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Get rid of “Best Practice” Bingo once and for all


Yesterday I was in a Business Referral Group meeting and the term “best practice” came up.

It wafted across the table and went straight up my nose.

The meeting was nearly over and I’d made a big enough menace of myself that day to launch into my tirade on “best practice”, so I’ll let you hear it now. It might change the way you think.

When someone tells you they have implemented “Industry Best Practice”, what do you think?

I’m guessing something like: “Oh that is nice,” or “I wish we could do that,” or “We tried that and it didn’t work,” and so on.

The fact is, and this may take some convincing for some people, THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS BEST PRACTICE.

Of course, it could be argued that the mere fact that someone has gone to the trouble of putting those words together — “best practice” – is evidence that it must exist. Well, that is correct. What I am talking about is the inaccuracy of the concept when touted as something you should strive to attain.

Without knowing it until relatively recently, I come from a school of thought known as “context driven”.

The dramatically synopsised explanation of the context driven school of thought is that “there are no best practices, only appropriate practices for a particular context”. In other words, what works for you is all well and dandy, but I don’t expect it to work for me and my context without some adjustment.

One of my heroes is James Bach at Satisfice. He’s using “context driven” thinking in the field of software testing to help ensure that the software we get is less crappy — not perfect, less crappy — and appropriate for your context. Sounds appealing doesn’t it?

“Best practice” worship is lazy and fraught with pitfalls.

If you go shopping for “best practice” for your business and your life, you are buying into a lie and I guarantee you’ll experience pain.

You’ll enter into what I call “the dance of deception”.

The vendor will say something like, “Blardy blah is best practice for you and what you need. So and so has it and look how successful they are. It will cost you a bazillion dollars.”

And you’ll say, “Wow!” but think ‘That’s bullshit and too expensive. I know I don’t need all that and my life/business is nothing like so and so’s.’

Bang! Right there the dance has started. If you actually like what they are selling, the pair of you will start manoeuvring around the vagaries of “best practice” and potentially enter into an ill-defined agreement, which will result in neither of you being happy.

Humans work with their current context all the time. You probably just don’t think about it when something appealing is put in front of you. You may take the easy road because handling the context and variations of a new situation is hard work.

Bad drivers are “best practice” worshippers — they obey rules, ignoring what is going on around them. Good drivers constantly analyse their context on the road, anticipate and make adjustments to get where they are going safely. The rules, for them, are a starting point.

I know thinking is old fashioned. However, I urge you, for your own good, the next time you have “best practice” wafted in front of your face, step back and smell the power of context and have a little think before charging ahead.

David Moore has 25 years experience in the computer industry and is now Principle PC Hater at ihatemypc.com.au.

Photo: Keees