Pitfalls of Blindly Following Benchmarks


Ronald Reagan gave us a familiar dictum: “Trust, but verify.” When companies compare themselves to industry leaders or competitors, it’s often with the assumption that those other organizations have got it right. That’s sometimes the case, but it’s not always true.

It’s important to observe and understand how different organizations operate. All too frequently, however, companies look to industry benchmarks as the be-all and end-all. Some even let benchmarks drive key decisions—without thoroughly considering the differences between other businesses and their own.

Every Business is Unique

In our experience, IT leaders should use benchmarks to guide, not decide. After all, every organization is unique. That means each business must define its own path to improvement. What one company sees as a best practice might not be a fit for another.

A recent optimization effort for a client’s quality management organization gave us a chance to test a hypothesis. We believed that by focusing limited resources on oversight roles, our client could more efficiently manage its testers—and deliver better quality code. Through a series of conversations with the client, we agreed to study industry benchmarks to help us determine the appropriate ratio of developers to testers.

The investigation validated our ideas about opportunities for realignment. Compared to industry standards, our client fell short of the benchmark number of developers and testers. However, there was an important difference: the benchmark assumed a highly mature quality management and developer organization. Our client’s organization was less mature—meaning the drastic change required by the benchmark would significantly limit the team’s ability to produce quality code.

Every Benchmark is Unique

Taking the client’s maturity level into account, we recommended not blindly following the benchmark—and instead created a custom roadmap to help them grow and mature over time. The plan succeeded in helping the client’s organization achieve balance without disrupting day-to-day operations or adversely impacting quality.

Viewed in the proper context, benchmarks are an excellent tool. But beware: accepting them wholesale can also hinder creativity. If leaders automatically turn to benchmarks as the standard for process improvement, they can miss an opportunity to create an environment of innovation.

In other words—to paraphrase Ronald Reagan—trust the benchmark, but always verify it. At Concentre, that means looking at best practices through the lens of each client’s unique situation and then empowering organizations to achieve their own version of success.

What do you think about benchmarks? As always, we welcome your stories and comments. To learn more about how Concentre helps organizations align, visit concentregroup.com.

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