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PROBE for Irish Fish Processors

The PROBE for Irish Fish Processors project was commissioned jointly by Enterprise Ireland and BIM (Bord Iascaigh Mhara – the Irish Sea Fisheries Board). The objective of the Irish Fish Processors project was to use tools and techniques widely employed in other industries to help improve the efficiency of the sector. This project used the established PROBE best practice benchmarking framework diagnostic, to achieve this aim.

The rationale behind the project was straightforward: to underpin sustainable growth of the sector by focusing attention of fish processing companies on adopting improvement agendas in their business management practices and processes. This focus was achieved by engaging companies in benchmarking their processes/practices using a tool called PROBE for Irish Fish Processors. This gave companies an understanding of best practices in business processes, allowing them to become more aware of  ‘gaps’ between themselves and the ‘best’ companies, and indicated the areas for improvement that helped them towards closing these gaps. Put simply, employing ‘best’ practice is proven to lead to better business performance.

At the outset of the project, recruitment was targeted at a number of organisations already known to the Irish support organisations, and in some cases, already engaged in existing business development programmes.  As the project progressed, small and medium-sized operations that were receptive to the objectives and benefits of PROBE for Irish Fish Processors were also recruited. As a result the final batch of 35 companies that completed the process were predominately from the SME group and were in part at least, incentivised to take part in the project by the potential opportunity to benefit from future improvement opportunities/funding streams.

In order to provide a reasonable balance of accessibility and sophistication, a specific version of the PROBE question set was developed and agreed at the outset with representatives of BIM and Enterprise Ireland. This principally comprised the existing PROBE for Manufacturing questionnaire, and additional questions relating to logistics operations and marketing.

The process consisted of two elements: a) the diagnostic benchmark (the PROBE element of which was intended to be facilitated in all cases), and b) the feedback session. All the companies that chose to participate undertook the diagnostic benchmarking (PROBE) phase. Face-to-face feedback was offered to all 35 businesses following the preparation of a comprehensive individually-tailored written report, and was largely accepted.

PROBE facilitators visited each of the 35 businesses in two periods – initially during November 2008, and then, following a seasonal moratorium on recruitment, in February 2008. Feedback visits were mainly completed in June-August 2009.

The PROBE process it is at its most beneficial when it is delivered as a team process where a cross-section of people within the participating organisation is selected to participate. Selecting team members from different levels and functions, including different departments and teams, a team that represents the whole organisation, in terms of seniority, function and role, generates results that best reflect the reality of the current situation. This provides the best possible basis for relevant and pertinent improvement activity. Once selected, the team worked through the PROBE questionnaire, individually and, with the facilitator, as a team until a set of consensus scores was reached. These scores were analysed to produce the company’s PROBE results.

The written report containing the results from the each company’s benchmarking facilitation was compiled by the facilitator and delivered to the participating businesses as part of the feedback session. This written report summarised the findings from the workshop, as well as the other parts of the questionnaire, where applicable. It included narrative explaining the PROBE world class best practice model, the companies’ comparative position against this model and against its peers in the project sample, and areas of strength and weakness.

As well as providing information on an individual company basis, collating and analysing the data collected from the sample of the 35 fish processing companies also provided the opportunity to build a picture of the strengths and weaknesses within the sector. The key findings of this analysis were included in a comprehensive report provided to the project’s commissioning bodies, and subsequently used by them to inform policy and design new work programmes, specifically focused on addressing weaknesses identified by the project.

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Posted: Sunday, January 9th, 2011

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