploratory research techniques such as focus groups; or in-depth marketing research, quantitative research, surveys, questionnaires, re-engineering analysis, process mapping, quality control variance reports, or financial ratio analysis. Before embarking on comparison with other organizations it is essential that you know your own organization's function, processes; base lining performance provides a point against which improvement effort can be measured.

Identify other industries that have similar processes

For instance if one were interested in improving hand offs in addiction treatment he/she would try to identify other fields that also have hand off challenges. These could include air traffic control, cell phone switching between towers, transfer of patients from surgery to recovery rooms.

Identify organizations that are leaders in these areas

Look for the very best in any industry and in any country. Consult customers, suppliers, financial analysts, trade associations, and magazines to determine which companies are worthy of study.

Survey companies for measures and practices

Companies target specific business processes using detailed surveys of measures and practices used to identify business process alternatives and leading companies. Surveys are typically masked to protect confidential data by neutral associations and consultants.

Visit the 'best practice' companies to identify leading edge practices

Companies typically agree to mutually exchange information beneficial to all parties in a benchmarking group and share the results within the group.

Implement new and improved business practices

Take the leading edge practices and develop implementation plans which include identification of specific opportunities, funding the project and selling the ideas to the organization for the purpose of gaining demonstrated value from the process.


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