Observations Gained from the Assessment of Ten BEST Quick Scan Studies

Choosing and documenting the approach and method (the Enabler) is generally the easy part of developing a Best Practice. There are many excellence models available based on leadership preferences. The authors use the PDCA model as a universally flexible approach. Other models, such as the US Malcolm Baldrige Performance Model (MBA), the European Foundation for Quality Management Model (EFQM), Hoshin Kanri, or the ISO Quality Management System are also frequently used enablers.

Most important is to see positive results caused by the application of the enabler. Many times, results are not included in Best Practice descriptions. It is challenging to sustain positive results from an improved process. Consider how many organizations publish case studies of their improvement efforts. We reviewed a good many case studies. These studies document methods, procedures, and approaches while including very few output and outcome results. Showing positive, sustained results for at least 5 years after a process improvement is a true indicator of a Best Practice.

The reverse can also be seen. An organization can document the results of their process improvement but not share the enabler they used to achieve the results. The authors observe this omission in private production companies (mainly small- and medium-sized enterprises).

Organizations that are lower on the corporate maturity ladder are just beginning to define their processes. They may not have controls in place to standardize activities and measures. These organizations are small enough that leadership is brute-forcing positive results through intense effort rather than a systematic approach to process improvement.

When we speak about Best Practices, we refer to a formal, documented approach with detailed process descriptions, output and outcome indicators, and corresponding results. Every building block of a Best Practice consists of a series of criteria. A Best Practice is only a Best Practice when at least 80% of the BEST-tool criteria are fulfilled. We experienced over the last year that only a few of investigated case studies fulfill this requirement.

All case studies we investigated have one thing in common: there is no evidence of a process description. Those familiar with MBA or EFQM know that processes, enablers, and results are linked and need to be described explicitly. A process works within a system to effectively meet organizational and customer expectations. All three components, process, enabler, and results are required for the system to function correctly.

The length of the case study is not an important factor. The APQC case studies included in this chapter are each more than 20 pages long. But even these case studies fail to describe or include a flowchart of the processes that are being targeted for improvement.

The ten case studies investigated in this chapter demonstrate that only four of these can be considered as Best Practice. For the six others, as is also true for the hundreds of other case studies we investigated, there is proof only that we need a framework where we can assess the extent to which the case study can be considered as a real Best Practice. Up to now no one has developed such a framework. It is clear why so few published cases can be considered as a Best Practice.

Are we too severe? We think we are not, because what we have done is apply our experience with Total Quality Management and excellence models on one specific process. Once again, note that a process documented as a Best Practice case study must be a core process and critical for the success of the organization.

Do not conclude that the investigated case studies which we find not to be a real Best Practice with the BEST-method are badly managed. This is not the conclusion at all. We can only draw a conclusion from the documents we have at hand. In reality, these cases probably have much more evidence of fulfillment of the BEST-method criteria. That information is simply not in the text available to us without contacting the company.

Each of the descriptions assessed in this chapter was called a Best Practice by their author. However, when applying the BEST Quick Scan tool, only four case studies contained enough information to be considered a Best Practice. How do we explain this discrepancy? The perception and interpretation of the concept of a “Best Practice” vary across organizations. The authors define a Best Practice as an excellent process leading to the achievement of the strategy and/or business plan, while most authors have documented the functioning of a tool and considered it a Best Practice.

The management of Knowledge Management databases by Nalco and WMH Global Inc. are two clear examples of this disparity. Sharing how these companies use the Knowledge Management database is helpful to another company only if there is enough information for the benchmarking company to integrate the tool into their system of processes to obtain exceptional results.

The value of the BEST-tool is the ability to describe a Best Practice in a complete and objective way that can be understood and translated into the overall system of the benchmarking company. A Best Practice is intended to contribute to the achievement of strategic goals.

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