3 Reasons Why I don’t Like “Best Practices”

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In my line of business, the term “Best Practices” is very common. It is an abbreviation for the sum of all experiences people have made, condensed into how-to instructions, (design or behavior) patterns, lessons learned documents, and so on, written into a “Best Practices” document.

In my mind, the term is a dangerous exaggeration of what is really delivered.

  1. Every practice is tuned to its context. It may be best for the special circumstances in which it has been developed. Once you take it into a sufficiently different context, it will not be the best possible solution for the new context. On the contrary, a practice can be counter-productive if applied out of context.
  2. The word “best” is a superlative which implies that no better solution is available. This is contrary to the principle of continuous improvement. Besides, over the time, even a truly best practice will meet changing conditions. With other words, no context stays constant in the long haul. Which points back to number 1.
  3. “Practice” means to do something. Writing down what you do adds a layer of indirection which already changes the context. You can document your own experience, but other people will not have the same experiences when they mimic what is written in a “best practice” document. What we do can surely be inspired by other people’s know-how, but we need to do it on our own to truly learn.

This is the alternative: only use the term “good practice.” At least, this implies that there can be something even better. In that sense, Lean Self is also only a collection of good practices. Look at them, understand them, apply them  your own context. But do not try to mimic them without adaptation.

What do you think? Would you like to share your “best practices” in a comment?

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