Best practice

The other day I was in a meeting where I was told that something was “best practice”.

I hate it when I’m told this. When one digs further, you almost always find the statement covers up something that is certainly not best. In my experience, best practice is usually a defensive statement rather than an accolade.

There are two problems with best practice.

The first is getting to accurate data about best in the first place. One trick that’s used frequently is getting an analyst to assess your capabilities in some dimension and have them make the appropriate pronouncement. That, however, is a path that is fraught. Analysts, as pointed out by Chris Skinner, are frequently not as well informed as might be imagined.

By the way, if you’ve slavishly copied a white-paper, assuming one exists, you’ve not implemented “best”, only “same”.

So how to prove best? The only reliable way is to ring everyone up in your peer group and ask.  That’s assuming you know whom to ring, and that what you’re asking about isn’t commercially sensitive.  Naturally, if one is bothered enough to be rolling out the best-practice defence it almost certainly means that whatever-it-is is commercially sensitive.

Getting the data to prove best is problematic.

But the second problem with best, regardless of whether it’s easily proved or not, is that it makes it harder to argue for improvements. Why on earth move forward when you already have an advantage over everyone else that you can keep just by standing still?

Investment cases are so much easier to support when you have to achieve “parity” with competitors. When you are already better than them (at least, you are saying you are), the money is better spent elsewhere.
It is always possible to make incremental improvements. Toyota is one of the leading car manufacturers in the world, and all on the back of incremental innovation. Does anyone imagine they are stopping the process of improvement?

Never use the term “best practice”. It is a defence of the indefensible, followed by long term lock-in to the same.

3 Responses to“Best practice”

  1. April 16, 2008 at 10:51 am #

    Good call! It’s in these knots of habitual workplace vocabulary and corporate-speak shibboleths that big problems with how we work are rooted.
    You challenge lazy terminology like this as it comes out of your own mouth (or keyboard) and those of others and you tighten up your thinking, your attitude, the way you work.
    A good friend and colleague pulled me up on “best practice” about a year ago and I’ve resisted it ever since…

  2. April 17, 2008 at 7:34 am #

    Best practise is a euphemism for “most common practise”. But by including the word ‘best’ the inference is that it cannot be wrong.
    Great point.

  3. April 17, 2008 at 9:36 am #

    You are both so right, and most common practice isn’t going to get anyone much competetive advantage, really.

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