Manufacturing Benchmarking

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The other letters used to outline the entire benchmarking process (PARTNER) include:

• A for Assemble. Once the right problems are identified, a team should be assembled to follow through. A cross-func­tional team consisting of people with interests and talents best aligned with the problems to be tackled is the recruiting model. A training plan should be developed to transfer understanding of helpful concepts and techniques to the team. Hard skills associated with solving the priority problems (e.g. pull sys­tems for material or information flow problems) and soft skills (teamwork, goal setting, etc.) should both be included. A plan to move forward then is to be assembled by the team.

• R for Research. Or the new quality R is for root cause analysis, the technique for discovering the truth. This research is not that which uncovers a cure however. The research required here in benchmarking settles for uncovering causes— reasons why the target problems exist. Methods used are interviewing and flowcharting and then follow-up group review. The methods are simple. All you need is time which is partially the reason for our next letter.

• T for Time. Time has never been unimportant—it's equated with money and a #1 excuse—If I only had the time! Mick Jagger had a positive mental attitude toward time that we need to adopt: Time is on My Side. Time to get through the first steps of the benchmarking process is critical knowing that if you don't start out with the right problems, the right people, the right causes of the problems, you can't construct worth­while follow-up steps.

But there's another use of time that needs to be addressed. The use of time in performance measurement. Many companies have replaced quality with time as their primary focus for improvement initiatives. The theory is that if process time goes down, quality and profits go up. The conflicting idiom is that 'haste makes waste'. But if time compression is based on recognition of value-adding vs non-value adding (waste) steps, the drive for time reduction should always yield positive results. The key here is to recognize that if time is part of the solution, whenever possible, current and target performance metrics should be presented in a time unit of measure.

• N for New. Baby needs a new pair of shoes. Who says? You

or the baby?! New is important, new is fun but new is not always necessary and it's definitely not the first thing you do—i.e. rush out and look at something new—especially if no one is complaining. Now, of course, we don't wait until the baby cries to get new shoes—just as we shouldn't wait for our customers to scream before we do anything for them. We should anticipate screams and prevent them from ever occur­ring.

But this whole issue should be covered in the very first step of problem identification. Not here, this is too late in the program. And searching externally for new information or answers or better ways shouldn't happen until now, after we've clearly uncovered the details of what it is that has to be improved. We can't uncover the new solutions until the real, lower level problems are exposed. This is why the plant tours and visits are under the letter N. Now is the time for that sort of activity, recognizing that it's only one of many ways to capture new information. Besides, the plant visit is probably the most expensive way of gathering external data and infor­mation. There are other options such as telephone and mail survey and interview, archival records, media and other publication sources.

• £ for Examine. Take a close look at all the data and information uncovered both internally and externally and compare. What is there to learn? This phase is a dual audit of not only how good you are as an organization (in the target practices) but also how well you have executed the benchmark­ing process. For example, if you find that you are having difficulty comparing anything, it may be pointing to an inad­equate problem definition & measurement and/or information discovery. Therefore, again stressing the critical importance of doing your homework before the new information discovery phase.

The other element here is that of searching for the performance gap or answering the question, "How good or bad are we really?" Of course, hoping to avoid the now famous remark from Tom Peters' researched company, "We're no worse than anyone else!"

The discovery at the Examine & Compare step in the bench­marking process might be that you are the best and, there­fore, future benchmarks and comparisons will be done on internal data. Now don't get excited, the chances of this happening are about the same as hitting the lottery but this is where you're targeting to be and quality practice of the benchmarking process will lead you there.

• R for Results. Results to implement. No free lunch in the benchmarking arena. This step could take longer than all the others combined. This step says, "Hey, I hope you learned something about your company practices and that now you're going to do something about it!" Seeing, hearing, or reading about the better way is one thing—implementing it success­fully, quite another.

This last step in the process is really a first step in a series of change execution steps that will include looping back into the benchmarking process. It's time to set up continuous improve­ment or task teams to focus on change implementation. Then the change should be compared to how it addresses the original problem and performance. Follow-up flowcharts and meas­urements may be made, etc. The results to implement phase of the benchmarking process defines top priority total quality management projects!

Well, how do we ensure that the projects defined are truly top

priority? To practice what we're preaching (or to walk our talk to use the hippest lingo!) we need to very carefully execute step one of the benchmarking process. The key to success: the target problems have to not only be carefully identified, they have to be confirmed.

To be Continued


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