I can’t tell you how many blogs I’ve read (or written) that started by stating “The World moves faster today than it ever has!” And, they are all correct. The business environment seems to continue to expand at an exponential rate, and that makes it especially hard for organizations to keep up. It feels like the basic rules of business are being rewritten every day.
Some are, but frankly, most aren’t.
Beyond the fact that most rules haven’t changed that much, the way we do business is evolving, but not overnight. This leaves ample room for the best practices of the past, including benchmarking against others.
Benchmarking is a tool that has been around for decades and continues to be widely used around the Globe. Like any management tools during such hectic times, benchmarking struggles to maintain relevance and usefulness as markets and organizations change. In our hurry and fret, some forget why we ever benchmarked in the first place.
I would argue that in the toughest of times, it remains a highly useful tool.
Why a framework is needed
The organizations I’ve seen benefit from benchmarking as a long-term strategy are those that have a strong sense of themselves, usually articulated in a strong business framework or operating model. At APQC, we learned this in the early 1990s as we started working in a focused way to help our member’s benchmark their organizational processes.
We found there was way too much jargon and variability in the names organizations used for how they executed work. The term one company used for “supply chain” another called “operations.” One organization used “call centers” while another used “contact centers”. The fact of the matter is they were all correct and had very good reasons for why they used those terms. There needed to be a common way to think of things for benchmarking to work, and that common way is process frameworks.
Creating a language
So, to create a common language, we worked with our member to develop the APQC Process Classification Framework (PCF). The PCF is a document that provides, in outline format, an inventory of the how work gets done within most of the areas of an organization. Regardless of what either organization calls a specific process or function, you can create an outline of the specific “things” you want to learn about. We found in most instances this provides a very solid understanding of exactly who needs to be involved, what will be covered, during a benchmarking project.
Why this matters in a dynamic environment
In a dynamic environment, information is flying around like sharks in a tornado (yes, Sharknado!), and things are constantly changing. Organizations restructure, are bought, are sold, and the way they execute work changes regularly. The same issues arise.
- How do you know where to pay attention?
- With all the terms and jargon used, how do you know what area of the organization should be made aware of changing information?
- What do you call the processes and activities you execute to get your product to market?
- If, for example, Procurement restructured to include more activities around managing supplier shipments are they still Procurement?
Imagine if you went to benchmark Big Data, and how many interpretations you’d get for that term. How would you do it? You would use a framework of standard processes and activities related to the area of Big Data you cared to learn about. Describe the processes and tasks related to building your data model, designing your analysis algorithms, setting up a scalable cloud environment, data governance, etc. The same goes for anything that’s moving fast, including mobile, cloud and social.
In crazy times, being smart and organized makes even more sense, not less.