The Art and Science of Benchmarking - Improving Project Performance  - Blog

The Art and Science of Benchmarking - Improving Project Performance 

Benchmarking was the subject of a PMI Webinar in May 2019 with Tim Podesta sharing his experience and expertise of the subject. Supported by Merv Wyeth, and using Mentimeter for live interaction, the audience represented a diverse group in terms of project roles and industries - from services & software to government & construction.

Looking back at history, a benchmark was a surveyor's mark cut in a wall, pillar, or building and used as a reference point in measuring altitudes and levels. In the webinar, Tim introduced the subject of benchmarking and described its modern application as the considered use of data as a way achieving three things. Firstly, driving continuous improvement; secondly to support target setting; and thirdly to foster sharing and learning across an organisation and with outside peers. He showed how benchmarking can be applied to improving project performance and illustrated this with examples of cost, schedule and performance benchmarking in addition to benchmarking for project good practice.

First, Tim illustrated benchmarking with a simple example showing how the well-known parkrun app ( provides a source of data and a benchmark for those wishing to measure fitness improvement through walking, jogging, or running.

He then used examples to show how benchmarking has been used in projects, both in the context of the variables of cost, schedule, and benefits, and in terms of project practices, against front end planning, team functionality and complexity. Of particular interest and value to the webinar was active feedback of the audience's experience in benchmarking.

Figure 1.0 - Showing the audience responses when ask to indicate their benchmarking experience.

Tim went on to introduce the recently published Infrastructure Projects Authority (IPA) Guide to benchmarking best practice. The core of the document is a 7-step process

Figure 2.0 - Diagram detailing the proposed steps for the IPA's approach for top-down benchmarking.

which Tim presented as 'OCTAVIA' – (Latin for eighth-born baby). These steps are briefly described below.

Step 1:

Confirm the project Objectives and set the metrics - get clarity on the basis for benchmarking.

Step 2:

Break the project into major Components for benchmarking- choose the benchmarks wisely.

Step 3:

Develop Templates for data gathering - create a common language and a forum of expertise.

Step 4:

Scope sources and gather data - a critical success factor is the Acquisition of data.

Step 5:

Validate and re-base the data - a further critical success factor is the quality of data.

Step 6:

Produce and test the benchmark figure - use Images and visual presentation.

Step 7:

Review and repeat, if necessary, before using data for benchmarking - Assess impact.

Audience engagement with the webinar was high. Mentimeter was used to pose reflective questions and gather feedback, and the response was encouraging. Representative feedback included 'raise potential of benchmarking with my management' and

'focus on benchmarking more in the planning process'

 About the author

Tim is a subject matter expert with particular interest in:

· Business/investment analysis

· Front-end planning

· Benchmarking

· Assurance

He has deep experience of the oil, gas and petrochemical industry and a record of delivering cross-cultural programmes in change management and process improvement. He completed 35 years at BP in 2016.

He is a qualified professional toastmaster and a member of PMI UK Toastmasters (normally meeting twice a week in London). Tim is an experienced facilitator, and can work in English and French, using this to build multi-cultural rapport.

The recording, presentation and Mentimeter results can be found here.


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Mr. Andrew Peters, PMP
Sunday, 25 February 2024