Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Benchmarking Research

The benchmarking process, capturing best practice and incorporating it into your organization, has become a crucial management tool in both business improvement and market competitiveness perspectives. 

The benchmarking process is fairly straightforward (see our article on Benchmarking Basics) but for those looking for Benchmarking reports, books or research material there are a number of online resources that you can utilize.

We’ve setup this page as a placeholder – somewhere to put the best Benchmarking resource links – we’ll update this page as we get more resources so be sure to check back regularly or subscribe to our RSS feed to get informed of updates.  If you have a Benchmarking resource you want to promote please use the comments section below.
What is Benchmarking

Benchmarking Case Studies & Industry Examples Healthcare Case Study

Benchmarking Associations – Automotive – 6Sigma Benchmarking Association – Aerspace & Defence Association – Finance & Banking
Benchmarking Books

Using Internal Benchmarking to drive business improvement and corporate change

For many large organizations driving business improvement and change represents a significant challenge. There are a variety of management tools available to instigate and track improvements many of which (such as six sigma) stem from initiating change through the need to fix business problems in the production process. – businesses however don’t need to leave it until something goes wrong to target improvements – though locating “best practice” processes innovation can be incorporated.

Benchmarking is a popular business tool used to highlight areas of best-practice and facilitate their introduction into your organization (for more information check out our introduction to benchmarking article). Often used in peer groups of like minded organizations to assess processes and systems – benchmarking can be very effective when used internally to.

Areas of excellence exist in all organizations and benchmarking is an excellent method of highlighting these, and holding them up as “best class” examples for improvement projects to strive towards. Internal benchmarking can then facilitate the dissemination of the efficient processes and procedures through the organization – bringing everyone to the same level.

It’s important to remember the context of internal benchmarking and you mustn’t expect the same opportunities for change as with external benchmarking, as you may miss certain innovations in the marketplace, but it can represent an excellent method of introducing benchmarking and providing one the ground training prior to launching external initiatives.

Advantages of internal benchmarking

• Common culture, language, data
• Access to data is consistent across all participants
• Shared view and buy in of benchmarking process
• Highlights areas of business that outperform on a level playing field

Disadvantages of Internal Benchmarking2

• Develops complacency
• Fails to highlight true “best practice”
• Fails to take competition in the marketplace into account.

Introduction to Benchmarking

Almost all businesses are engaged in some form of business improvement activity – ensuring that your business can stay one step ahead of the competition through optimized business processes, systems and policies is integral to both maximizing your profits and satisfying your customers.

But how do you ensure that your business operates to the “best practice” standard?
Benchmarking is a business tool that is used to adapt “best practice” from peers (which may be within or outside the organization) and facilitate improvement in business performance and increase the value add to its customers.

The process of Benchmarking centres on the process of comparing business activities and methods to those that are considered “best in class”. Identifying the gap between current activity in your organization and “best in class” can help facilitate the production of an improvement plan that can lead the benchmarking company to optimize it’s processes and procedures.

Benchmarking is now commonplace and is an everyday activity in many organizations. One of its key benefits is that it forces organizations to review the outside environment and take account of the market and changes that are taking place. To that end, Benchmarking should be viewed as an ongoing process that takes place throughout the business lifecycle and be central to an organizations continuous improvement program.

The benchmarking process itself is fairly straightforward.

1/ Identify your processes
2/ Agree what you’ll benchmark
3/ Agree who you’ll benchmark against
4/ Analyze the chosen processes in your peers
5/ Develop a gap analysis
6/ Develop an improvement plan/activity plan
7/ Review progress and re-benchmark.

Check out the benchmarking presentation for our benchmarking introduction – Benchmarking ppt (Right Click File and choose File save as).

Strategic Planning – Business Aims and Objectives

At it’s most basic Businesses exist to solve the needs of their customers – this might be through the provision of products or services which in exchange for payment form the basis of revenue for organizations.

However over and above this rather simple view of why companies exist are corporate aims – these aims define what the business is setting out to achieve over the longer term. Corporate aims will vary from company to company and industrial sector to industrial sector – for example Boeing’s corporate targets may be similar to Airbus – But Airbus’s goals will not be the same as McDonalds.

Objectives are the desired outcomes of a business derived from the processes it undertakes. For example using again the example of Airbus (which makes passenger jet aircraft) its business objectives are likely to be along the lines of supplying major airlines with aircraft.

Well defined objectives are crucial to businesses, they enable a business to be assessed in how it is performing against its objectives for example an objective of “Business ABC will increase sales dramatically in the coming months” is subjective – it’s open to interpretation – what % do sales need to rise – over what period 3 months, 9 months 3 years?

A common tool when defining objectives is the Acronym SMART

SMART stands for

• Measurable
• Agreed
• Realistic
• Time specific

Following these rules helps establish objectives that are clearly defined, measurable and have to be achieved within a certain time frame. Structuring objectives this way ensures that business performance can be quantifiably measured against targets.

Benchmarking Healthcare

Benchmarking is a widely used business tool which is used in industry to monitor the performance of an organization within its peer group and to facilitate the introduction of best practice into the benchmarking business.

Typically benchmarking takes the form of measuring and comparing certain indicators between companies and feeding the results into an improvement program. Benchmarking is playing an increasingly important role in the service sector and is now commonplace in customer focused organizations and is now also widespread in healthcare.

Traditional benchmarking in industry will often formulate around strategic goals and targets coupled with meeting customer requirement– common benchmarking studies might include

* Operating cost vs turnover
* Direct vs Indirect headcount
* On time delivery to customer
* Customer satsifaction

Healthcare benchmarking applies the same principles in that it looks to identify best practice within a peer group and then assesses the healthcare organization against that identifying gaps or areas of concern.

Stages in Benchmarking Healthcare

Benchmarking has a defined process which when followed correctly can provide better results than a “scatter gun” approach of measuring the wrong indicators with the wrong peer group which could result in a failure to improve. The UK’s NHS identified a six stage program for healthcare benchmarking

1/ Identify Best Practice
2/ Assess organization against best practice
3/ Develop improvement plan based upon results
4/ Regularly review status against best practice
5/ Disseminate improvements and review action plan
6/ Implement regular Assessments and peer reviews.

Stage 6 is crucially important as processes and systems do not stand still and working practice evolve from for example the introduction of new technology or methods of care – Benchmarking should therefore be a continuous activity with periodic reviews of activity and peer groups.

In their study the NHS identified various areas for benchmarking and considered four key areas when carrying out analysis

1/ Staffing – processes and systems around the personnel involved in the healthcare facility
2/ Patient Care Involvement – ensuring the voice of the customer (in this case the patient) is taken into account and used in continuous improvement practices.
3/ Education and Training – Healthcare personnel have the relevant skills and training to deliver patient needs
4/ Policies and Procedures – appropriate policies and procedures are in place within the healthcare organization

These four areas were used as the leading indicators when particular clinical areas were assessed, they were then broken down into contributing factors – for example patient care involvement was seen as a number of factors such as information sharing, interpersonal skills, empowerment which could be individually assessed to build up to an overall score. By focusing the benchmarking strategy on a clear goal “The patient” – subsequent improvement activity and its effectiveness could be tracked back to delineated requirements and focussed assessment.

Healthcare organizations have an important advantage over their industrial counterparts – peer groups which many businesses struggle to develop to support benchmarking activities are readily available in healthcare – with deliverables and processes common across the sector benchmarking opportunities are readily available – there has been a significant increase over the last 10 years in healthcare associations around the world who look to benchmarking to help improve patient care and tackle the problem of rising costs.

The NHS benchmarking initiative is an intriguing case-study for anyone that wants to learn more about benchmarking – their implementation shows a robust method coupled with strict guidelines for assessment. A wide support network and government recognition of the importance of disseminating best practice among healthcare professionals has led to benchmarking healthcare being a cornerstone of clinical care improvement.


Benchmarking Procurement

Benchmarking is the process of identifying and understanding outside practices to help improve your own or your organizations performance. This includes comparing your practices and procedures to examples of best practice with your peers. Benchmarking helps facilitate the introduction of best practice into your organization by identifying the gap between best practice and your existing processes. Such improvements can better help satisfy customer requirements and Cost, Quality and Delivery.

Benchmarking can be very beneficial to supply chain organizations as it provides a direct and quantifiable comparison of performance. Typical areas such as supplier management, delivery performance, cost can be compared to other organizations highlighting process efficiencies that can be incorporated into the benchmarking company.

What are the typical steps in Benchmarking supply chain?

1/ Identify the processes to be benchmarked
2/ Identify the resources to carryout the benchmarking
3/ Identify peers which to benchmark against
4/ Collect data
5/ Analyze data and develop a gap analysis

The importance of metrics in Benchmarking Procurement

When undertaking benchmarking initiatives it’s imperative that your method includes reviewing quantifiable metrics – benchmarking should not be subjective. For most businesses that will mean reviewing performance metrics – bear in mind these metrics need to be easily transferable (i.e. that the measures means the same in each business and that you are comparing “apples with apples”). An example of an easily transferable metric is “on time delivery” – this is a universal measure that all procurement organizations are aware of and one that is usually easy to obtain data for.

So what other common benchmarking measures should we consider? This is usually down to the individual organization however we have some examples below. You might also want to consider the purpose of procurement – for example purchase order processing, supplier performance, Supplier sourcing, Purchasing cost – considering what functions your purchasing department carries out will help you determine what you’ll want to benchmark and subsequently improve

Example opportunities when Benchmarking Procurement.

1/ Numbers of Purchasing staff
2/ Value of spend under procurement control vs Total costs
3/ Supplier on Time Delivery
4/ Supplier Quality
5/ Total Number of suppliers
6/ Cost of raising an order
7/ Time taken to pay a supplier

A common failure when benchmarking is where organizations fail to capitalize on examples of “best practice”. This occurs where the shortfall between your organizations performance and that which you would like to attain does not result in improvement activity and you fail to capitalize on opportunities presented.

Also, benchmarking is not a short term initiative – Benchmarking requires dedication and regular review – markets change and peer performances change as innovation and business improvement activities result in changes to business activity – Benchmarking therefore should be an ongoing process and results reviewed regularly (bear in mind you should do this anyway to keep track of your improvements!).

Internal Benchmarking Procurement

While many organizations choose to benchmark an organization with external peers – where the opportunity exists organizations should consider internal benchmarking. Many procurement departments are structured into separate teams whether that’s strategic vs operational or individual commodity teams – benchmarking different organizational teams can highlight areas of best practice within a single organization and show how far removed they are from corporate targets/goals.

Alternatives to starting a new business on your own

Starting up on your own is arguably the most straightforward method of starting a new business but also undeniably it can be one of the most stressful – In our article on Business function groups we discussed the various functions required by a business – setting up on your own? Chances are you’ll be running with most (if not all) these tasks yourself!

So what alternatives are there to starting up on your own?

Starting a business with others

One way to avoid carrying the can completely is to start a business with others – this has the added benefit of sharing the workload and increasing the opportunities for investment – these businesses are often called a partnership (although share ownership may differ between partners) – this could be a family business – or a business with friends – as a rule when setting up this form of company a legal agreement is required clearing stating share / capital ownership of the business

Buy a business

Buying an ongoing business is a good argument against startups – if your niche already has companies operating in it – chances are you’ll find one that’s for sale and while the capital outlay may be more the advantage is that the business structure and systems (and customers!) will be in place from day one – all you’ll need to do is keep it running and improve those profits.

Buy a Franchise

A business franchise is where a company offers the rights to use their company name and brand to sell well established products to a pre-existing market – franchises are well established and loads exist. Rewards can be great and business risks are certainly reduced as usually franchises offer a proven product in a proven market – franchisees may also receive training and guidance as part of the package.

Generating business ideas

All businesses start somewhere – even the big conglomerates didn’t just happen overnight – the businesses were launched – grew (either organically or through acquisition) and stabilised into the businesses they are today.

Each of these business phases are as a result of many individual steps – e.g consider launching a businesses – this includes thinking of the business concept – generating finance – hiring staff – building product.

How to generate business ideas?

The first step of generating business ideas is often the most daunting. There must be an idea to start with – there are a variety of methods of generating ideas for businesses these include:

• Exploiting existing skills or knowledge
• Exploiting an existing market through a franchise
• Exploiting a pre-existing product in an existing market
• Exploiting a gap in the market or niche where only a small number of products exist

Once the basic business idea has been thought of it can be expanded or validated through market research for example who will be the target audience – your market may be automotive but will that be luxury or value. Once the idea has been generated market research should be used to help build the business plan and ensure that the business idea provides a stable platform for a valid business.

Market Basics – what is a market?

All businesses exist to sell products or services – the term used to describe where these are sold is the Market.

A market is a place where buyers and sellers come together to exchange goods and/or services. Markets may exist in a predefined place – e.g. a shopping mall or virtually such as an online store A market doesn’t cause trade it merely facilitates it

The exchange of goods or services is called a transaction – and markets and their level of transactions are governed by supply and demand a term used to define the level of trade that can or is likely to exist between consumers and traders.

There are many types of markets these include

  • Financial Market
  • Labour Market
  • Housing Market
  • Currency market

Markets are a key concept in economics – they may be subject to strict controls or no controls at all (free market)

How Businesses operate – business function groups

All businesses serve their customers through the production of goods or services – in order to do this business activity is usually organized into a series of functional groups that operate in an integrated system to fulfil an objective (e.g. the production of widgets).

The internal organization of a company may differ from organization to organization and there are notable differences between manufacturing organizations and service industry organizations but there are some functional areas that are typical of most businesses which include:

1/ Finance – The finance function group is responsible for the management of a company’s money and financial responsibilities (eg. Paying suppliers, billing customers, carrying out financial reporting, co-ordinating the flow of money throughout the enterprise).

2/ Marketing – Marketing typically serves a variety of roles which include – identifying customer needs, identifying customers, ensuring that customers needs are satisfied, managing communication with customers.

3/ Manufacturing/Production – these groups are responsible for the production of a company’s products

4/ HR – Human Resources groups are responsible for the management of people within a company – typically this could include – hiring staff, managing payroll duties, determining welfare policies, co-ordinating training.

These (and other) business functions will deliver two things – end product to sell to market and waste. Many businesses have departments set up to reduce waste as it can be considered a business cost.