Manufacturing Benchmarking

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The merger of the concept of customer focus and the technique of benchmarking brings back visions of MRPII. Remember MRP II? It's that concept of intertwining various functions or practices in a manufacturing company to create a continuous, closed-loop network of information and material flow. Still a reasonable objective, is it not? Yeah, sort of. The problem with the concept over the years has not been the concept itself but how it was implemented.

The customer was out of the loop except for forecasts and order entry (modules of fully integrated systems that were, when purchased, not even installed—the old routines were interfaced and maintained). The shop floor product handling and raw material & component parts flow routines were simply translated as is into the data files without very much cleaning up or simplification. Bills of material and inventory record files weren't really ever 95-99% accurate.

Customer focus and benchmarking combined allow a discovery and change implementation effort to improve only that which will pay back from a customer perspective. This approach treats nothing as given; everything is suspect but only the priority issues will be addressed; change can take any form based on what is viewed as best practice (e.g. a total automation solution like MRP II, therefore, is only one of many ways to make change).

The joint goal becomes to pick the best solution to the 'best' or most significant problem. The customer's perspective will pro­vide initial clues to the most significant problems that should be addressed. The benchmarking process continues the discovery of root, detailed problems & closes the loop with planning for implementation of solutions uncovered internally or externally.

Discussion point: If benchmarking with customer focus had been a first or early step in MRP II implementation, how many companies would have purchased let alone attempted to install, fully integrated software solutions without first spending a lot of time and money on process simplification? Yeah, sort of not many!

Customer-focused benchmarking addresses these issues:

1. Who am I doing this for, and how does it help?

2. Is the problem because of what's happening here or at the customer site?

3. Perhaps we need a joint commission or a PARTNER, both to identify and to solve problems.

The whole benchmarking effort becomes a supply chain manage­ment issue or a customer-supplier relationship exercise.

Therefore, the best way to set up the benchmarking program is to link it to other customer-focused initiatives, such as customer advocate programs. Networking these different efforts helps coordinate not only the available resources, but also links the customers into sharing objectives and possibly becoming an active resource or problem-solving PARTNER.


Benchmarking is a total quality management practice. It searches for quality problems (the best ones to address) and quality solutions (the best changes to implement to solve the problems long term). Customer focus is a total quality management practice. It searches for a more positive, contributive, proactive partnership relationship between customer and supplier.

Key to breakthrough success: merge total quality management practices to grow and share resources and build a stronger, more unified team. On their own, training and employee involvement pay back big time, together breakthrough improvement can be achieved.

Customer focus and benchmarking on their own can make a difference in your organization's performance, merging the two can lead to a significant difference.


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