Recently, I’ve been thinking through a phenomenon of ‘best practice’ and how we use that phrase in describing what we do. It seems especially prevalent in IT system design. Clients are quick to disregard their own way of working, asking instead for the ‘industry leading best practice’. They want to know how everyone else does things. Then copy it*
I worry about this. Firstly, most consultants, who aren’t really thinking properly, will probably hear ‘best practice’ and think ‘what I’ve done in the past’. For system-designy-type consultants, they’ll hear “what I specify and design most often”. Worse than that, they might hear “What I did last”.
We all have a tendency to overestimate what we’ve done in the past, and consider that it works well. Even if we don’t call it best practice, we all consider what we’ve done to be more effective than it is. It’s called the ‘comfort zone’ cognitive bias.
As a consultant, I try as hard as I can to keep everything I’ve ever done before within a realistic context. I need to make sure that what I’m thinking of doing for my current client suits THEM, not someone I used to work with. Actually, when It comes to organisational change management, each client situation is vastly different, because each client’s culture, working practices and the personalities are all different. Part of what we do is ‘getting’ these things and creating a set of actions an interventions that are appropriate.
* (PS), I personally think that by following ‘best practice’ as defined by someone else, or worse, by an ERP implementation company; you’ll end up LIKE that someone else. To work efficiently, define your own culture and beat the opposition: find your own way. If you’re thinking that this seems to bring in to question what we consultants do, then in part you’re right, but in part you’re wrong. What we do well is understand these things and can bring them to the table, whilst helping organisations transform in their own way, at their own pace.