There Are No Best Practices

That’s a best practice. Look, there’s another one. We need a best practice. What’s the best practice?  Let’s standardize on the best practice.  Arrrgh.  Enough, already, with best practices.

There are no best practices, only actions that have worked for others in other situations.  Yet we feverishly seek them out, apply them out of context, and expect they’ll solve a problem unrelated to their heritage.

To me, the right practices are today’s practices.  They’re the base camp from which to start a journey toward new ones.  To create the next evolution of today’s practices, for new practices to emerge, a destination must be defined. This destination is dictated by problems with what we do today.  Ultimately, at the highest level, problems with our practices are spawned by gaps, shortfalls, or problems in meeting company objectives.  Define the shortfall – 15% increase in profits – and emergent practices naturally diffuse to the surface.

There are two choices: choose someone else’s best practices and twist, prune, and bend them to fit, or define the incremental functionality you’d like to create and lay out the activities (practices) to make it happen. Either way, the key is starting with the problem.

The important part – the right practices, the new activities, the novel work, whatever you call it, emerges from the need.

It’s a problem hierarchy, a problem flow-down.  The company starts by declaring a problem – profits must increase by 15% – and the drill-down occurs until a set of new action (new behaviors, new processes, new activities) is defined that solves the low level problems. And when the low level problems are solved, the benefits avalanche to satisfy the declared problem – profits increased by 15%.

It’s all about clarity — clearly define the starting point, clearly define the destination, and express the gaps in a single page, picture-based problem statements.  With this type of problem definition, you can put your hand over your mouth, with the other hand point to the picture, and everyone understands it the same way. No words, just understanding.

And once everyone understands things clearly, the right next steps (new practices) emerge.

3 Responses to “There Are No Best Practices”

  • Don Gerhardt:

    I agree with Mike most of the time. However I disagree with his headline. There are best practices. I use them with success all the time.
    Don Gerhardt

  • I enjoyed this piece. Ahh… the brilliance of bright, shiny best practices. One-size fits all answer to any problem.

    I work with careers. Everyone is looking for a “best practice” to become indispensible. Your point of “right practices” is spot on. What’s the right practice (for you) in finding a better job or directing your career to a different skill zone?

    The downside (as you mention) is about the action or activities needed to fill the present gap but becomes standard practice and is repeatable. The most successful folks have career designs that are flexible and repeatable. Who else can design a career for you? Nobody

    The right practice isn’t for everyone. Best practices are safe. You can find many of them in What Color Is Your Parachute. Why would you need a parachute anyway?

    Jim Baran, Owner, Career Kaizen

  • Ravi Talluri:

    Good Morning Mike:

    I agree with you point that we should start with an end goal in mind i.e. defining the objectives. Now to achieve these objectives the methods that you follow will depend on the nature of the problem (challenge), industry and more importantly the culture and mind set of the organization.
    Some feel very comfortable using known and proven techniques such as six sigma, lean, kaizen etc. They do not see the need to reinvent the wheel. Others modify some of the existing methodologies and to suit their needs. Sometimes best practices are not adopted.
    I think what is more important is finding the right solution to the problem. It does not matter if they are following best practices or not. In the process of finding solutions some organizations may use best practices while other may invent their own practices. How does it matter?
    Also, it is very difficult to standardize best practices. What works for one organization may not work for other organization. In this context the best policy to be adopted is as following. Understand the challenges. Explore the possible methodologies that exist to solve the problem. Use your professional judgment to assess if these methods will solve the problem. If you feel that these methods will not solve, they invent your own methods. Until you try new methods you will not know what works and what will not work.
    Finding the right solution is more important than the best practices.

    Ravi Talluri

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