In my last blog post, I introduced the fundamentals and importance of healthcare benchmarking. I highlighted the benefits of benchmarking as well as the advantages and disadvantages of various types of benchmarking. The main point I hope you took away was that regardless of the type of benchmarking, the purpose is the same – to help healthcare organizations identify ways to improve their overall performance.
Now that you are aware of what healthcare benchmarking is and why it is important, in this blog post, we will focus on the key steps to implementing an effective benchmarking project to begin reaping those benefits.
Benchmarking Process and Key Steps
It is not secret that a well thought out process is essential to the success of any major project. Implementing a benchmarking project is no different. Below are the key areas of focus to consider before undertaking any benchmarking initiative. I have derived many of the specifics using a variety of resources, such as Six Sigma, the Juran Model, etc., to provide further context around each step. You might say, I have taken the “best of the best” from each resource…coincidence, I think not.
Plan and Prepare
Identify Opportunities and Prioritize1 – Top management must decide which processes are critical to the success of the organization and select projects from these. Once a shortlist of processes to be bench-marked is ready, the processes need to be prioritized as per a predetermined set of criteria to fulfill the requirements of all customers (stakeholders), especially the end customer1.
Deciding the Benchmarking Organization1 - The next step in the process is to decide the organization whose processes will serve as the benchmark. The benchmark can be a single entity or a collective group of companies, which operate at optimal efficiency2. Information on their processes should be gathered from various sources and the most suitable organization selected1. It is always important to ensure that more detailed information about the selected organization will be accessible and that comparison with the organization’s process will be relevant and useful1.
Organize a Benchmarking Team – The most successful benchmarking projects involve a team approach3. The organization should leverage existing teams that may be involved in similar topics to those that are being bench-marked, if possible. In the event a new team needs to be created for a benchmarking project, The Joint Commission, suggests that the organization seek the following when building the team3:
- Individuals closest to and most knowledgeable about the process or issues under investigation
- Individuals critical to implementation of any potential changes
- Individuals likely to be directly affected by any changes that result from a project
- A respected and credible leader who has a broad knowledge base
- An individual who has the authority to make decisions
- Individuals with diverse knowledge base and strong analytical skills
- Individuals familiar with benchmarking and how it can be used in performance improvement
- Individuals who are skeptical, resistant or even opposed to certain ideas and who can service as sounding boards or provide alternative viewpoints.
This step is perhaps the most important, most difficult and most time consuming activity in the process1. It involves creating a plan for collecting data from selected targets, conducting site visits and creating a site visit report4. Many times the information on processes and procedures followed at another company are confidential, and it is not always easy to gather authentic information, even after making a planned and approved visit at another organization1. The preparation for collecting necessary information and documenting this information in a systematic way has to be carefully planned and executed.
Validation and Normalization5 – The key activities here are the validation and normalization of data. Before any meaningful analysis can be performed, it’s essential that all data be validated to establish its accuracy and completeness. Some form of data normalization is usually required for direct comparisons to be made.
Identify Gaps5 – To be of value, the analysis must indicate the benchmarker’s strengths and weaknesses, determine (and, where possible, quantify) gaps between the benchmarker’s performance and the leaders’, and provide recommendations for the focus of performance improvement efforts. Based on this thorough analysis, an improved process(s) should be developed. Properly identifying the gaps will result in a clear picture of the organization’s processes in comparison with others within the business or industry.
Communicating Results – Communicating the benchmarking results and their implications to significant audiences in the organization and motivating them to carry out changes is vital4. It will result in a complete understanding by the target audiences of the necessity for changes in the processes involved and a desire to carry them out4. The communication must be delivered in a very clear, concise, and easily understood format via an appropriate medium5.
Create Goals - The project team’s next step is to set/revise goals for the improvement of the organization’s existing process, close the performance gap(s) identified in step 3 and create realistic and unambiguous new standards for the processes involved1&4. These goals can, and probably should, be stretch goals that will result in a process even better than the other organization’s best-in-class process1. Make sure management has approved and that all in the organization/business area understand.
Develop and Execute Action Plan1 - After the improved process and goals are accepted by all concerned or likely to be affected by it, a formal, detailed action plan is drawn with all key activities taken as inputs as well as the organization’s culture. The detailed action plan should carry the important things like a time line, individuals responsible for carrying out the tasks, any short-fall in the completion of tasks and what stretch targets are taken to compensate the short-falls. Those responsible should be committed enough to ensure that the tasks and assignments are completed on time.
Monitor Process – As with most projects, in order to reap the maximum benefits of the benchmarking process, a systematic evaluation should be carried out on a regular basis2. Senior management must be committed enough to ensure proper coordination of various activities, monitor the progress of implementation of the plan and work as a barrier-remover in the implementation process1. When the revised process is in place, a complete report has to be prepared, showing the benefits of the revised process compared with the expectations at the time of approval of the proposed revision of the process1.
Recalibrate as Necessary4- The organization needs to ensure it remains on the cutting edge by continuously evaluating the bench-marked practices and re-instituting the benchmarking process when necessary. This will prevent complacency by creating the habit of evaluating procedures to identify opportunities to improve.
Benchmarking is a very powerful performance improvement tool. However, it is vital to understand the basis behind it, follow a proven implementation methodology and gain organization-wide commitment to the cause. Benchmarking is critical for healthcare organizations to achieve and sustain the clinical effectiveness and operational performance they so desperately need.
Does your healthcare organization benchmark? Does the organization have a process that is followed similar to the aforementioned process? Has it proven successful?
Resources for this blog post: