Manufacturing Benchmarking

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Benchmarking for the sake of benchmarking is not a good idea.

Benchmarking, as a new, cutting-edge business process, deserves more than that. Benchmarking is more than driving in a fencepost to allow comparing old to new performance or your operations to the competition. Benchmarking is the discovery of what really needs to be done to make dramatic improvements in performance—preferably in the customer's eye.

Capturing the customer's perspective is the key to success in benchmarking. The objective of this presentation is to show how to add value to the process of benchmarking by integrating it with a customer-focused continuous improvement initiative. With cus­tomer focus, the benchmarking process should become a key activity for any total quality management program—as important as training, involvement, and process mapping.

A Seven-Step Process

Benchmarking, as a process, first needs some definition. It has come to be described in many different ways since Camp made it famous in his book. Described here is an outline of a 7 step process that is a composite of some of the best—a result of benchmarking the benchmarkers? Yeah, sort of.

This seven-step process has been given the name of PARTNER.

The bulk of our attention is to be spent on the first letter, P, which stands for Problem. The reason for focusing primarily on this first step? Simply because it's best to do anything right the first time which includes starting out on a benchmarking mission. Ah, but it's not yet a mission is it? Here's a critical first mistake with companies hooking onto the benchmarking process. It's not vacation tour planning. There may never be a site visit any­where—that's just one of the many choices you have for the new information gathering phase which doesn't happen in this model until the letter N for New Information. See what happens! Here we are, way ahead of ourselves. We haven't done anything worthwhile yet and we're getting excited about visiting that firm in Florida for our first benchmarking visit this February!

Well, we've leaped ahead to the letter N so we better backtrack quickly and uncover the others. Where is Vanna White when you need her? (This is not a sexist remark, by the way; she is simply considered the best at what she does and this topic stresses the need to identify best practices and practitioners).

The letter P meaning Problem is to accentuate the need do something if it is going to help you solve a problem. Does this mean that if you're not going to solve a problem, don't do anything? Yeah, sort of.

Author's note: You may have already noticed the second repeti­tion of the phrase Yeah, sort of. Expect more of this and please be slow on your condemnation. This phrase will be used to demonstrate the author's desire to be flexible vs evasive in answering his own questions. In this world of trying to be flexible yet focused, you should pick an answer for every question but tactfully let it be known that there are other answers! Yeah, son of simply reminds us that there are multiple choices, variables, and exceptions to every rule.

There isn't time (the letter T) to do all the things we know we should do let alone time to do the things we don't yet know we should be doing. Now this is the kind of sentence you didn't need after that esoteric 'author's note'. But the point is, don't try to bring a blanket of change over the organization. Focus instead on those improvements that will add the most value. Focus is simply the newest way to say prioritize. Do priority things, don't try to do non-priority stuff. You won't have enough resources to do both. If you try to do everything, there's a high risk that nothing will stand out as having been significant. The benchmarking process should-be initiated with the intent of making a differ­ence—a significant difference.

So the letter P best stands for Problem or significant problem. This paper will focus on how to ensure that you've found the significant problems.

To be Continued


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