When best practices are not best

There is no instant pudding” – so said W. Edwards Deming. What he was referring to was the human penchant to want to copy things that worked elsewhere in the belief that they would have the same results in your business. People wanting a formula for, in his case, ‘quality’.

These days we call them ‘best practices’. Just because you adopt the best practices for a particular industry does not mean you will be successful though.

This is also pertinent for businesses adopting agile ‘methodologies’. A methodology is really just another name for a best practice.

I often hear people say that they are adopting the way that [insert current successful company] works. This ignores that fact that that company’s way of working has evolved (and continues to evolve) based on their (evolving) context.

Best practices (and methodologies) should be treated as a theory about work (and outcomes) in a specific context. Nothing more. All theories have to be tested. Do they allow you to make meaningful predictions about outcomes in your context? If they don’t the ‘best practice’ isn’t for you.

In Deming’s books he outlined 14 points (principles) for quality and transformation. The agile manifesto has 12 Principles. In business we should be focussing on principles, and use the scientific method to guide the operationalisation of any practices or methodologies so we can evaluate them in our context.

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