Best (mal)Practices?

What if I tried to sell you on the notion of “best practices” as just a bunch of superfluous hogwash?  You know, the kind of waste another best practice – Lean’s “Eliminate Waste” principle, attempts to eradicate.  I’d try hard to convince you of the uselessness of pair-programming, ineffectiveness of test-driven development, or the wastefulness of the more appropriately named Sick Sigma. “You’re just wasting time and money”, I would plead.

You might try to convince me otherwise by showing how it’s clearly possible for a best practice, like SWOT, in helping a naturally deliberate person find his new career path (read part 1 and part 2 first), or how there’s not a lack for imagination in applying Theory of Constraints to electronic trading.  Heck, you could even remind me of my own past success with Charles Handy’s Sigmoid Curve, or the undeniable boost in software quality brought by test-driven development.

Backpedaling, I would formulate my own rebuttal, including convincing and equally dizzying material from David Snowden on best practices in complex adaptive systems.  “Those examples worked because the system was ordered!”, I’d bark.

I had the pleasure of listening to David Snowden speak on the issue of effectiveness in Complex Adaptive Systems.   He suggests to lay off best practices, particularly in knowledge management when applied to complex domains.  To understand why, simply imagine what comes of trying ‘to fit the square peg to a round hole’.   A best practice represents a codification of knowledge, and “knowledge cannot be entirely codified”.  He instead advocates using approaches which promote the discovery of shared context:

“…shared context is vital to knowledge exchange, and such context always involves some human trusted validation.  This is not to say that codification of material in advance of need is not advantageous, but the effective reference is nearly always human.” – David Snowden

Returning to our discussion, the lightbulb finally goes off for the both of us.  “To boost effectiveness in complex domains, practices need to be adaptive and promote continuous feedback, the software industry must have known this all along when they moved away from predictive practices towards adaptive ones like Agile”, I conclude.  To which you respond,  “yes, but even David Snowden suggests there’s still plenty of value to glean from a best practice.”


Visit the newest version of Boost Practices – the strengths based knowledge worker practice tool:



3 thoughts on “Best (mal)Practices?

  1. Yves says:

    Hi Sergio,

    I would suggest the following statement to complete your post on best (mal)practices. All the tools and approaches surrounding us, like SWOT, Hedgehog Concept, MBTI, Agile, Kanban and the likes, are as good as the people using them.

    Like any other framework or methodology, the real distinctive element between getting the very best out of it, versus heading for disaster is… the user.

    I hope you will have a chance to read part 1 and 2 of my story. Part 3 of this piece is giving you only one perspective on a much more complex system I dealt with.

  2. Sergio says:

    Hi Yves,
    Thanks for your comment. I couldn’t agree with you more regarding practices being only as good as the people using them. I hope i did not imply that any of these practices are ‘silver bullets’ in their own right, because as you say, they are only as good as the people using them.

    I absolutely enjoyed part 1 and 2 of your series when they first came out. For the benefit of other readers I will include links to them as SWOT represents only a fraction of the thorough process you followed in reaching your decision.

  3. Carlinda says:

    This atrilce went ahead and made my day.

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