Best Practices

What are Best Practices?

LL is concerned with determining not only what went right, wrong, and could have been differently, but also to what extent (dimensionally using scales of measurement). At the end of the day what organizations hope to realize are good practices emerging out of the lessons!

Some critics feel that it is important to be careful of the best practices label. In some institutions best practices is the appropriate label, and in other associations it is not. To support this argument, Patton (2001) contends that best practices widespread and indiscriminate use as a term has devalued it both conceptually and pragmatically. Patton (2002) contends there is “pridefulness” in proclaiming that one is practicing what is best; and therefore, one should employ the language of effective practices or evidence-based practices. Not only can a best practices label can be misleading to the item under study, in addition it frequently infers a generalization that might not apply to the rest of the population under study.

The American Society for Quality (ASQ) defines a best practice as “a superior method or innovative practice that contributes to the improved performance of an organization, usually recognized as best by other peer organizations.” While this definition has been widely embraced by quality assurance professionals, Harrison (2004) raises a cautionary note about ASQ’s definition of best practices by drawing attention to “what’s a best practice to begin with.” In other words, why should this be considered a best practice? These perspectives against a “best practices” label are not unique. Many professions avoid the best practices label because of its potential liability to misrepresent current practices.

Body (2006) defines a best practice as “the policy, systems, processes and procedures that, at any given point in time, are generally regarded by peers as the practice that delivers the optimal outcome, such that they are worth of adoption.” Critics argue that many external factors impact the label of best practice—e.g., time, technology and cost.

Kerzner (2004), an internationally renowned expert in PM best practices, defines best practices as “reusable activities or processes that continuously add value to the deliverable of the projects.” Kernzer relates that acceptable best practices can appear in a variety of settings, including working relationships, design of templates and the manner in which PM methodologies are used and implemented. He also argues that companies developing their own best practices methodologies have greater success, particularly when they incorporate their own best practices and LL from other activities. One specific example cited was Computer Associates who capture best practices through their post project assessments (LL).

Despite its widespread use and acceptance, the concept of best practices should not be ignored. Damelio (1995) states best practices are those methods or techniques resulting in increased customer satisfaction when incorporated into the operation. Individuals and organizations on personal and professional levels embrace best practices. Coakes and Clarke (2006) explain a best practice is determined by the stakeholders and producers and may involve many subjective criteria. For example, the speed and technique of changing tires on a racecar is not a transferable best practice for a passenger vehicle. An appropriate best practices label might be “best practices for changing tires on an Indy 500 race car, during the Indy 500 race, using a team of eight highly qualified technicians.”

A commitment to using “good” practices in any field represents a commitment to using the knowledge and technology at their disposal to ensure compliance, i.e., Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP) as evidenced in the pharmaceutical industry. As organizations come to understand the connection between best practices and LL, they should develop systems that support a transfer of knowledge.

Berke (2001) considers LL and best practices as an integral process and defines it as Best Practices Lessons Learned (BPLL). Berke explains that BPLL is the building block of Organization Learning (OL). OL is a pillar in the foundation of an organization’s knowledge. OL embodies organizational development, organizational change and resilience, and thereby organizational maturity. Preskill and Catasambas (2006) define OL as the intention use of learning processes at the individual, group and system level to continuously transform the organization in a direction that is increasingly satisfying to its stakeholders.

Hynnek (2002) claims the majority of the effort in ensuring the success of LL in an organization is contingent upon five factors. Hynnek says organizations should:

  • Recognize and praise good practices.
  • Maintain good practices and extend them to the entire organization.
  • Define solutions for the problems encountered by the project.
  • Generate an action plan for the implementation of these solutions.
  • Track progress on the implementation with ongoing feedback.

Capturing BPLL should minimally address the following:

  • What is the merit, worth or significance of the lesson?
  • Is the lesson explained so that people external to the project understand it?
  • Is the context of the lesson described, i.e., a post-implementation review?
  • Will the lesson help manage a similar project in the future?
  • Does the lesson have broader application than this project?
  • Does the lesson provide new insight?
  • Does the lesson reinforce information already in place or is it contradictory?

The project team should recognize there are six common barriers to defining best practices:

  • Who: includes criteria such as authorship, credibility and experience
  • What: concerns what makes it a best practice and includes values such as usefulness, relevance and necessity
  • Where: looks at the situation, location- and application-specific connections
  • When: outlines when the best practice is engaged and involves aspects such as implementation, duration and expiration
  • Why: addresses the uniqueness, difference and innovativeness
  • How: explores the methodology, procedure and process

Best practices with regards to LL should take into consideration (THE IMPACT OF):

  • What went well in the project and why?
  • What did not go well and why?
  • What should be done differently and why?