Benchmarking Through the Pandemic

Why is benchmarking relevant during the pandemic and reopening?

In the movie Moneyball, manager Billy Beane tells his staff this brutally honest assessment of their situation and limited resources:

There are rich teams and there are poor teams.
Then, there’s 50 feet of crap. And then there’s us.

In a way, that is how many facility managers felt as this pandemic got underway.  Everyone was scurrying around getting questions and suggestions for how to keep essential functions in operation, providing a safe work environment, segmenting the FM staff in case of incident, supporting remote workers, and generally responding to a new set of guidelines or situations every day.  All of the folks I know did an admirable job but had to feel woefully under-resourced.

Like Billy, we will need to use creative data-driven approaches to re-shape our “team” (facility operations) within the realities of our situation.

That is why Facility Issues started weekly calls in a couple of industries, open to anyone who wanted to participate in the unfolding situation.  Feedback was positive that this helped many, if only to confirm they were not missing anything obvious and to gain needed moral support.

Here we are almost one year later and most organizations are still limited to essential operations on site. The timeframe for re-occupancy is unknown as are the government requirements or guidelines for this.  And there are wildly different opinions on what the future office environment will be.

This is not a simple “fix it and move on” situation.

The media is obsessed with the pandemic but as facility managers we need to understand that the pandemic just accelerated the fundamental underlying evolution from the industrial age to the information age. As we re-envision our facilities, it is time to question why we have facilities and what benefit they provide for our organizations. This will help us position our organizations for success in the new business and social environment that is emerging.

Benchmarking is playing the long game in this – you are unlikely to get from here to there in one big step.  It’s going to take planning, investment, testing, evaluation, redesign, and change management to adopt and refine new work processes (for the business), and revised FM practices and technology.  Meanwhile, we will experience many bumps and detours including economic, challenges, staff transition, and changing regulations.

The opportunity in front of us is unique in our lifetime.  We have a pre-pandemic normal from 2019, we have a baseline of “essential” operations for 2020, and we will have our new evolving operations in 2021 and beyond.  While it is unclear what the lasting impact will be from the pandemic, it is likely to go longer than hoped, and have broader effects than expected.

So let’s take a hard look at 2020.  This is a good baseline since we were operating facilities with essential functions and basic service levels.  Most of us discussed this with others, benchmarking lets us formalize that and put some figures on it.  Then as we make changes to our workplaces and operations we can measure our progress, compare it with 2019 performance, and identify:

  • What measures have you taken? How are they different from what others are doing?
  • How effective is what you are doing?
  • What have been the most effective
  • What are the lessons we learned in implementing new standards, practices, and technology?
  • What are the lessons we can learned from others about new standards, practices, and technology that we have not applied?
  • What is the best performance that has been made?

A key value of benchmarking is it shows the real performance that can be achieved.

We live in a time of “models.”  At Facility Issues we like and use models but also understand they are limited to their design and rarely do a good job of including some of the messiness of real world conditions and complications.

Models are powerful tools for Strategic Facility Planning.  This is important because we have to develop our facility strategy to define the desired outcomes, design the space we need, set service levels for it, and phase the implementation and operations.

Benchmarking (both internal and external) is a practical way to see where we stand now, and assess progress as we implement changes.  This is also important so we can make course corrections as we go – the essence of continuous improvement. The comparison to our internal targets let us see how well we are meeting the objectives of our model. The comparison to our external cohort demonstrates that our progress is keeping up, and the shared lessons learned help us all advance more rapidly.

Benchmarking can help us use the collective wisdom of the group to move past this pandemic. As we move from reaction to be more proactive, it will help show our leaders, facility users, and the broader community, quantifiable progress of the evolution to the next era of facilities.


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