Univ. of Tennessee Reliability and Maintainability Center (RMC)
A BENCHMARK IS a standard or reference point against which things can be assessed. Probably the most used definition is that from Robert C. Camp (Business Process Benchmarking: Finding and Implementing Best Practices, ASQC, 1995). He stated, “benchmarking is the search for best practices that lead to superior performance.” He clarifies that bench-marking needs to include searching and implementing those best practices. The main objective is to understand the practices to enable competitive advantage. Setting targets is secondary.
Benchmarking was made popular in the 1970s. The Camp model proposed a basic ten-step process:
Initial benchmarking activities involve considerable preparation and detailed discussion. The benchmarking team must be willing to ask tough questions and those involved must be brutally honest about their internal processes. I often ask, “Do you have standardized work processes?” Most responses are yes. Then I ask, “Are they being followed?” Quickly, I’m given reasons why this is not happening as much as desired. I ask, “Do you have a continuous-improvement process?” Most say yes. Then I ask, “Do you have a methodology to improve and sustain the thinking process (learning by doing) and how well is it working?”
It’s these secondary questions and the factors that enable processes to work that you need to seek out. You may also find that some on your team may focus too much time on justifying the status quo or giving credit to an observed instilled process without finding out how it got there.
Companies that do ongoing benchmarking will perform better as a result of those efforts. Benchmarking is a journey, not a panacea.
In the early days of benchmarking, people would wonder why best-practice facilities would let visitors in to view their operations. The answer is simple. The facilities already knew that what made them successful was not easily observed or copied.
Before you left a seasoned best-practice facility, there was a round-table discussion where each visitor was asked to share one item learned and if they saw anything that could be improved. After a number of responses, they have a good idea of what you really understood from the visit. So, indirectly, you have also just been benchmarked.
Benchmarking also helps accelerate change, especially if it’s a large investment. Seeing something work well elsewhere can sway decisions if there is a large performance gap. Always remember that you need to be able to emulate and improve the underlying processes that delivered those best practices. If you only copy, it will only make you as good, not better.
Dr. Klaus Blache is conducting a reliability/maintenance benchmarking survey/study. Participants receive a summary of the results and names/companies remain anonymous. Anyone from industry, facility management, or government agencies who is interested should send an e-mail to email@example.com.
Based in Knoxville, Klaus M. Blache is director of the Reliability & Maintainability Center at the Univ. of Tennessee, and a research professor in the College of Engineering. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.