PROBE is a proven methodology that will demonstrate how business practices are driving company performance across a demanding scorecard of performance measures.  It provides positive business returns through identifying actions that directly link internal activities to customer satisfaction and retention and ultimately to profitability.

The PROBE benchmarking tool is universally applicable, able to be used by any business or organisation that wishes to submit the way it operates and the results it achieves to scrutiny and challenge.

It is a powerful best practice benchmarking and assessment tool, powered by data from over 8,500 business users in 60 countries.

A first stage for a company on its journey to excellence is to assess its current position. How well does it measure up against its peers and how is it perceived in the eyes of its customers and employees?

Undertaking a PROBE benchmark and acting on its findings can achieve:

  • A rapid identification of strengths & weaknesses for practical improvements
  • Improved Customer Service and Employee Morale
  • Greater Customer Satisfaction and Retention
  • Reduction in staff absenteeism and an increase in productivity
  • A competitive advantage and greater profitability

How PROBE works

The PROBE methodology combines several key components

  • A skilled and knowledgeable organisational development adviser, trained as a PROBE facilitator
  • A PROBE questionnaire. Each question addresses a particular aspect of organisational practice or performance, inviting you to rate your organisation against descriptors of best practice
  • A team of colleagues who work within the client organisation, representing a range of roles and perspectives so that collectively they have a wealth of experience and insights into how the organisation works and what it achieves.
  • The PROBE facilitator works with this team, leading an in-depth discussion of each question in the context of the team’s organisation.
  • The PROBE Analytical Tool, enables the facilitator to analyse the data (the output of the team’s discussion), producing graphics and reports to shape action plans to address the shortcomings identified.
  • After an appropriate time period during which the improved performance is expected to be realised (12, 18 or 24 months), the process can be repeated as part of a continuous improvement cycle of activities.

More Information

Download Probe Network “PROBE Explained” [pdf 994KB]

Probe Tools

The PROBE system exists at different levels, representing three different stages of maturity on the journey to sustainable excellence, and/or three different stages of readiness / preference for the depth of PROBE analysis.

  • Lite: The Lite’ version as the name suggests is a light-touch introduction to the PROBE methodology. It is designed for any organisation that will benefit from a quick, simple assessment providing an overview of its strengths and improvement opportunities. The questionnaire is short, typically 24 questions. The engagement is flexible to suit the context, the business adviser may work one-to-one with an individual representing the business, or perhaps with a very small group. The analysis is less in depth than at the ‘Standard’ and ‘Advanced’ levels.
  • Standard: The ‘Standard’ version is designed for any organisation that will benefit from a quick and straightforward yet thorough assessment providing an overview of its strengths and improvement opportunities. The questionnaire contains typically 36 questions, it requires the full team approach and produces a thorough benchmarking analysis.
  • Advanced: The ‘Advanced’ version is designed for any organisation that has made substantial advances on its journey to excellence and will benefit from a challenging, assessment of its strengths and opportunities for further improvement. It is the most stretching and contains 48 team questions and requires more input from the organisation’s PROBE team.

Probe System Questionnaires

We use two variants of the Probe System

  1. The Probe Questionnaire
  2. The Probe for Manufacturing Excellence Questionnaire

1.The Probe Questionnaire, this is applicable to any business, any organisation of any size and type in any sector. It is available at three different levels, Lite, Standard and Advanced.

Probe Questionnaire Advanced Version – Sections & Question Titles 

The ‘Standard’ & ‘Lite’ Versions are composed of a subset of this listing.

SectionQuestion#PROBE AdvancedPractice or Performance
Develop Vision & Strategy 1Leadership for sustainable excellencePractice
2Customer and process focusPractice
3Developing vision and strategyPractice
Develop & Manage Markets, Products & Services4Market and sell products and servicesPractice
5Listening to the customerPractice
6Develop and manage products and servicesPractice
Financial Perspective7Key results for financial stakeholdersPerformance
8Cash flowPerformance
9Market penetration and sharePerformance
10Customer retention and loyaltyPerformance
Deliver products & Services11Design for deliverability and whole life valuePractice
12Delivering outstanding qualityPractice
13Lean processesPractice
14Visible, challenging standardsPractice
15Service recoveryPractice
16Effective procurementPractice
18Workplace layoutPractice
19Managing the work flowPractice
20Managing material quantitiesPractice
Manage Customer Services21Managing customer interactionsPractice
22e-communications with customers & marketsPractice
23Measuring customer satisfactionPractice
24Developing customer relationshipsPractice
Customer & Stakeholder Perspective25Level of customer satisfactionPerformance
26On-time completionPerformance
27Our impact on the environment, & on societyPerformance
28Service & product reliabilityPerformance
Develop & Manage People 29Culture for excellencePractice
30Employee contracts, conditions & wellbeingPractice
31Development of peoplePractice
Manage Assets & Finance 32Financial managementPractice
33Investment in systems and physical assetsPractice
34Information systemsPractice
Internal Process Perspective35Process capabilityPerformance
36Smooth work flowPerformance
38Accessibility, responsiveness & speedPerformance
Develop Sustainability of the Business and Society39Understanding sustainability and its benefitsPractice
40The business in its communityPractice
41Energy management and carbon footprintPractice
42Managing water usagePractice
43Managing material reuse recycling & wastePractice
Manage Knowledge, improvement and Change44Performance measurement for improvementPractice
45Managing knowledge & intellectual propertyPractice
46Leading change and developmentPractice
47Systematic benchmarkingPractice
48Measuring employee satisfactionPractice
Learning and Growth Perspective49Sense of purpose direction and confidencePerformance
50Employee satisfactionPerformance
52Distinctiveness of servicePerformance

2. The Probe for Manufacturing Excellence Questionnaire, this variant includes a focus on aspects that are specific to manufacturers and other businesses that process physical materials as part of their work. It is available at three different levels, Lite, Standard and Advanced.

Probe for Manufacturing Excellence Advanced Version – Sections & Question Titles

The ‘Standard’ & ‘Lite’ Versions are composed of a subset of this listing.

SectionQuestion #PROBE for Manufacturing Excellence AdvancedPractice or Performance
Develop Vision & Strategy 1Leadership for sustainable excellencePractice
2Customer and process focusPractice
3Developing vision and strategyPractice
4Manufacturing strategyPractice
Develop & Manage Markets, Products & Services5Market and sell products and servicesPractice
6Listening to the customerPractice
7Develop & manage products & servicesPractice
Financial Perspective8Key results for financial stakeholdersPerformance
9Cash flowPerformance
10Market penetration and sharePerformance
11Customer retention and loyaltyPerformance
12Inventory turnsPerformance
Deliver Products & Services13Design for Deliverability and whole life valuePractice
14Delivering outstanding qualityPractice
15Lean processesPractice
16Visible, challenging standardsPractice
17Service RecoveryPractice
18Effective ProcurementPractice
20Workplace layoutPractice
21Managing the work flowPractice
22Managing material quantitiesPractice
Manage Customer Service23Managing customer interactionsPractice
24e-communications with customers and marketsPractice
25Measuring customer satisfactionPractice
26Developing customer relationshipsPractice
Customer & Stakeholder Perspective27Level of customer satisfactionPerformance
28On-time completionPerformance
29Our impact on the environment, and on societyPerformance
30Service & product reliabilityPerformance
Develop & Manage People31Culture for excellencePractice
32Employee Contracts, Conditions and WellbeingPractice
33Development of peoplePractice
Manage Assets & Finance34Financial managementPractice
35Investment in systems and physical assetsPractice
36Information systemsPractice
Internal Process Perspective38Process capabilityPerformance
39Smooth work flowPerformance
41Accessibility, responsiveness & speedPerformance
42Material processing cycle timePerformance
43Manufacturing agilityPerformance
44Defects (internal)Performance
Develop Sustainability of the Business & Society45Understanding sustainability & its business benefitsPractice
46The business in its communityPractice
47Energy management and carbon footprintPractice
48Managing water usagePractice
49Managing material reuse, recycling and wastePractice
Manage Knowledge Improvement & Change50Performance measurement for improvementPractice
51Managing knowledge and intellectual propertyPractice
52Leading change and developmentPractice
53Systematic benchmarkingPractice
54Measuring employee satisfactionPractice
55Sense of purpose, direction and confidencePerformance
56Employee satisfactionPerformance
58Distinctiveness of servicePerformance
59Time to marketPerformance

How to Answer and Score the PROBE Questions

Each question displays three statements portraying ‘best practice’ (in the right column) and something not as good as ‘best practice’ (in the middle and left columns). Choose the statement that is the closest equivalent to the current situation in your business. This gives you a score – the number in the coloured band above that statement. If your business is between two statements, choose a score of 2, 3 or 4, or 6, 7 or 8. In the example below, the team member feels statement two is appropriate, so they are suggesting a score of 5. The score must be a whole number – no ‘half-scores’! As a team, you’ll be asked to discuss strengths and weaker aspects relevant to each question, then to agree a score.

If the statement in the left column is better than the current situation in your business, it may be appropriate to score 0 (zero). If current practice is better than described in the right column, you could score 10. Both situations are unusual, and team scores of 0 or 10 can only be accepted at the discretion of the PROBE Facilitator, who will challenge the team to justify these exceptional scores. The Facilitator will also challenge any suggestion that a particular question is not applicable for your business – some lateral thinking will sometimes enable you to apply the spirit of the question even when it initially seems irrelevant. If you think it is genuinely not applicable, make a note, leave the score blank and move on.

If you see differences across the business, with some areas more advanced than others, you need to choose a score that best represents the overall position – ask yourself ‘where is our centre of gravity on this question?’ Bear in mind the relevant proportions of activities/customers/employees – for example, if sophisticated processes are in place to develop employees’ knowledge and skills, but they only cover 25% of employees, take this into account in deciding the score for that question.

There is no ‘pass’ or ‘fail’ – the intention is to help your business to identify strengths and opportunities for improvement, not to provide it with a badge or a certificate. PROBE seeks to assess the true position of your business today, not where it will be when current plans and projects deliver the results you expect. Please be honest and realistic – PROBE will only deliver its full value to you if your assessments are true reflections of your business as it is now.

PROBE Output

The PROBE compares the company result against a chosen comparison group and against the spectrum of companies in the PROBE database through,

  • Probes World Class Grid
  • Probes Analytical Framework

Probes World Class Grid

The shaded area on the chart indicates the zone in which standards of practice and performance are beyond the upper limits described in the standard version of PROBE for Manufacturing Excellence. Businesses whose practices and performance might place them in or near the shaded zone can benefit from the more stretching assessments provided by the Advanced version of PROBE.

Bearing in mind that the organisations in PROBE’s database are a self-selecting sample, their average may well be higher than the true average of the business community as a whole.  By definition, organisations that use PROBE have a somewhat positive attitude towards techniques such as benchmarking that can help drive continuous improvement.  They represent a tough standard of comparison.

Probes Analytical Framework

PROBE’s Analytical Framework supports a 360o assessment of organisational performance and practice.

Achieving and sustaining world-class status is based on the proposition that adoption of best practice leads to strong operational performance, and in turn to superior business performance.

‘Practice’ refers to the processes that organisations have in place to design, manufacture, deliver and measure their products and services.

‘Performance’ refers to what is achieved as a result.

The analytical framework illustrates cause-and-effect relationships between:

  • the processes at the heart of how the business functions, and the extent to which they support and embody excellence.
  • performance across a range of perspectives, and the contributions to excellence that are apparent within that performance