What's "Best" in "Best Practice"?

How does "Best Practice" come to be? Is it just an example of "most common practice"?

It's a question I often ponder when confronted by "guru's" who talk about following "Best Practice". Oh, don't get me wrong, I think there are certainly bad ways of doing anything and, therefore, there are better ways of doing something. But does this constitute a "Best Practice"?

The problem I have with "Best Practice" is that it isn't always "best". Often times it's one company succeeding in a business then being approached by others wanting to know how they've done it. The company provides examples of their 'practice', it gets assimilated by the inquirer and disseminated to others. This becomes "Best Practice".

But let's review this. When somebody (usually your competitor) comes calling looking for "Best Practice", do you actually give them what they need? Do you provide them with your trade secrets? (When you're at trade shows how open are you? I know companies I've worked for have had strict 'non-disclosure' practices when not amongst internal people). You end up providing them with some stuff that shows how things work basically but doesn't give away the farm (as they say). So how can this provide "Best Practice"?

It doesn't.

ERP manufacturers (and similar) tend to try and define a 'set way' of doing things which allows them to define their software along those lines: Check out any CRM product for example and you'll see that it mandates a particular way of operating (within boundaries). Major accounting or order processing systems are also similar.

So is this really "Best Practice"?

I put it to you that "Best Practice" is actually a combination of sub-optimal process definitions married together with a predefined logic flow mandated by a program.

Consider this: Nobody actually has a "Best Practice". By definition it comes from the collected will of the participants. But even then there are usually many ways of doing something - so much so that it is actually 'common' practice. This will result in a best practice being an amalgamation of various ways of doing things. On top of that the way things are done will, oftentimes, be influenced by the software someone is using to do that thing. If this software mandates a particular methodology then this will influence "Best Practice"

Think of a situation where everyone was doing something one way - "Best Practice" - when it was discovered that this was the wrong way to do it.

  • How about trying to motivate people by paying them more. It was considered the way to motivate people until it was discovered that money is a hygiene factor not a motivator (i.e. they prevent dissatisfaction only when present instead of increasing satisfaction)
  • What about smoking? Look back at films, TV series, adverts and even literature of the last century. Everyone smoked. It was considered a "Best Practice" to be seen with a cigarette in your hand or hanging from your lips. This went on for years and years. Then someone discovered that it wasn't actually good for you and it stopped becoming a best practice.
  • Did you know, for example, that up until the 1950's it was best practice when driving a car to not wear a seat belt. It was thought that the best chance of survival was through being thrown clear of an accident.

So I put my initial question to you again

What's "Best" in "Best Practice"?

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