Is This Practice Best? | Targetprocess - Visual management software

Best practices. What is that thing? If you ever wanted to make your IT organization run efficiently, like well-lubricated clockwork, then you must have hunted for best practices that other org's have successfully used to resolve the bottleneck which looks exactly the same as the one that causes this itchy sensation inside your brain...

Let's refer to a definition of best practice:

A best practice is a method or a technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark.... Best practice is considered by some as a business buzzword, used to describe the process of developing and following a standard way of doing things that multiple organizations can use.

Take a yet closer look. Does anything strike your eye as incongruent here? To me, there's a mismatch at the bottomline level of formal logic. This definition mentions some abstract "multiple organizations" and is lacking the most essential foundation for trying any practice, be it a best practice, or a humble custom practice that works very well for your particular organization, in your particular business and production environment, and in that part of the world where you happen to be located.

How can we logically assume, that if we copy-paste a best practice from company A to company B, where company A is Google, or Facebook, or Yahoo, and company B is any software product company, then this practice will work 100% as actually "best"?

I've written about best practices before, and on how one has to be careful with them. Recently, in reviewing the Remote book, I tried to highlight how crucial well-tuned async exchanges are for a a company that wants to delve into a remote mode of work. In line with the analogy from agriculture used in the review, farmers somehow know that if they mimic a best practice, it has to be used for a certain kind of soil, under certain climate conditions, or for a certain yearly amount of rainfall and sunshine. Also, this best practice will vary depending on what do they grow: potatoes or corn, or wheat. No farmer would be as crazy as to to use the same fertilizers, or the same cultivation techniques for various plants. However, with organizations, although they are far more diverse than plants, and differ by many more things than climate, sunshine, and rainfall, the common trend is to ignore the subtle differences, put up the banner high and march along chanting: "This Super Mega company is using such and such as a best practice. If they are doing this, and someone has called this "best practice", we don't need to waste time looking and thinking. Let's just replicate what they do". As a side note, I must add that "waste time looking and thinking" stands either for lack of guts to look and think, or being too tired of looking and thinking, and simply wanting to try just anything that seems to work. Or, which isn't that obvious, a quest for best practices might mean that this company has grown fat on their belly and they now have some buffer to play with new things, if this playing seems to compensate the lack of breakthroughs.

Last year, in what appeared to be a very anti-mainstream move, Marrisa Meyer of Yahoo cut an end to the remote looseness that threw out its insidious roots threatening  to strangle the drive and focused work at Yahoo. They showered her with digital rotten tomatoes. However, I applaud Ms. Meyer's insight as she's chosen to act based on her gut feeling and pragmatic analysis of Yahoo's pulse beat. She wasn't preoccupied with whether or not she as a CEO had to waste her time on curtsies, just to re-affirm to the employees that the company trusts them. Probably, she knew that those who could be trusted will understand this act, and those who cannot — they'd quit. However, even with most trusted employees — and that's what Yahoo's case appears to be — there are times when to stand firm and to be united in reaching a crucial goal, they have to cut down on the looseness and just bring people together, because in hard and responsible times the shared energy of the team has to be concentrated in one physical space. Not scattered in residential houses, or weakened by hanging out at home in sweat pants. Have you ever heard of a company that made a breakthrough at a challenging time as they worked remotely? I haven't. All the stories of garage start-ups, or breakthroughs, or some crucial advances have it that people, the teammates, stay close together, and exercise their concentrated will and resolve to accomplish the task at hand. The remote way of working is rather a way to go smoothly with the flow, once the breakthrough is done. Or, a company can use this as a "we do this, too" way of providing a popular perk to the employees.

I used the example of remote work as it appears to be the most common "best practice" example to show how unique contexts require unique practices. To me, there's no such thing as best practice. I always do a health check for any practice, X-raying it with common sense and pragmatism. If someone wants to consider copy-pasting a best practice to their organization, they  need to do a research checking in which context has this company they're copying a best practice from has used it, which culture does this company have, and how close the culture in the recipient organization is to the culture of the practice-donor company. And, as with remote work, how well-thought and tuned for the remote work your processes are. Trust is good, but it's not enough sometimes, as the case with Yahoo shows. With the intrinsic looseness, trust will be tested by swampy slackness , as people might simply lose their gusto and cutting edge for the work. Soldiers in the troops do not stay scattered. They are out in the battlefield, together, fighting for the real thing. It's only when they have their mission completed, then they can relax and get remote from each other.

Which other best practices can be questioned?

See:

Why Self-Organization Is a Luxury

Retrospectives, Part 2: In a Sentimental Mood

Joy Spring and Estimated Deadlines

Getting Closer with Remote