Benchmarking: Why, Who And How Often

March 16, 2007
IndustryWeek asked two panelists participating in the Benchmarking session at the IW '07 Best Plants Conference for advice on how to prepare for a benchmarking trip.

Q: How do you advise others to best prepare for a benchmarking trip to another facility?

A: While research and study are essential to building your basic understanding of Lean principles and reading up on current Lean practices are important, absolutely nothing -- no amount of reading, watching videos, attending lectures, or consulting -- will translate the visual and verbal impact of a facility tour hosted by enthusiastic implementers of Lean.

Although we have gained value from every benchmarking trip, some were certainly better than others. The best visits were those companies that had been publicly recognized as successful implementers, or otherwise had established a good reputation in the Lean community. A list of previous IndustryWeek's Best Plants Top 10 Winners and Finalists can provided a list of benchmarking candidates.

Herb Bradshaw
Director of Lean Enterprise & Plant ManagerThomas & Betts Corp. -- 2005 IW Best Plants WinnerQ: Do you have a helpful hint for someone going to benchmark another facility that would help make the trip more productive/beneficial?

A: I would recommend researching the specific company and facility you plan to visit. It will go a long way toward making the trip productive. We always meet with our team members before the trip to develop a list of specific areas of interest and questions. For example safety has been a concern in recent years. Companies have been trying to eliminate minor cuts and scrapes in handling large steel coils down to small metal parts. We would certainly ask a metal stamper what their experience has been and what actions proved successful. These questions tie directly back to the reasons the site was originally selected. If you do a little homework every benchmarking experience will be valuable.

Q: How do you advise others to best prepare for a benchmarking trip to another facility?

A: Several years ago when we began our benchmarking process, Scotsman developed a benchmarking guide. The guide is in the form of a binder with a cover page that records the facility to be visited, location, date, primary contacts, persons attending and primary purpose of the visit. Subsequent pages within the guide are organized in categories including; general questions, employee involvement, quality management, productivity management, finished inventory management, purchased material management, safety, in-process flow and replenishment processes and continuous improvement processes. Additional sheets are added when more specific areas are included in the visit.

Greg Jarvis
Assistant Plant Manager & Quality Assurance ManagerScotsman Ice Systems -- 2006 IW Best Plants WinnerThe benchmarking team is usually comprised of a balance of senior management, middle managers and team leaders. he participants are selected based on the nature of the benchmarking visit. We choose individuals based on their ability to ask probing questions as well as their familiarity with the process being benchmarked.

The benchmarking team is generally broken down into small two-person teams to focus on assigned segments of the benchmarking guide.The focused team is responsible for recording the information on their specific guideline pages, asking additional probing questions, obtaining points of contact for follow-up questions and completing an initial summary of their findings.

Following the benchmark visit, the information from the focused teams is incorporated into a master guideline with all pages completed. The team then meets to discuss the guideline, agree on accuracy of recorded information and identify potential areas for follow-up. The team discusses aspects of the benchmark that are applicable or can be modified to meet our improvement needs.

Benchmarking started for lean improvements in the late 1980's. Over the past 25 years, the benchmarking process has evolved from a quest for general knowledge, with many areas of opportunity for improvement, to a more focused approach, usually keying on one or two areas for improvement. The benchmark guide is less extensively utilized on a focused visit.

To hear more about this topic attend the IW Best Plants Conference, April 24-25, 2007 at the Indiana Convention Center & RCA Dome, Indianapolis, Indiana. The session Benchmarking: Why, Who and How Often: Advice from IW Best Plant Winners will be held on Tuesday, April 24, 2007 at 10:00 a.m. To register for the conference and view the entire list of speakers visit
Q: Do you have a helpful hint for someone going to benchmark another facility that would help make the trip more productive/beneficial?

A: The benchmark guideline provides a structure for planning, execution and evaluation for the visit. This also serves as a record for reference and later discussion. With this tool, we are not tourists, but investigators.

Balance the participants with those who will evaluate the processes along with participants that would benefit from just seeing the potential future state process first hand. We take hourly team leaders on most benchmark visits so they can see for themselves how others operate and can bring some of that influence back to their teams.

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