The software industry has developed entire offerings around the notion of best practices. Every ERP, CRM package applications come pre-loaded with the industry best-practices. But has anyone defined what best practices mean?
A study by Cornell asked this question and has found some pretty troubling realities. The challenges and politics involved in creating best practices might make them not best practices at all. Instead, they become a ""compromise of practices"". The basic practices a group of people with disparate background and agendas could agree on.
Creation by committee?
The research points out the difficulties in defining the best practices for any given field. If you sat down 15 people within your own organization and tried to define the best way to run it, you would get lots of different viewpoints. What if the same people where from different organizations?
It is easy for a committee to play it safe and agree on only the practices that will be easy to explain and to sell. Or on the other side to develop best practices that are a compromise of different practices.
The challenge comes from the difficulty of identifying, classifying, packaging and selling best practices. A group with financial stake in the project might glorify its own practices even if they are found to be inappropriate later on. The authors suggest that open-source approaches might be more realistic and appropriate.
Good enough practice?
Does it mean that all best practices are wrong or inappropriate? So-called best practices can build maturity quickly. This can definitely be appropriate for processes and systems that are not core to the organization.
Perhaps we should stop defining them as best practices but instead perhaps as ""good enough"" practices.
1. Wagner, Erica L., V. Susan Scott, and Robert D. Galliers. 2006. “The creation of ‘best practice’ software: Myth, reality and ethics.” Information and Organization 16(3): 251-275. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S1471772706000121.