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The Benchmarking Book.

The Benchmarking Book. By Michael Spendolini. New York, AMACOM, a division of the American Management Association, 1992. 209 pp. $26.95.

Benchmarking is a cornerstone of Total Quality Management (TQM), a management theory in which the goal of a customer-driven organization strives for continuous improvement. In the 1970's manufacturing firms such as the Xerox Corp. led the way in developing this plan of evaluating and adopting "best practices." This approach has since spread nationally beyond manufacturing to firms in service industries and, more recently, to government and academia.

Defined simply, benchmarking is the systematic process of recognizing the "best" management practices and applying it to an organization. As simple as that sounds, the process may be complicated.

The idea behind benchmarking is not new, although its applications were limited before TQM. Manufacturing engineers and professionals in the field of human resources use a form of benchmarking regularly. Just as engineers in the electronics industry disassemble samples of rivals' products to evaluate the competition, human resources professionals conduct wage and benefit plan surveys routinely to measure their compensation packages against the labor market.

Corporations such as Xerox, where author Michael Spendolini worked, expanded on this methodology by taking a fresh look at all their internal processes. These corporate officials extended the approach to cover not only manufacturing but also administrative areas such as customer service.

Firms committed to benchmarking have evolved guidelines and benchmarking plans that specifically meet their needs. Their search generally begins by looking at their immediate competition for new ideas, and for some this remains the primary focus of their efforts.

Developing individual benchmarking procedures has resulted in a myriad of models with some yielding less than expected results. In most cases, models vary more in their details than in their overall objectives. Recognizing this, Spendolini has developed a generic benchmarking plan.

For the book, Spendolini began with a list of 54 companies that have successful benchmarking plans in place, and narrowed his focus to 24 firms that were successful with benchmarking. He spoke with company representatives about their key concepts and took note of the pitfalls common during the process. In essence, he took a benchmarking approach to benchmarking.

Beginning with the need to define the basic target of a benchmarking process, his model is a generic, cross-industry, five-step procedure designed to serve the needs of any organization. The book is well organized with each chapter outlining one stage in the process. Beginning with the first chapter that defines the goals of benchmarking, the book takes the reader through the identifying objectives, forming a benchmarking team, collecting and analyzing data, and acting on the results.

Spendolini includes discussions on realistic approaches to problems of time management and the struggle of introducing the benchmarking concept to an organization. He has even devoted a chapter to the ethical and legal concerns of measuring competitors' practices, particularly when operating cooperatively. Each chapter is written clearly and is well illustrated with appropriate charts.

Unlike some books on this subject, this is not the history of a single firm's experience with benchmarking. Nor does it argue for the concept of benchmarking. It is instead a practical guide to benchmarking for those interested in the subject. As Spendolini outlines in his preface, the book may be used as a guide for the beginner in benchmarking and be useful as a type of self-audit for the experienced practitioner. Interestingly, total Quality Management is not referred to specifically in the book.

Not all management theories have staying power. Concepts such as Zero Based Budgeting and Management By Objectives were once put forward as models, but their popularity faded slowly. Regardless of TQM's future, benchmarking as its own process will probably outline TQM.

In an increasing competitive world, recognizing and applying the best practices available is the key to organizational survival. Many of the best organizations recognize that they can survive only by living on a continual learning curve where practice must be updated constantly using a process such as benchmarking.

--Michael Wald

Economist, Bureau of Labor Statistics,

Atlanta regional office
COPYRIGHT 1993 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Wald, Michael
Publication:Monthly Labor Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 1993
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