Some thoughts on best practices and their strengths and limitations
I have not taken any word or expression counts or done any word or expression usage pattern analyses of this blog. But at over 1000 postings, I feel confident when stating that I am certain that “best practices” would rise to at least near the top for usage levels for two word expressions. I repeatedly write and I add talk about best practices and for a variety of reasons. I add that I am not alone in this. Best practices and best practice analysis and thinking are common and useful tools, and in both direct business practice and in the business-oriented literature.
But at the same time I am also acutely aware of the limitations of best practices too. A pursuit of best practices per se and without regard for their potential strengths and limitations can lead to problems. My goal in this posting is to discuss these two sides of best practices, and at least something of the gray area in between those extremes – the area of uncertainty and its learning curve requirements.
• Best practices and proposed best practices help to identify problem areas and areas where the experience of others would indicate that inefficiencies can arise.
• Best practices provide insight into how others have successfully addressed those problem and friction point areas to create greater efficiency and to improve their businesses’ profitability and market strength.
But at the same time:
• Best practices can be context specific and if not in general, at least for their specific implementations.
• A best practice for one business might not add value or even serve as a positive in another and even when it is being transferred to a new business in the same industry.
• This can happen because of differences in scale and of the organizational complexity of the two businesses.
• This can happen where one business is highly centralized but a second is geographically dispersed and with very different and more complex learning curve issues. And in that I only cite one possible major structural difference out of many possibilities.
• Regulatory requirements can sometimes make what is a best practice for one business disallowed or unworkable, or at least inefficient for another that has to meet different organizational process and record keeping requirements.
Many best practices simply translate over and both widely and effectively and with a likely result of offering value-added in the new contests they are brought to. But simply identifying a process or practice as a best practice does not mean it can or will travel well – and even if it offers great value to the organization it was initially developed and tested out in.
So best practice identification and incorporation into a business has to include review and study, and both of the practice itself and where it has been applied, and of the operational systems it would be blended into in a new business. This means entering into a systematic process, with vetting including consideration of the details and the requirements for making this practice work.
I write a lot about best practices in this blog and generally keep to the ones I know of that are flexible in their applicability for size and scale of operations, for regulatory requirements and how they can skew operational requirements and efficiencies and other factors. But I would recommend that any proffered best practice be reviewed with care, and that it be test applied if possible and even prototype tested where applicable before a general roll-out (see for example my Management and Strategy by Prototype 1 and its continuation Part 2.)
And with this I repeat a point I have made in previous postings and that merits noting here too:
• If you find a best practice from a novel and unexpected source that does work for you and provide value for you it is likely that you have found what at least for a lead period could be one of your unique value propositions – serving as such until your competitors catch on and find ways to effectively incorporate that practice into their systems too.
So I still strongly endorse a best practices approach. I simply note here that best practices should always be approached with the same due diligence concern as any other organizational change. And that an apparent understanding of that due diligence requirement, or a lack of such understanding can be considered an evaluation criterion for when a consultant or third party provider seeks to bring you to adapt some best practices change that they favor. And this applies for when someone from within your organization tries to bring this type of change too. I freely admit that I am thinking of some specific managers I have observed and worked with for that point, who have set out to empire build through change in their lines in the table of organization and sometimes with care and with a deft hand, but sometimes in haste.
Best practices need to be vetted and the more far reaching their impact within your organization the more important that becomes. One size does not automatically fit all. You need to do your homework to increase at least, the likelihood that you bring in and incorporate the right best practices for your business and its context.