Benchmarking: Don't Just Run the Numbers, Understand the Process - Benchmarking can be a useful tool to improve manufacturing practices. - BioPharm International


Benchmarking: Don't Just Run the Numbers, Understand the Process
Benchmarking can be a useful tool to improve manufacturing practices.

BioPharm International
Volume 26, Issue 4, pp. 68-69


While benchmarking clearly has many benefits, it does have some limitations and practical difficulties. The main limitation is that while benchmarking might tell one a great deal about how current practice is achieved, it does not necessarily indicate what is possible or what best practice might look like in the future. The pitfall here is to take a narrow view of who to benchmark with. Comparing a C class company to B class performers will limit ambitions when A class students might be available to learn from.

Those seeking to benchmark practices around cleanroom design and operation might compare and share with other pharmaceutical companies. However, benchmarking with semiconductor manufacturers or automotive paint shops might result in a whole new set of ideas and processes not found in drug production.

Foremost among the practical difficulties are the problems that can be experienced in gaining the cooperation needed to carry out a full process benchmarking study. The development of benchmarking clubs and syndicates has helped overcome this problem. In biopharmaceuticals, the BioPhorum Operations Group's (BPOG) role is to create a safe and structured environment in which benchmarking can take place amongst industry players. Joint initiatives to benchmark with other industries are another function of this consortium.


To be successful, benchmarking needs to be taken seriously and must become an integral part of a business improvement program, either as a means of sizing the gap at the outset or revitalizing the program at a later stage. The world doesn't stay still, so benchmarking exercises should be repeated and data should be refreshed as often as opportunities allow. It also needs to be done largely by the organization's own people, as it is through the widening of their experience that a substantial part of the benefit is realized.

The scope for carrying out process benchmarking against direct competitors is limited in certain areas of intellectual property or proprietary knowledge; however for pharmaceutical companies, there are many areas where industry performance in terms of product and patient safety, reputation, and strengthening of competition can be enhanced. Independent moderators can facilitate benchmarking so that the participants can stay within the rules and where necessary, data can be blinded.

When embarking on a benchmarking exercise, the first thought for most companies is to seek to benchmark those processes associated with the core manufacturing and supply-chain activities to cut cost or improve service. While this might be entirely appropriate, consideration should be given to examining other key processes, such as process development, human resource management, and quality compliance. For pharmaceutical companies, achieving excellence of these processes could produce similar performance improvement leverage.

In benchmarking, companies have a systematic and objective method of assessing their performance and understanding best practice. By doing this, benchmarking can help the company focus on key competitive and performance issues so that the drive to be best in class can be achieved and maintained.

Simon Chalk is director of the BioPhorum Operations Group,

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