Are “Best Practices” Dragging Your Organization Down?

When APICS invited me to be part of next October’s international conference on best practices for global supply chain and operations management, I started exploring ideas revolving around best practices, including this deceptively simple question:

What is a best practice, anyway?

Many organizations fail to understand the true meaning of “best practice,” erroneously treating this term as synonymous with “staying ahead of the competition.” 

In fact, these organizations are simply following standard practices. After all, what organization is not aiming for increased competitiveness?

To make true industry leadership possible, organizations need to continually evolve, and that includes evolving their so-called best practices: standing still does not make an organization the best at doing whatever it is doing (it takes only one innovator to leave you in the dust).

The miserable truth is that a whole industry exists around the notion of process improvement, and this industry has been oversaturated with the use of “best practice” as a pure buzzword. My point: If you are guilty of “best practice” behavior and are not trying to enhance your processes, you are already behind the eight ball.

So, What Is a Best Practice?
Best practices are practices that others have already tried and implemented in order to enhance processes or to eliminate redundant/ineffective process tasks. According to APICS’ Operations Management Body of Knowledge (OMBOK) framework definition, best practices are “techniques, methods, processes, activities, or other actions in conducting business that are most effective at delivering a particular outcome.”

This is in opposition to an innovative practice, which is a practice that has not been tried or proven by other organizations, and that aims to improve existing processes.

Both best practices and innovative, largely unproven practices need to be present in order to drive organizational evolution. 

How Do We Get to a Truly Best-practice Level? The Great One Knows.
Former hockey star Wayne Gretzky famously innovated by “going where the puck will be.” Business translation: a best practice may not in fact be a best practice if it’s used indiscriminately. The danger of adhering to best-practice orthodoxy is that it may limit organizational stimulation and stifle improvement.

Gretzky’s point was that stardom consists of aiming toward the spot from which the next “game-changer,” or best practice, will emerge. (See also: the Rogers Adoption curve.)

What’s your take? Are your best practices killing you? Take our poll on best practices, and leave your comments below!

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