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Benchmarking

Benchmarking

The essence of benchmarking is the process of identifying the highest standards of excellence for products, services, or processes, and then making the improvements necessary to reach those standards, commonly called “best practices” (Elmuti et al, 1997).

Benchmarking is a tool for improving performance. ECU defines benchmarking as a continuous and systematic process of comparing products, services, processes and outcomes with other organisations or exemplars, for the purpose of improving outcomes by identifying, adapting and implementing best practice approaches (Edith Cowan University, 2011). Comparisons may be made against individual benchmarking partners or groups; other programs within the University; sets of accepted standards; or data from past performance (Teaching and Learning Centre, 2008). Benchmarking is different to using quality assurance (QA) models, as QA models generally focus on minimum acceptable standards and compliance and they are often imposed by management or external inspection requirements (Henderson-Smart, Winning, Gerzina, King, & Hyde, 2006). In contrast, benchmarking sits within a broader framework of quality management and improvement (Wilson, Pitman, & Trahn, 2000).

Benchmarking was begun in the late 1970s by Xerox Corporation. During this time, Xerox was losing market share and feeling a lot of pressure from its competitors. In an attempt to try and “get back into the game”, Xerox decided to compare its operations to those of its competitors. After finding quality standards with which to compare itself, Xerox began one of the greatest trends in the business world today (McNair and Leibfried, 1992).

Benchmarking can be used in a variety of industries, both services and manufacturing. It is also a method of identifying new ideas and new ways of improving processes and, therefore, being better able to meet the expectations of customers. The ultimate objective of benchmarking is process improvement that meets the attributes of customer expectations (Omachonu and Ross, 1994, pp. 140-1).

One of the most important benefits of benchmarking is the discovery of innovative approaches. Benchmarking highlights problem areas and the potential for improvement, providing an incentive to change, and assists in setting targets and formulating plans and strategies (Meade, 1998).

Ten principles form benchmarking theory (Meade, 1998). Benchmarking:

  1. Improves practices, services or products;
  2. Involves learning about ‘best practices’ from others;
  3. Accelerates the rate of progress and improvements;
  4. Contributes to continuous quality management;
  5. Is an ongoing process;
  6. Promotes fresh and innovative thinking about problems;
  7. Provides hard data on performance;
  8. Focuses not only on what is achieved, but on how it is achieved;
  9. Involves the adaptation, not merely adoption, of best practices; and,
  10. Results in the setting of specific targets (Meade, 1998).

One of the most important benefits of benchmarking is the discovery of innovative approaches. Benchmarking highlights problem areas and the potential for improvement, providing an incentive to change, and assists in setting targets and formulating plans and strategies (Meade, 1998). Benchmarking provides assessments of quality that identify measures that give a valid and balanced, current picture of the parameters that distinguish courses, universities or sections of a university (McKinnon, et al., 2000).

In order to be successful and to ensure positive outcomes for all partners, benchmarking must be approached with some insight into the potential pitfalls and problems that may arise (Wilson, et al., 2000). For instance, benchmarking can be expensive and the scope must be narrow to make the study manageable (Epper, 1999). Potential challenges include the need to ensure agreed outcomes for all partners; participative training and awareness for all staff involved; and the need for benchmarking to sit within a broader framework of quality management and improvement (Wilson, et al., 2000).

There are four types of benchmarking based on the kind of organisation serving as the benchmarking partner (Meade, 1998):

  1. Internal benchmarking in which comparisons are made against another division within the organisation;
  2. Competitive benchmarking in which comparisons are made against direct competitors;
  3. Industry benchmarking in which the benchmarking partner is not a direct competitor but does share the same industry; and,
  4. Generic benchmarking compares processes and practices regardless of the industry.

Process benchmarking is by far the most commonly used model (Wilson & Pitman, 2000) of three types of benchmarking based on the practices or processes being benchmarked (Meade, 1998):

  1. Process benchmarking focuses on discrete work processes and operating practices;
  2. Performance benchmarking compares products and services; and,
  3. Strategic benchmarking examines how companies compete (Scott, 2018).

 

References

  • Edith Cowan University. (2011). “Benchmarking Policy”. Retrieved from http://www.ecu.edu.au/GPPS/policies_db/tmp/ad075.pdf.
  • Elmuti, D., Kathawala, Y. (1997). “An overview of benchmarking process: a tool for continuous improvement and competitive advantage”. Benchmarking for Quality Management & Technology, MCB University Press, 1351-3036, Vol. 4 No. 4, 1997, pp. 229-243.
  • Epper, R. M. (1999). “Applying benchmarking to higher education: Some lessons from experience”. Change, 31(6), 24-31.
  • Henderson-Smart, C., Winning, T., Gerzina, T., King, S., & Hyde, S. (2006). “Benchmarking learning and teaching: Developing a method”. Quality Assurance in Education, 14(2), 143-155. doi: 10.1108/09684880610662024.
  • McKinnon, K. R., Walker, S. H., & Davis, D. (2000). “Benchmarking: A manual for Australian universities”. Canberra, Australia: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Higher Education Division.
  • McNair, C.J. and Leibfried, K.H.J. (1992). “Benchmarking: A Tool for Continuous Improvement”. Oliver Wright, Essex Junction, VT.
  • Meade, P. H. (1998). “A guide to benchmarking”. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago.
  • Omachonu, V.K. and Ross, J.R. (1994). “Principles of Total Quality”. St. Lucie Press, Delray Beach, FL, pp. 137-54.
  • Teaching and Learning Centre. (2008). “By degrees: Benchmarking archaeology degrees in Australian universities”.
  • Scott, R. (2018). “Benchmarking: A Literature Review”. Edith Cowan University, Academic Excellence, Centre for Learning & Development.
  • Wilson, A., & Pitman, L. (2000). “Best practice handbook for Australian university libraries”.
  • Wilson, A., Pitman, L., & Trahn, I. (2000). “Guidelines for the application of best practice in Australian university libraries: Intranational and international benchmarks”. Canberra: Department of Education, Training and Youth Affairs, Higher Education Division, Evaluations and Investigations Programme.

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