There is no such thing as “best practices.” None. That’s a lie. It’s confusing too, as we seek to find some solution or methodology that is superior to any other. But that doesn’t exist. Let’s talk about why “best practices” are a complete myth.
Definition of Best Practice
“a procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption” per Merriam-Webster
I teach. Often students ask me what guideline, methodology, or approach they should take. They’re confused as they read a book or article that declares XYZ is the best practice but then another journal declares that ABC is the best practice.
Wait. Both can’t be right. Therein lies the problem.
Which one is the definitive “best practice”? Which one should you follow?
Who Decides the Definitive Best Practice?
There are authorities in every profession, those who have risen through the ranks and speak from experience. This expert person talks from her or his unique perspective, drawing from the output and outcome of what s/he has witnessed to work and not work.
There are thousands or even millions of authorities. Each has value. Each can share a different aspect that may benefit us in some context.
Who is to say that expert 1’s way is better than expert 2 and so on?
Think about it on a global scale. What centralized power decides that XYZ is a better practice than ABC or MNO or 123? Who has that authority?
It doesn’t exist.
It’s the best practice for that person or group of people.
Instead, it’s the best practice for that person or group of people. It fits their experience, expertise, and the way they work, think, and create.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Throughout my career, I’ve worked with different diverse and cross-functional teams. I’ve served as a consultant for many different companies.
Here’s a fact: each team and company has a different way of working. They have their standards and processes. For them, these are their best practices. It’s local to them.
Think about what I just said. Each team has its best practices, a collective set of guidelines and workflows for how they work and the product they produce. It fits their culture, business processes, mission, and team. It’s theirs. It fits them.
There is no one-size fits all. There is no one absolute solution to a problem.
One Problem = Many Solutions
Take programming paradigms as a baseline. Some will argue that functional is the best approach, while others will fight you tooth and nail to exclaim that Object-Oriented is the only way to go.
Put 100 engineers into one room from different backgrounds and cultures. Ask them to solve one problem. You will get a plethora of solutions, many of which will elegantly solve the same problem but in a different way. Which one is the best?
A best practice is not a global guideline, but rather an internal one for the specific team or group.
The right answer belongs to the group itself. A best practice is not a global guideline, but rather an internal one for the specific team. It’s best because it’s been built for the internals of that company and team. It fits how they work. It fits the way they want their products built for their clients. It fits their business structure and processes. In other words, it fits them best.
You may think it’s inconsequential to use that term. But it has side effects.
Remember, it’s your best practice. Someone else in the world may have a better approach.
It’s confusing to someone who is seeking to learn or improve. Which one do they pick?
Best practice is being interpreted as the authority, the absolute definitive guideline. Thou shalt do it like this…period. But that’s not true.
I’ve seen engineering teams drive their costs up and output down by attempting to adopt the latest new approach or methodology. It can be costly.
It can suppress ingenuity and creativity. We become blind to other ways and solutions. We merely walk down the same road in the same way, albeit to mitigate variation. But it can cost us the opportunities to grow, improve, fine-tune, and innovate. We can become stagnant.
As an individual, team, or company, we can use a collective approach to select elements of what authorities, experts, and thought leaders are sharing with us. We can collectively select that which fits us to build our internal guidelines, standards, and processes.
We can continue to fine-tune and hone our approach within our own context, while tapping into the experiences of what others have already incurred, learned, and maximized. We can choose to select what fits our workflow, team, products, and company.
Wrap it Up
We, as leaders, need to use caution when deeming anything to be a “best practice”.
While it may be your best practice, I can guarantee that someone else in the entire world has a better approach. Theirs might even be more efficient, streamlined, and practical.