Quality #8: Best Practices are Contextual

by Tanmay Vora on November 18, 2009

Welcome to the eighth post in this 12-part series on QUALITY, titled #QUALITYtweet – 12 Ideas to Build a Quality Culture.

Here are the first seven posts, in case you would like to go back and take a look:

  1. Quality #1: Quality is a long term differentiator
  2. Quality #2: Cure Precedes Prevention
  3. Quality #3: Great People + Good Processes = Great Quality
  4. Quality #4: Simplifying Processes
  5. Quality #5: Customers are your “Quality Partners”
  6. Quality #6: Knowing what needs improvement
  7. Quality #7: Productivity and Quality

#QUALITYtweet The best practices are contextual – they

worked well for someone in a given context. Are you

applying them in the right context?

Imagine a doctor prescribing a standard medicine based on common symptoms without carefully analyzing other ailments and patient history. A doctor knows the best medicine to cure a particular ailment, but he would look at a patient’s context and then decide if the “best medicine” is really best for a particular patient.

Process managers play a role of doctors for the organizations. They have to identify all possible problems (symptoms) and then suggest a solution (medicine). Best medicines for different types of ailments are termed as “best practices” in business.

Best practices are a set of processes that, in a given context, have the best likelihood of delivering quality products or services. In equation of context identification, some of the variables are:

  • Your goals as an organization
  • Market segment you operate in
  • Your target customers
  • Nature of your product / services
  • Types of customer you already serve
  • Team capabilities and internal alignment
  • Management commitment and sponsorship to improvement initiatives
  • External market pressures (e.g. recession)

The list can go on. Best practices often tend to ignore these variables because they worked in past for someone in a particular context. Their context may be different, but never a static one. Implementing best practice without considering organization’s context is like prescribing a standard medicine without looking into symptoms. Both can be equally dangerous!

So how are best practices useful? Studying best practices can give you some very useful insights on possible solutions for your business challenge. They offer alternative perspectives on ideas that can minimize your risks.

For process improvement experts, having access to best practices can be their biggest asset. But their ability to apply those best practices in an organization’s context is absolutely mandatory for success. As a professional, there is no fun in having a best practice for everything and a solution for nothing!

As an organization, you can leverage best practices by carefully studying them and mapping with your unique business challenges. For this, improvement managers need to understand nuts and bolts of business. Once the context is understood, best practices can become your best guide so that you don’t have to re-invent the wheel. Depending on context, you can either implement a best practice as it is or select portions of a best practice that can be most useful for your context.

Simply believing that a best practice will work for you just because it worked for someone else in the past and applying them in vacuum can harm you more than it can help.

There are no silver-bullets in business and things like context and innovation does play a huge role. As one of the Dilbert comic says – “If everyone is doing it, best practices is the same thing as mediocre”.

Tanmay VoraTanmay is a Software Quality Management professional based out of India. He hosts QAspire Blog and tweets as @tnvora. He is also an author of the book #QUALITYtweet – 140 Bite-Sized Ideas to Deliver Quality in Every Project
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