Project Return

The Best Practices Trap



February 9th , 2017

One of the terms used very often by project management practitioners globally is ‘best practices.’ It may be surprising to note that project management itself was considered a best practice about a decade or two ago. Project Management has significantly matured since then. At the drop of a hat, professionals throw umpteen references to best practices into the ring right from pitching for a deal to winning and executing the same.

If one was to give a definition to ‘best practice.’ It could probably mean something when deployed, would provide either value or a competitive edge repeatedly and over time. While there is no official count, I am sure there are quite a few hundred best practices in project management. So far, so good. However, best practices are, in effect groups of methodologies, procedures, concepts and or theories which have been successful in some areas. As a result, a portrayal that these practices are universally applicable is typical. Such a picturization may not be right. Something that works well in a company cannot be ‘copied’ and ‘pasted’ in another enterprise expecting similar results.

Whatever be the reason, it is quite tempting to look for a best practice for every process, service or product. However, there is no guarantee that a best practice remains so always. Before deciding to use any best practice, it may be worth taking note of a few pointers.

1. Understand the Context - Best practices work for a particular organization in a particular market at a given moment. Change one factor -- like, say, recession -- and the best practices suddenly have the potential to become the worst practices you can implement. It's also naive to think you can achieve the same levels of success by following a market leader, even if you follow all of their practices. Do keep in mind that your company has a unique culture and its situation is different. It is beneficial to adapt best practices to suit them.

2. Feasibility Analysis – Sometimes, the "best" may be expensive and time-consuming. Check whether being the best is worth it. Is your client ready to pay for this? Do you have the energy to achieve it?

3. Use common sense - Sometimes best practices just may not be logical. Someone, from a particular industry or geography, may have labeled it "best." Ask yourself – “Does it mean the same to you too?” Review it both critically and strategically before using any best practice.

How about taking a different view on best practices? Relying too much on best practices is akin to giving up on ‘differentiation.’ Would you like to run your business the same way as your competitors? Instead of using best practices (which are also used by your competitors), why don’t we innovate and improve them to create a unique advantage in the marketplace? This approach also guides you in not falling into the trap of doing things in just like the rest of the world.

The bottom line is – One size does not fit all, and the same goes for best practices too!



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