If best practices aren’t actually best, then why do they exist? What is the point of process, of practices, of standards even, if they don’t reliably produce good results? While some standards have value, and there are simple situations where there might be a best way of doing things, when it comes to the strategic work that we take on, we are far removed from those statements being true. Even when we want there to be a way of working, one that is consistent and repeatable, the reality we find ourselves in is usually very different. It helps to know what to draw on instead if we are going to be successful.
Process is important. It provides useful and relevant guidance on how to get things done. And yet process can also be a crutch, particularly when we presume the real world works exactly as the process prescribes. For process to be useful, then, we need to rethink how we relate to process.
There is a subset of the population that is in love with the idea of “best practices.” It is incredibly appealing to believe that there is one right way of doing things. Simply calling something “best practice” is to implicitly make it unassailable. And yet how we think about best practices says a lot more about the person that it does about the practice.
Culture change is hard. And we would prefer not to deal with the hard stuff. All too often, we want to be able to define what we expect, and have behaviours and culture norms to line up behind that. Sadly, it doesn’t work that way. Cultural transition is possible, but process doesn’t drive culture. Although culture will determine what process is possible.
Beliefs and principles are useful. They guide us when we are dealing with unknowns and uncertainty. They also get in the way, because they blind us to being aware of when they stop working. This is particular true of process, where ideology often gets in the way of adaptation and a recognition of what works here (or what won’t).
While models can be awesomely useful, they are ultimately just constructs that were created because they were relevant to someone at some point. What’s more important is understanding where our models come from in the first place: how they are created, how they evolve and what they connect back to. We forget their underpinnings at our peril. But unfortunately we do that a little too often.