The Worst Thing About Best Practices

Michael McLaughlin has something to say: The Worst Thing About Best Practices

Here are four reasons you should dump best practices:

  1. They rarely work.
  2. It's a follower's strategy.
  3. Change comes from within.
  4. They don't come with a manual.

[via Column Two (and others)]

This topic comes up from time to time in knowledge management circles.  In isolation, I absolutely agree with McLaughlin.  However, if they are part of an intelligent process, such as he suggests at the end of the article, best practices can be quite helpful.  Some possibilities for best practices: 

  1. Check your thinking.  Don't use them to do your thinking for you, but if you are heading in one direction and the best practices suggest another, be sure to understand why.
  2. Continuous learning.  You've got good mechanisms in place for your business, but what are others doing?  Where can you improve, based on what you hear from others?
  3. It's an example.  After all, best practices in one company or department are a window into how they think in their context.  If their circumstances change, their practices may change.  The same goes for you.

And as I am learning from re-reading Goldratt's The Goal, practices that are promulgated as "best" or "industry standard" can be quite counter-productive.  For example, do you really want all your resources at 100% utilization?

3 Comment(s)

Denham Grey Author Profile Page said:

It is that old addage about context again. If you understand the 'context' you can start to play with best practices - getting your staff to adopt them can still be an uphill battle.

This is one of the reasons I've found patterns to be an improvement - the community decides what to deploy after refinement, testing and validation.

Dan Keldsen said:

Jack and Denham - Absolutely agree on the context component. As we propose in our Proving Ground on Information Architecture and Taxonomy ( one should examine the "3 Cs" of Context, Content and Community to understand fully what your needs and desires are BEFORE building/buying/tweaking whatever you have now, to make the future solution worth the effort, and most important, applicable to your organization and customers (whether internal or external).

Best Practices are business and mind-killing viruses - The very label almost stops any critical thinking of the practice before rushing to an end state through a questionable process (who really writes up their Best Practice as it actually happened? it is almost inevitably sanitized so that the end result seemed manifest destiny). Use a "best practice" as a case study, and make sure the case is analyzed for all it's pros AND cons, not pure gospel for "this is how all future such processes will run in the future without question." Even the best run companies cannot afford to sit in an isolated looping bubble, and expect to continue on their continued upward growth.

From the world of statistics, a single dot/piece of data does not make a trend, and from the world of risk management, basing future predictions on the optimistic trend lines, while ignoring the pessimistic and/or realistic, is a disaster waiting to happen.

Einstein stated "Keep things as simple as possible, and no simpler" - and my working theory (always being tested) is that Best Practices go several steps beyond trying to be as simple as possible, to make decision making for a new practice essentially a "no-brainer" activity.

Thinking - The New Best Practice

» Are Best Practices really the best you can do? from AlwaysWoW! For a Great Great WoW in Life

Best Practices or Benchmarking is a habit that is all over the place. I am coming across them constantly during my daily work day. Best Practices basically means that you as a company look across your own industry and other... Read More

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