Best Practices are Contraindicated for Improvement

** Valuable input related to statistical theory was provided Allen Scott for this post

The concept of “Best Practices,” is often the well-intentioned aim of many best efforts (see We are Being Ruined by Best Intentions and Best Efforts).  Upon reflection, for several reasons, “Best practices” is contraindicated for any goal that aims to continually improve.

1.  “Best Practices” is a misnomer.  Best practices means this those practices are the standard adn are what should be done.  If not, it suggests operating procedures are being done incorrectly or have there are problematic processes.  This means implementing “Best Practices” will fix problems and get things back to where they should be.  This also means these efforts do not actually “improve.”  Our goals should be to exceed expectations – see video.

2. “Best Practices” implies an end point, that is, once the best practices are adopted – we are done.  Adopting “Best Practices” cannot lead to the best outcomes, over the longer term, because conditions constantly change and these changing conditions means practices must be continually improved.  It is for this reason, practices should be assessed or monitored using Process Behavior Charts** regularly so efforts can be continually improved.  The idea of “Best Practices” runs counter to the idea of continual improvement.

3. Best practices are always contextual, that is they depend on the circumstances.  What is being understood as best practices were best for where they were developed and used but may not apply to the situation where they are being applied.

4. Even more concerning about “Best Practices” is the idea that supposed best practices are being implemented on top of current practices before the existing processes are assessed and understood.  This means efforts could be considered full scale tampering. How could it be known whether these “Best Practices” were not already being used?  Additionally, this type of tampering is problematic because we are adjusting the processes based on the results instead of first understanding the existing process.  Tampering always results in greater variation and worse results, most notably over the longer term.

Instead, study successful practices that led to desired outcomes. In addition, at the same time, it is important to learn more about current processes to see how to improve existing efforts rather than tamper with those processes.  This can be done by conducting research and empowering those involved by getting them real-time information about relevant processes by having them Flow Chart their processes and showing them how to use process behavior charts.  This information help them understand how to improve their processes as it relates to the overall system.  Improving the system will help not only with the project at hand, it will also help the organization become a national model  because it will help the organization more effectively achieve its mission and as a by-product have higher profitability, improved employee morale, higher customer satisfaction, lower wastes and be more likely to create pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

Many points captured here are expressed in this updated version of the video about how to Exceed Expectations.  Enjoy.

5. If needed, here is more information about the theory of variation (statistical theory):

**Walter Shewhart discovered two causes of variation in any process that changes over time:

 • Common causes — causes that are inherent in a system (process or product) over time, affect everyone working in the system and affect all outcomes of the system. 

• Special causes — causes that are not always part of a system (process or product) or do not affect everyone, but arise because of specific circumstances.

If only common causes of variation are present, the system is stable or predictable, it has an identity, and prediction of future performance is possible, with a high degree of belief.  When Special or assignable causes are present, this makes the system unstable and unpredictable.  This means we will not be able to accurately predict future performance of the system.

Shewhart created a tool most recently called the Process Behavior Chart to separate the two sources of variation and guide the action of management. Understanding the source of variation directs action by management. If this theory of variation is not understood, most attempts at improvement (in stable systems) will fail and many will make things worse. W. Edwards Deming called these actions without knowledge “tampering.” Applied, Shewhart theory will help us to realize no amount of care, skill, and hard work  will overcome fundamental flaws in our system. If we keep doing what we are doing, we will keep getting about what we are getting. Feedback from current and especially past successes and failures will also be critical information for systemic change. The problems cannot be understood or evaluated without the aid of statistical theory and the effects of any attempt at improvement cannot be evaluated without statistical methods. 

I look forward to hearing about how you continually improve your processes so you are able to generate comprehensive improvements by creating pervasive, reciprocal, selfish, selfless, synergistic interactions so everyone and everything benefits.

Help make it a Great Week for everyone and everything!

Be Well’r,
Craig Becker

Be selfish, selfless, & synergistic so everyone and everything benefits!

Contact me at:





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: