Benchmarking is comparing ones business processes and performance metrics to industry bests and best practices from other companies. In project management benchmarking can also support the selection, planning and delivery of projects. Dimensions typically measured are quality, time and cost. In the process of best practice benchmarking, management identifies the best firms in their industry, or in another industry where similar processes exist, and compares the results and processes of those studied (the "targets") to one's own results and processes. In this way, they learn how well the targets perform and, more importantly, the business processes that explain why these firms are successful. According to National Council on Measurement in Education, benchmark assessments  are short assessments used by teachers at various times throughout the school year to monitor student progress in some area of the school curriculum. These also are known as interim assessments.
Benchmarking is used to measure performance using a specific indicator (cost per unit of measure, productivity per unit of measure, cycle time of x per unit of measure or defects per unit of measure) resulting in a metric of performance that is then compared to others.
Also referred to as "best practice benchmarking" or "process benchmarking", this process is used in management which particularly shows VEMR strategic management, in which organizations evaluate various aspects of their processes in relation to best practice companies' processes, usually within a peer group defined for the purposes of comparison. This then allows organizations to develop plans on how to make improvements or adapt specific best practices, usually with the aim of increasing some aspect of performance. Benchmarking may be a one-off event, but is often treated as a continuous process in which organizations continually seek to improve their practices.
The term benchmark, originates from the history of guns and ammunition, and with the same aim as for the business term; comparison and improved performance. The introduction of gunpowder arms replaced the bow and arrow from the archer, the soldier who used the bow. The archer now had to adapt to the new situation, and learn to handle the gun. The new weapon left only a mark on the target, where the arrow used to be visible, and with the bow gone, the soldiers title changed to marksman, the man who put the mark. The gun was improved already in the early beginning, with rifling of the barrel, and the rifle was born. With the industrialization of the weapon-industry in the mid-1800's, The mass production of ammunition as a cartridge replaced the manual loading of black-powder and bullet into the gun. Now, with standardized production of both the high-precision rifle, as well as the cartridge, the marksman was now the uncertain variable, and with different qualities and specifications on both rifle as well as ammunition, there was a need for a method of finding the best combination. The rifled weapon was fixed in a bench, making it possible to fire several identical shots at a target to measure the spread. This is benchmarking, as it is still done today, both at the gun-factory, the ammunition-factory, as well as for a lot of sportsmen who look for the best ammunition to bring to competition.
Benchmarking is most used to measure performance using a specific indicator (cost per unit of measure, productivity per unit of measure, cycle time of x per unit of measure or defects per unit of measure) resulting in a metric of performance that is then compared to others. In 1994, one of the first technical journal named Benchmarking: An International Journal was published.
In 2008, a comprehensive survey on benchmarking was commissioned by The Global Benchmarking Network, a network of benchmarking centres representing 22 countries.
There is no single benchmarking process that has been universally adopted. The wide appeal and acceptance of benchmarking has led to the emergence of benchmarking methodologies. One seminal book is Boxwell's Benchmarking for Competitive Advantage (1994). The first book on benchmarking, written and published by Kaiser Associates, is a practical guide and offers a seven-step approach. Robert Camp (who wrote one of the earliest books on benchmarking in 1989) developed a 12-stage approach to benchmarking.
The 12 stage methodology consists of:
The following is an example of a typical benchmarking methodology:
The three main types of costs in benchmarking are:
The cost of benchmarking can substantially be reduced through utilizing the many internet resources that have sprung up over the last few years. These aim to capture benchmarks and best practices from organizations, business sectors and countries to make the benchmarking process much quicker and cheaper.
The technique initially used to compare existing corporate strategies with a view to achieving the best possible performance in new situations (see above), has recently been extended to the comparison of technical products. This process is usually referred to as "technical benchmarking" or "product benchmarking". Its use is well-developed within the automotive industry ("automotive benchmarking"), where it is vital to design products that match precise user expectations, at minimal cost, by applying the best technologies available worldwide. Data is obtained by fully disassembling existing cars and their systems. Such analyses were initially carried out in-house by car makers and their suppliers. However, as these analyses are expensive, they are increasingly being outsourced to companies who specialize in this area. Outsourcing has enabled a drastic decrease in costs for each company (by cost sharing) and the development of efficient tools (standards, software).
Benchmarking can be internal (comparing performance between different groups or teams within an organization) or external (comparing performance with companies in a specific industry or across industries). Within these broader categories, there are three specific types of benchmarking: 1) Process benchmarking, 2) Performance benchmarking and 3) Strategic benchmarking. These can be further detailed as follows:
Benchmarking software can be used to organize large and complex amounts of information. Software packages can extend the concept of benchmarking and competitive analysis by allowing individuals to handle such large and complex amounts or strategies. Such tools support different types of benchmarking (see above) and can reduce the above costs significantly.
The emerging technology of benchmarking engines automates the stage of going from data to noteworthy comparative insights, sometimes even expressing the insights in English sentences.
Another approach to making comparisons involves using more aggregative cost or production information to identify strong and weak performing units. The two most common forms of quantitative analysis used in metric benchmarking are data envelope analysis (DEA) and regression analysis. DEA estimates the cost level an efficient firm should be able to achieve in a particular market. In infrastructure regulation, DEA can be used to reward companies/operators whose costs are near the efficient frontier with additional profits. Regression analysis estimates what the average firm should be able to achieve. With regression analysis, firms that performed better than average can be rewarded while firms that performed worse than average can be penalized. Such benchmarking studies are used to create yardstick comparisons, allowing outsiders to evaluate the performance of operators in an industry. Advanced statistical techniques, including stochastic frontier analysis, have been used to identify high and weak performers in industries, including applications to schools, hospitals, water utilities, and electric utilities.
One of the biggest challenges for metric benchmarking is the variety of metric definitions used among companies or divisions. Definitions may change over time within the same organization due to changes in leadership and priorities. The most useful comparisons can be made when metrics definitions are common between compared units and do not change so improvements can be verified.
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