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Myth – Best Practices are Not always the Best.

It would seem that Best Practices, that is, the best way found to do work in an industry, would improve your business. But just the opposite may be true.


Best practices are the best of the past.


Best practices are good placeholders of how it used to be. At best they can be the backstop that prevents decay into past lower performance levels. Without defined best practices, there is no record of the best of that moment. Best practices are great recognition of the “status quo”.  The problem lies in the comfort that “best” brings.  If I am the “best”, why work harder?  There is no one any better. That may be true today; but it will not be true forever.


Before Roger Bannister, there was no sub 4-minute mile. It was believed to be a physical impossibility. Today the world record is 3:43.13 minutes. It took Steve Jobs to convert the “Walkman” into the iPod. Look at the growth in that segment. If you consider smartphones in a similar family, we went from cassette tapes to a miniature computer with more power than a workstation of a decade ago, that we carry in our pockets or purses.


Another way best practices limit improvement is when viewed as the best that anyone can do. That makes the best practice the upper limit on performance.


This limiting also happens with regulations that specify technological solutions. The regulations specify what is the upper limit on performance at the time, capping any improvement in performance over time. The regulation becomes the target. Any effort expended for performance beyond that required by the regulation is a waste of stockholder resources. So the minimum becomes a target and creates a limit on future improvement.


Human nature is lazy. So defining a “Best Practices” can also create complacency. If I use the best practices, then nothing can go wrong. I cannot be faulted in my actions. There is no need for improvement, which is blatantly false.


Yes, those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat the failures. However, learning is not the rote repetition espoused by the standard testing processes in education today. It is using the lessons of the past to build upon in creating solutions that make step-change improvements to address the causes of the current issues.


To make the change that historians  (if only the historians of your company) capture requires understanding and building from the current best practices to create new processes that move the technology forward.


Best practices create better starting points for improvement. Continuous improvement makes it better.




So use the Best Practice today; then better it tomorrow.