Benchmarking for a quick turnaround

The search for performance excellence


Advances in Project Management


By Prof Darren Dalcher

Director, National Centre for Project Management

United Kingdom


According to the Oxford Dictionary the verb benchmark implies ‘evaluating something by comparison with a standard’. In practice, it often entails a direct assessment of business processes, procedures and performance metrics and outcomes against those applied by industry or sector leaders in order to understand why market leaders are successful, or against other organisations in a similar position or of a similar size and expertise, in order to provide a reading about the current performance level of the organisation.

Benchmarks emerge out of the pursuit of ‘best practice’ implying an intention to copy or replicate what is considered to be superior performance. Benchmarks provide a disciplined approach and a reference point for determining ones current position from which measurements could be made, or a basic standard and reference point against which others could be compared.

Reference points have long been used to determine position or encourage performance improvement. Land surveyors might be familiar with the idea of a benchmark, a distinctive mark made on a wall, rock or building which serves as a reference point in determining the current position and altitude in topographical surveys and tidal observations (Bogan & English, 1994, p. 3). Reference points are used elsewhere: Following the mass production and standardisation of rifles and cartridges in the mid-1800s, the marksman became the uncertain variable. Gun factories would therefore fix the rifle in a bench, making it possible to fire the rifle multiple times and determine the spread, introducing the idea of benchmarking weapons as used in both the gun factory and the ammunition factory to find the best combination of rifle, and ammunition, without necessarily accounting for the foibles of the rifleman.

McGrath and Bates suggest that Fredrick Taylor used the concept of a benchmark at the beginning of the Twentieth Century to identify excellent performers in the factory by putting a chalk mark on their benches (2017; p. 192). Taylor had utilised time and motion studies to identify good performers (Dalcher, 2017; p.3). The mark on the bench could thus indicate staff whose output or working practices should merit emulating, and McGrath & Bates (2017) propose that this rather crude method had evolved into rather more sophisticated benchmarking tools and procedures.

In the 1970s benchmarking became a widely accepted term. However, companies such as Xerox applied it in a narrow way that focused primarily on comparisons with one’s main competition to assess performance against the best in class, invoking the practice of competitive benchmarking (Camp, 1989). Competitive benchmarking entails comparison of company standards with those of leading rivals (Hindle, 2008; p. 15)


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How to cite this article: Dalcher, D. (2018). Benchmarking for a quick turnaround: The search for performance excellence, PM World Journal, Volume VII, Issue VI – June. Retrieved from https://pmworldjournal.net/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/pmwj71-Jun2018-Dalcher-benchmarking-for-quick-turnaround-series-article.pdf

Editor’s note: The PMWJ Advances in Project Management series includes articles by authors of program and project management books published by Gower and other publishers in the Routledge family.  Each month an introduction to the current article is provided by series editor Prof Darren Dalcher, who is also the editor of the Routledge Advances in Project Management series of books on new and emerging concepts in PM.  Prof Dalcher’s article is an introduction to the invited paper this month in the PMWJ. 

About the Author

Darren Dalcher, PhD

Author, Professor, Series Editor
Director, National Centre for Project Management
United Kingdom



Darren Dalcher, Ph.D. HonFAPM, FRSA, FBCS, CITP, FCMI SMIEEE SFHEA is Professor of Project Management, and founder and Director of the National Centre for Project Management (NCPM) in the UK.  He has been named by the Association for Project Management (APM) as one of the top 10 “movers and shapers” in project management and was voted Project Magazine’s “Academic of the Year” for his contribution in “integrating and weaving academic work with practice”. Following industrial and consultancy experience in managing IT projects, Professor Dalcher gained his PhD in Software Engineering from King’s College, University of London.

Professor Dalcher has written over 200 papers and book chapters on project management and software engineering. He is Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Software: Evolution and Process, a leading international software engineering journal. He is the editor of the book series, Advances in Project Management, published by Routledge and of the companion series Fundamentals of Project Management.  Heavily involved in a variety of research projects and subjects, Professor Dalcher has built a reputation as leader and innovator in the areas of practice-based education and reflection in project management. He works with many major industrial and commercial organisations and government bodies.

Darren is an Honorary Fellow of the APM, a Chartered Fellow of the British Computer Society, a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute, and the Royal Society of Arts, A Senior Member of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and a Member of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and the British Academy of Management. He is a Chartered IT Practitioner. He sits on numerous senior research and professional boards, including The PMI Academic Member Advisory Group, the APM Research Advisory Group, the CMI Academic Council and the APM Group Ethics and Standards Governance Board.  He is the Academic Advisor and Consulting Editor for the next APM Body of Knowledge. Prof Dalcher is an academic advisor for the PM World Journal.  He can be contacted at [email protected].

To view other works by Prof Darren Dalcher, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at http://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/darren-dalcher/.