There are no best practices, only actions that have worked for others in other situations. Yet we feverishly seek them out, apply them out of context, and expect they’ll solve a problem unrelated to their heritage.
To me, the right practices are today’s practices. They’re the base camp from which to start a journey toward new ones. To create the next evolution of today’s practices, for new practices to emerge, a destination must be defined. This destination is dictated by problems with what we do today. Ultimately, at the highest level, problems with our practices are spawned by gaps, shortfalls, or problems in meeting company objectives. Define the shortfall – 15% increase in profits – and emergent practices naturally diffuse to the surface.
There are two choices: choose someone else’s best practices and twist, prune, and bend them to fit, or define the incremental functionality you’d like to create and lay out the activities (practices) to make it happen. Either way, the key is starting with the problem.
The important part – the right practices, the new activities, the novel work, whatever you call it, emerges from the need.
It’s a problem hierarchy, a problem flow-down. The company starts by declaring a problem – profits must increase by 15% – and the drill-down occurs until a set of new action (new behaviors, new processes, new activities) is defined that solves the low level problems. And when the low level problems are solved, the benefits avalanche to satisfy the declared problem – profits increased by 15%.
It’s all about clarity — clearly define the starting point, clearly define the destination, and express the gaps in a single page, picture-based problem statements. With this type of problem definition, you can put your hand over your mouth, with the other hand point to the picture, and everyone understands it the same way. No words, just understanding.
And once everyone understands things clearly, the right next steps (new practices) emerge.
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Mike Shipulski brings together people, culture, and tools to change engineering behavior. He writes daily on Twitter as @MikeShipulski and weekly on his blog Shipulski On Design.