The nonsense was tucked away in a PowerPoint slide, as so much nonsense is. \u201cWe\u2019ll help you institute best practices, followed by a program of continuous improvement,\u201d the offending bullet said.\n\nNow, I\u2019m willing to shrug at a bit of harmless puffery from time to time. And maybe this puffery was harmless. But I don\u2019t think so.\n\nAs my pappy used to say, \u2018If someone sells this and someone else buys it, they have something in common: They\u2019re both schmucks.\u2019 Even ignoring the two-schmucks-in-a-pond aspect of the situation, the whole premise of \u201cbest practices\u201d isn\u2019t just flawed, it\u2019s fraud \u2014 that should be avoided at all costs. It\u2019s a phrase that pretends to provide value when it\u2019s really inserting nothing but noise into the signal.\n\nThe idea of \u201cbest practices\u201d is deeply wrong for these reasons: (1) It\u2019s argument by assertion, not evidence and logic; (2) \u201cbest\u201d is contextual, not absolute; and (3) it encourages stasis by precluding innovation.\n\nArgument by assertion\n\nWhen you read or are told a particular way of doing things is best practice, do you ask what the criteria are for awarding it best-practice status? Or, for that matter, who the governing body is that\u2019s authorized to give out the award?\n\nIn the rare cases where there is a governing body \u2014 ITIL is an example \u2014 best practices aren\u2019t what they offer. What governing bodies more often provide are \u201cframeworks,\u201d which are lists of practices, not actual how-to assistance.\n\nIf you have asked, you\u2019ve probably discovered that there is no such group. What there is in its place is self-proclaimed authority. Here\u2019s how that works out:\n\nImagine the situation at hand isn\u2019t about running IT or a business \u2014 it\u2019s about curing intense abdominal agony, for which surgically removing the vermiform appendix is, you\u2019re told while lying in your bed of pain, best practice. An industry consultant tells you so, buttressing their argument by laying out three case studies in which appendix removal successfully eliminated the abdominal distress. It\u2019s best practice!\n\nExcept it isn\u2019t, because, sadly, they lost a few patients along the way. There are, as it turns out, lots of different types of intense abdominal pain, most of which aren\u2019t appendix-related. Somehow or other these weren\u2019t written up as case studies.\n\nBest is contextual\n\nAs has been pointed out in this space before, processes and practices have six dimensions of possible optimization, and because they trade off you can only optimize no more than three of them.\n\nFor any given practice, different organizations need to optimize different combinations of these dimensions. A process or practice whose optimization goals are, for example, cycle time and quality will be designed quite differently from one designed to optimize for unit cost and excellence.\n\nWhich makes designing any one process or practice that\u2019s best in all situations no more possible than designing any one anything else that\u2019s best in all situations.\n\nStasis over innovation\n\nCall me Captain Literal, but \u201cbest\u201d? Really?\n\nLook, if we\u2019re supposed to take someone at their word, their word should mean what it\u2019s supposed to mean. So a best practice should be, by definition, a practice that can\u2019t be improved on.\n\nAs a leader and as a manager, the last thing you ought to be doing is encouraging the attitude that the way you do things, or the way you\u2019re going to do things once you\u2019ve installed a new practice, is that there\u2019s no place for innovative thinking.\n\nBut that\u2019s what the phrase tells them.\n\nSo don\u2019t use it.\n\nWhere do you go from here?\n\nWhen you decide you need to improve your organization\u2019s practices, starting from scratch doesn\u2019t make sense either. Surely there must be a way to learn from the experience of other organizations.\n\nThere surely is, and it\u2019s probably obvious to you if you\u2019ve read this far.\n\nIf you\u2019re on the proposing side of such things, banish the phrase \u201cbest practice\u201d from your vocabulary. When you\u2019re tempted to use it, describe the practice you\u2019re proposing as a \u201cproven practice\u201d or \u201cwell-tested practice\u201d instead, assuming you and your teams have enough experience to justify the claim.\n\nIf you\u2019re on the buying side of the equation and someone uses it as part of their attempt to persuade you to embrace their way of doing things, stick your fingers in your ears and sing, La la la la la! I can\u2019t hear you! La la la la la!\n\nIt is, after all, just noise.\n\nIf you\u2019re looking for a better way of doing things, and like the practice in question as described and are explaining why you\u2019ve chosen to implement it, go beyond banishing the phrase.\n\nReplace it with this dictum: There\u2019s no such thing as best practices, only practices that fit best.\n\nAnd make sure you\u2019ve evaluated the practice in question so you\u2019re confident it does fit your organization best.\n\nIs that best practice for practice improvement?\n\nProbably not.\n\nBut it\u2019s a pretty good one.