For more than a decade, companies have been fascinated with the expression “best practices.” We have created best practices libraries and best practices publications. We have advertised our experience with best practices to our clients. We have marketed our best practices libraries in our proposals as part of competitive bidding efforts. We attend workshops with other companies to share our best practices. But now, after a decade or more of use, we are beginning to scrutinize the term. Perhaps better expressions exist.
A best practice begins with an idea that there is a technique, process, method or activity that can be more effective at delivering a desired outcome than any other approach and with fewer problems and unforeseen complications. As a result, we end up with the most efficient and effective way of accomplishing a task based on a repeatable process that has been proven for a large number of people and/or projects over time.
But once this idea has been proven effective, we normally integrate the best practice into our processes so it becomes a standard way of doing business. Therefore, after acceptance and proven use of the idea, it’s possible that the better expression is a “proven practice” rather than a best practice. This is just one argument why best practice is a buzzword and should be replaced by proven practice.
Another argument is that the identification of a best practice could suggest that we were performing some activities incorrectly in the past, which may not have been the case. It may have simply been a more efficient and effective way of achieving a deliverable at one point in time.
Another issue is that some people believe that a best practice implies that there is one and only one way of accomplishing a task. This also may be a faulty interpretation.
One company stated that they have only one best practice, their methodology. They said as they discover best practices, they integrate them into their methodology to the point where they believe that their methodology is their best practice. But since methodologies are subject to continuous improvement efforts, they now believe that they should use the term proven practices instead.
Perhaps in the future, the expression best practices will be replaced by proven practices. However, for now, people are still enamored with the “best practices” expression.