Best Practices are often used to describe a process, a work procedure, some type of experience, activities or methods which have been demonstrated to work repetitively well in the past in term of achieving their goal in a very effective, efficient and safe way. Best practices are very specific to a domain, to a circumstance, to an environment and to a time period. They are often captured in documents and stored in a best practices repository. They emerge out of lessons learned, after action reviews or retrospect. They can be used as a benchmark (Cf. Benchmark article in this issue) for other units or by external companies.
Everything seems wonderful when described as above, but in fact the term and use of best practices raises some issues. First of all, the use of the term “Best” implies absolutism, meaning that it cannot be done in a better way. The supporters of Kaizen and the continuous process improvement methodology should not be too happy about such a concept! We all know that anything we do can always be improved upon, furthermore, people are always hesitant to classify or define their practices as “Best” since they feel that what they have done does not deserve such a label. So, I would recommend organizations to use the term “Good practices” instead: it is less intimidating, and it leaves the door open for improvement. The second issue I would like to raise is, if a practice is characterized as “best”, why do we tend to store it into a best practices repository rather than turning it directly into a work procedure that will become a standard on how to perform a job? Best practices repositories are notorious for their few visitors and low usage, and I believe that what is “best” should be used and not left on the shelf just for display!
The last issue I would like to raise about best practices is that they have a tendency to undermine creativity and innovation. If people believe something is best, it already limits their ability to look for new approaches and opportunities. The US government had launched the idea of “Promising practices”, a concept that I particularly like. A promising practice is defined as an innovative reinvention activity, that has worked and that could be used by anyone when considering to take a similar action/activity. Promising practices are more than just ideas: they have already been implemented with some degree of success and/or novelty and are labeled as “promising” to raise awareness about their potential value, opening the door for further creativity and innovation. So I believe that organizations should focus on inviting employees to submit promising and good practices and convert what they believe as being best into standard procedures.
And finally, I would also like to add that “Worst” or “Bad practices” as well as “Unpromising practices” will also be of value to organizations, since we always learn more from our mistakes than from our successes, and since not repeating our mistakes has a lot of advantages!