Practice excellence – Best practices or useful practices?

June 27, 2011 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Practice Excellence, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment
We always think and talk of best practices. This term is so commonly used that we instinctively consider it as a gospel truth. But if we just pause and think about the assumptions on which it is based and how far they make sense in real life, it will be an eye opener.
  • The underlying assumptions are,
    There can be a standard solution for a given problem and it is the best way in all situations applicable to any person or a team
  • It can be prescribed by others for us so that our current way of working can be compared to identify the gaps and efforts can be made with an aim to reach the standard way of working
  • This is a comprehensive & complex activity which needs help from internal experts or external consultants

Let us now look at some examples from different aspects of our life and their serious impact on a large number of persons.

  • Recently many newspapers carried the cut-off percentage required for admission to various colleges and how it left few students & their parents happy while a vast majority was frustrated & depressed. Then I saw last evening on TV a nice movie F.A.L.T.U. on the same subject. It raised an important question about what is the real purpose of education and whether it is best served by such ridiculous practices. It then dramatically offered a solution, which may not be practical but brought out the importance of taking care of the needs of the vast majority.
  • Our legal system has borrowed many good practices from other countries and in principal they should be helping majority of the citizens. In reality they seem to be working for the powerful while creating inordinate delays for the vast majority of the people.
  • Nearer home, in software development we have seen proliferation of methodologies & best practices. Each of them seems quite attractive but few people follow them in day to day working. Then we need more practices to audit what the software developers actually do and to force them to follow the standard prescribed policies.

These are just a few examples but if we watch carefully, we can find many more such cases in day to day life. Is it possible that the common assumptions behind all such best practices are the main root cause? Can we start with a different set of assumptions for useful practices and see whether those will help us

  • Useful practices do not offer a standard solution for all situations or for all people / teams; they are context sensitive.
  • During a typical day, each of us goes through so many actions and related decisions about them along with use of right information to support the actions & decisions that it is impossible for any outsider to prescribe best practices for us that we will find useful in different situations. Each of us is also differently inclined regarding our preference for logical, emotional or a combination of the two. Similarly, each of us is also differently inclined towards sensory / intuitive information. With proper help, we can learn to find what suits us as useful practices.
  • This need not be a comprehensive activity with lot of time & resources thrown in. We can do it incrementally, almost organically. Over a period of time we can become adept at doing it almost automatically & effortlessly.

What about the experts & consultants? Do they have any role in this approach? Certainly, they can help us in two ways.

  • They could come up and make available to us generic useful patterns in broad areas of predicting / prioritizing / planning / capturing / sharing / communicating / assessing & so on, along with guidelines for using such patterns.
  • In the absence of changes to the supporting structures (social, legal & cultural) in the relevant system, it is quite difficult for individual practitioners to work smoothly. The experts & consultants could work on finding the right leverage mechanisms and get them implemented so that the inertia is transformed into momentum. In all the three examples mentioned above, a change to such supporting structures is a daunting task and can’t be handled by the practitioners themselves.
To summarize, the practical challenges with best practices can only be tackled by shifting the focus instead to useful practices, from experts & consultants to the practitioners to execute those practices. The experts & consultants have a different yet far more important role to play.
Your views and inputs are valuable; please share them.

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