Author: David Fleming, Manager at T.A. Cook
If you want to be a great athlete then you need a training partner. Take Simon Grotelüschen and Philipp Buhl. Although they knew from the start that only one of them could earn a place in the 2012 London Olympics, these two German sailors went through their preparations together in the Olympic single-handed dinghy “Laser” class. They knew that competition would drive them forward. If Buhl had trained alone back in his Bavarian hometown and Grotelüschen at home in Lübeck, they probably would have both felt good about their chances. But the only way to be sure of their strengths and weaknesses was through direct comparison.
In business as in sport, external perspectives are important. Plant operators can compare themselves against other locations within a group, or other companies in the same industry, to focus on potentials and improvement opportunities. Regular benchmarking—appropriately executed—always adds value. This was also the conclusion of a 2013 survey by T.A. Cook, in which 86 percent of companies that run regular benchmarking enjoyed significant efficiency gains in maintenance. Benchmarking is also suitable for areas such as production, shutdown management and contractor management.
How efficiently are colleagues and service providers working? Where are the hidden reserves? How competitive is each individual company location? These are tough questions with answers that can be anything but trivial. The first step in being able to compare the performance of individual locations is to identify and populate suitable KPIs. These can include maintenance costs, the share of external services, the rush order rate, scheduling compliance, and waiting and travel time. On-site studies and interviews with managers can be useful, as can cross-check discussions with personnel in execution. The second step is to acquire valuable insights by running comparison against competitor firms and other industries. For many companies this is already standard. However, if you want to compare apples with apples then you need to know which KPIs are relevant to your industry, while also having a suitably large data set for smaller niches as well.
After all, each location and each industry is subject to different circumstances and challenges, which means that production and maintenance conditions vary widely. For that reason, accurate data gathering along as a prerequisite for valid benchmarking is enough to create the “aha” effect. Once you have intentionally listed and compared downtimes or maintenance costs, you will see that various superfluous work steps have become embedded that play no role at all in other locations. The next step is a move toward process benchmarking as a qualitative comparison of the organization’s standards and maturity level.
If all of this is successful, benchmarking results can be a great opportunity to sensitize people, to change employee and manager mindsets, and to push through improvements. Benchmarking is an ongoing process, not a one-off event. It’s a cycle of regular adaptation and review—within the company and in its economic environment. Every organization can use benchmarking to meaningfully document, manage and permanently increase efficiency.