Resources - Benchmarking

The DON Benchmarking Model for Conducting a Benchmarking Study: The 10 Steps

The Plan Phase - Step 1

Organizations that benchmark with a clear purpose or objective have greater success than those who undertake a benchmarking effort without a sense of purpose or clear direction. (Spendolini, 1991)

Input to Step 1:

  • The organization's strategic plan
  • A team of the organization's top leaders (ESC).
  • A macro flowchart of the organization and its processes.

A. Examine the strategic plan.

The Executive Steering Committee (ESC) is composed of the top leaders and senior managers of the organization. Their leadership, guidance, and support are critical to the success of any benchmarking effort. First, the ESC reviews the strategic plan and identifies the significant processes that support the organization's mission. The ESC looks at the specific goals, strategies, and objectives that are identified as both necessary and sufficient to bridge the gap to attain their desired vision of the organization (Wells and Doherty, 1994). The benchmarking effort has maximum value if every level of the organization can link the importance of the process being benchmarked to the organization's present and future needs. James Staker, director of the Strategic Planning Institute's Council on Benchmarking, observed that when an organization employs its strategic plan to guide the selection of its benchmarking effort, it is .using benchmarking to fundamentally change the business, not just tweak processes.(Biesada, 1992).

B. Evaluate significant business processes.

A process is a planned series of activities that results in a specific output. A significant process is directly related to mission performance and, if improved, will positively affect organizational effectiveness (Department of the Navy TQL Glossary, 1996). Obviously, there is higher payback to the organization and the customer(s) if an organization selects a significant business process to benchmark.

There are standard names used by many businesses and benchmarking organizations to identify core processes and promote common understanding. Some are organized around internal business processes while others are organized around customers. A common language will assist you in developing a solid benchmarking relationship with partners. Also, many benchmarking databases use similar listings of processes to facilitate search efforts. (Ref: Benchmarking Exchange - These lists can help you identify, name, and categorize a process.

Now the ESC, with the help of its quality advisor, should:

  • prepare a list of its organization's significant business
  • processes.
  • discuss the strategic implications of each process.
  • select one. Ideally, the improvement of this process doesn't
  • merely solve a problem but actually improves a product or
  • service provided to your customer(s).
  • look at the current performance levels.
  • examine any customer feedback systems already in place.
  • determine how the improvement and success of the benchmarking
  • findings will be measured.

A Word of Advice: Organizations that have not engaged in process improvement or have had some false starts with quality initiatives might start out with a "Benchmarking Lite" effort for practice. However, if it means working on a non-core process, manage resources carefully. Money and team energy may evaporate quickly and diminish what's available for more significant business process efforts. If a bench­marking effort is a test run, set it up for a limited time period (perhaps 30 but no more than 90 days).

C. Charter a team of process owners (QMB) and identify a benchmarking champion.

A Quality Management Board (QMB) should include all the process owners for the selected benchmarking process. The QMB is collectively responsible for the improvement of the process. They own it. The ESC provides the QMB with its charter, which is a written document that describes the purpose, boundaries, expectations, and resources for the benchmarking effort (DON Team Skills and Concepts, 1996).

A benchmarking champion should now be identified. A benchmarking champion is a high-level advocate for the benchmarking initiative, who might also serve as a linking pin. A linking pin, who serves on both teams, should be identified to connect the ESC and the QMB (DON Team Skills and Concepts, 1996).

A QMB team leader is typically a mid-level line manager who is accountable for the quality of the product or service being targeted for improvement. A quality advisor (who might also serve as a facilitator for the team) should also be identified to work with the QMB and assist them in developing a .big picture. functional flowchart of the process. Internal and external customers of the process should be identified along with their needs, expectations, and performance measures. The QMB also establishes the charter and sponsors and oversees the efforts of the Benchmarking (BENCHMARKING) Team.

Note: A QMB that contains the process owners for the benchmarking initiative may already exist. Or, there may be a QMB established that requires only one or two ad hoc members for this effort. The QMB that oversees the BMK Team is not required to have frequent, regularly scheduled meetings throughout this process. They are there primarily to guide, assist, support, and provide resources to the BMK Team as necessary.

D. Identify the type of benchmarking the BMK Team is to use.

The decision to pursue an internal, competitive, functional, or generic type of benchmarking effort is very important. It has a direct effect on the level of effort, the resources needed, the risks to be taken, and the outcome of the project itself. For more details on types of benchmarking, see the Types of Benchmarking section of this handbook.

When initially considering a benchmarking partner, an internal comparison may immediately leap to mind. For example, to improve a Navy acquisition process, an organization might first think to benchmark against another Navy acquisition process. Or, if you are examining the process of transporting Marine Corps equipment on the East Coast, you might think of comparing that to the Marine Corps process used on the West Coast. But if you reach beyond the obvious, you may find a number of breakthrough improvements that come from approaches used by completely different businesses and industries. Internal partners may only provide parity or a similar or slightly improved practice.

A Word of Advice: Internal comparisons probably won't lead you to benchmarking against the best practices. Ford may have the best training process; Hershey Foods might have the best warehouse and distribution process; Sony may have the best product development; Helene Curtis may have the best marketing process. Determine the type of benchmarking and standards carefully.

E. Identify the goals and desired level of improvement.

At this point, the ESC and the QMB need to be clear about their goals and expectations for this benchmarking initiative. Mixed messages will doom the effort. If the ESC wants a significant change in customer satisfaction and is looking to completely reengineer the process, while the QMB is looking for something less dramatic with an incremental change in the process, the benchmarking effort is bound to fail one group or the other. Be realistic and clear about the goals for each and every benchmarking project. Where in the hierarchy of standards should this team and this effort aim?

A hierarchy of standards in the search for benchmarking partner(s)

Output of Step 1: The output of Step 1 is the input for Step 2.

  • A significant process to benchmark.
  • A top leader (ESC member) as benchmark champion.
  • A chartered QMB.
  • The type and desired level of improvement.

Quality Advisor's Checklist

Before moving to the next step, the quality advisor should review the following checklist:

  • How important is the selected process to the top leaders (ESC) and their strategic plan for the organization?
  • How important is the selected process to the process owners (QMB)?
  • Are the appropriate process owners on the QMB?
  • Is there a QMB already established that can house the BMK Team?
  • How important is the selected process to the middle managers?
  • How important is the selected process to the working-level employees?
  • How important is the selected process to the customer(s) and the stakeholder(s) of the organization?
  • Do the top leaders of the organization (ESC) see a similar purpose and vision for the benchmarking study?
  • Do the process owners (QMB) see a similar purpose and vision for the benchmarking study?
  • Do the customers see a similar purpose and vision for the benchmarking study?
  • Is there agreement on the macro flowchart of the process and how it fits into the larger system of the organization?
  • What are the real expectations and desired results?
  • Is there an honest sense of how much change/improvement is possible/desirable?
  • Is there agreement on resources to be invested in the benchmarking effort?
  • Has this process been studied before? If so, are there documents/records from the prior study?
  • Who is the top-level benchmarking champion/sponsor?
  • How is this process linked to the organization's strategic plan?
  • How is this process linked to the budget?
  • How will improving this process increase customer satisfaction?
  • Are the top leaders (ESC) and process owners (QMB) committed to support this effort and its outcome?
  • Have the ESC/QMB identified their goals and the desired level of improvement expected? (In other words, is this aimed at a continuous process improvement level, a good/better/best practice level, or at the world-class process level.

Source: USN Benchmarking Handbook

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