Business Center

Benchmarking: Improving Through Thoughtful Comparison

Gary Vansuch, CDOT Director of Process Improvement
Posted: February 8, 2015

At the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), we are working together to make CDOT more effective, efficient, and elegant -- every day. We are improving our operations so that we can deliver excellent services and products to all of our customers. Our longer term aspiration goal is: “Everyone, Every Day, Improving Every Process and Every Product, To Benefit Every Customer”.

One of the improvement methods we use is benchmarking. Benchmarking is the process of comparing our CDOT business processes (and their performance metrics) to the current best practices from other organizations, and then learning from that comparison to improve our operations at CDOT.

CDOT uses various continuous improvement tools and techniques, many of which were pioneered in the private sector. This includes the use of the principles and practices of Lean process improvement. Lean is derived from the Toyota Production System (TPS). TPS itself is the product of systematic benchmarking! In the 1950’s, Toyota executives benchmarked then-current “best practices” in the United States, including practices observed at 1) the Indianapolis 500 (then-current best practice: quick changeover), 2) an American supermarket (response to demand) and 3) Ford Motor’s River Rouge Plant (continuous work flow and employee engagement). A summary of Lean is available at this link:

Benchmarking is useful in several ways. Internally to CDOT, benchmarking helps us compare internal current practices, to help us identify innovations and improvements that can help other groups. For instance, benchmarking of results among CDOT’s 5 Regions helped initiate the Project Closure Process Improvement Project in CDOT’s Southeast Region (Region 2). This Project Team benchmarked the practices used by the then-best-performing region –- the Southwest Region (Region 5) -- and implemented action plans to take advantage of these better-performing practices. As a result, the Region 2 process for closing projects is now faster and more efficient.  Additional details about this improvement project are available here:

Similarly, CDOT’s Lean Everyday Ideas initiative engages employees across CDOT to develop and implement innovations within their own work processes and work areas:

The development of CDOT’s Lean Everyday Ideas program is itself the result of benchmarking, including the “Everyday Lean Ideas” efforts at Virginia Mason Medical Center:

… and the successful employee engagement efforts of other organizations in the public and private sectors, including those featured in “Ideas Are Free”:

An important part of CDOT’s Lean Everyday Ideas Initiative is internal benchmarking. Very often, an implemented idea/innovation that helps one group can help other groups across CDOT, too.  For instance, several CDOT Maintenance employees worked together to develop the “Hydraulic Fluid Holding Box”, an award-winning innovation that prevents fluid spills when working on equipment:

This innovation improved operations for the Maintenance Patrol where it originated. Through thoughtful internal benchmarking, CDOT has also been able to multiple the benefit from this innovation by utilizing the Hydraulic Fluid Holding Box for equipment at other Maintenance Patrols!

And, benchmarking is not just confined to CDOT:  CDOT works to share current best practices with other governmental transportation organizations.  For example, CDOT is a member of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), a standards-setting body comprised of state departments of transportation within the United States.

Additionally, CDOT and other similar governmental transportation organizations from England, Canada and the United States formed the Transportation Lean Forum (TLF) to promote sharing of information and benchmarking about improvement methods and practices in transportation organizations:

The benchmarking promoted by TLF has produced tangible results. CDOT has shared the improvements implemented by the CDOT Access Permits Process Improvement Team, and that effort has been benchmarked by other DOTs, including DOTs in Ohio, Rhode Island and Saskatchewan:

And, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) has shared its approach for “5S” -– a Lean methodology targeting improvement of workplace organization -- with members of the Transportation Lean Forum. CDOT has slightly modified this –- including the addition of “Safety” as a 6th “S” in this methodology -- and uses this to help improve CDOT workplaces:

  • Working together to make CDOT more effective, efficient, and elegant—every day
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