There Are No Best Practices

There Are No Best PracticesThat’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.

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Mike ShipulskiMike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior.  He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.

Mike Shipulski




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No Comments

  1. Roy Luebke on March 9, 2013 at 8:41 pm

    It is part of the corporate game. If one is using a best practice and it screws up, it isn’t ones fault, one is using an industry best practice.

    Corporate dodge ball. No responsibility. No accountability. Just pass the buck and call it a “best practice.”

  2. Paul Hobcraft on March 10, 2013 at 3:03 am

    There is no best practice, only your own practice. Copying others is a lazy approach, learning from others and then working it out on what made their success gets you to understand what you need to put into place. These though are your practices as NOT one context taken from anyone else is YOUR context- you need to learn from others, seek out your own understandings and then practice them until they become your good practice. Forget “best” it is ALL practice

  3. Panteli Tritchew on March 11, 2013 at 1:36 pm

    Hello all:
    I couldn’t agree more with the article and the sentiments expressed here.

    I agree with the article’s emphasis on the starting point for implementing any “best practise,” the need for understanding “the problem” before jumping to solutions.

    I revised my Advanced Communications course years ago, requiring Entrepreneurial Leadership students to submit a Problem Definition report prior to and independent of submitting their final Proposal at the end of the semester. While this approach simply follows my corporate exerience, it is (alas) inconsistent with most Report Writing textbooks, which adhere to a unified Problem/Solution Proposal format.

    My experience is that for large-scale (think $$$) projects, you need to pitch the problem before you can pitch the solution. A collateral benefit of this approach is that a clear problem definition practically defines the solution. Einstein is quoated as having said that if he had one hour to save the world he would spend fifty-five minutes defining the problem and only five minutes finding the solution.

    How’s that for a best practise! 😉

    Thank you Mike, for an insightful article.

  4. barfo rama on March 11, 2013 at 5:29 pm

    Sounds like an old Forbes article.

  5. Diana van der Stelt on March 17, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Well, this is too easy for me. So many new ideas get stuck somewhere and never get into practice, and so many innovations never make it. So I am still interested to hear other peoples practices (good ones, and the bad ones, too) and learn from their experiences.
    I guess I am mostly interested in new practices, in stead of best practices.

  6. Laura Buguñá on March 18, 2013 at 4:13 am

    Hello to everybody,
    as the discussion continues I start to get lost. Are Best Practices and Innovative Ideas the same, in your view? To me, Best Practices are related to a continuous improvement and quality performance process and can be done in ‘back office’, while Innovative Ideas often require to start up an internal project and go through various development stages.
    What do you think?

  7. mgeraudm on April 8, 2013 at 4:26 pm

    Spot on article, though I hoped you’d drill deeper, to the core.
    15% more profit… sure, WHY? Where? and How? Close to nobody takes the caution and brains to even ask. I’ve been there myself, like lemmings off the cliff; yup, I fell couple of times myself, even asking, but beyond the point.
    For me ‘best practices’ are rules on the rulebook. I’ve seen that up close and too personal with accountants. These guys have the law, then the accounting rules, and then best practices, allowing themselves to add and maybe subtract. Maybe. kidding aside, (based on true events) for us innovators best practices are I don’t know, oxymoron. I just published an article on my blog about bureaucracies, rules and innovation. Obviously rules are created for a reason, and people working in bureaucracies loathe rule-benders and thrive in the safety of the over ruled fishbowl. Best-practicians for me, go a step further into over-safety measures, like bubble wrapping a building just in case of a meteor shower…

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