Moving Away from Best Practices

by Mike Shipulski

Moving Away from Best Practices - Innovation Excellence

If the work is new, there is no best practice.

When you read the best books you’ll understand what worked in situations that are different than yours. When you read the case studies you’ll understand how one company succeeded in a way that won’t work in yours. The best practices in the literature worked in a different situation, in a different time and under a different cultural framework. They won’t work best for you.

Just because a practice worked last time doesn’t mean it’s a best practice this time. More strongly, just because it worked last time doesn’t mean it was best last time. There may have been a better way.

When a problem has high urgency it should be solved in a fast way, but if urgency is low, the problem should be solved in an efficient way. Which way is best? If the consequences of getting it wrong are severe, analyses and parallel solutions are skillful, but if it’s not terribly important to get it right, a lower cost way is better. But is either the best way?

The best practices found in books are usually described a high level of abstraction using action words, block diagrams, and arrows. And when described at such a high level, they’re not actionable. You may know all the major steps, but you won’t know how each step should be done. And if the detail is provided, the context of your situation is different and the prescriptive steps don’t apply.

Instead of best practices, think effective practices. Effective because the people doing the work can do it effectively. Effective because it fits with the capability and capacity of the people doing the work. Effective because it meshes with existing processes and projects.  Effective because it fits with your budget, timeline and risk profile. Effective because it fits with your company values.

Because all our systems are people systems, there are no best practices.

image credit: scorpiomasonry.com

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mike-shipulskiMike 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.

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