Good, Better, Best Practice

This is a guest post by Bill Flury

A good idea

We were discussing how we could get started with the business of process improvement.  Somebody said:

“Hey! I’ve got a great idea! The Quality folks are always telling us that we should lookout for better ways to do things. Let’s hold a series of best practice workshops and see what ideas people bring us. “

We agreed that we should test the idea by each of us calling some key people in our respective centers and getting their reactions.

What a surprise we got!

Reaction 1: “We don’t have any best practices.”

I’m not sure we even have anything that you could call a practice. Every job is different. Every customer is different. We just do what we think is best for each case.

Reaction 2: “How would you compare practices?”

We don’t really keep track from one project to the next on what we do. We rely on the memory of our key people. It’s all in their heads and you can’t compare what you can’t see.

Reaction 3: “Who are the best practices supposed to be best for?”

Who would we want to please with our best practices?

And how would we want to please them, are they worried about cost, schedule, performance or all three?  For whom and how must we be best?  That’s a tough question.

Reaction 4: “How could you convince everyone that one version of a practice is best?”

If we picked one practice and called it the best, how would we ever be able to convince someone that that way is better than their way? Lots of people come up with ideas but nobody ever comes forward with any convincing data – just opinions.

A better idea

We decided that it would be premature to try to hold the proposed workshops. We had to attack the feedback first.  So here’s what we did:

“We don’t have any best practices.”

We encouraged everyone to start writing down or drawing pictures of the steps in their current practices.  That provided the foundation for all measurements and comparisons.

“How would you compare practices?”

We asked everyone to show us their practices so we could see if they were the same or different. (There was a lot more commonality than they expected.)

We encouraged them to agree on the common items and use them in the same way on all projects.

We also started to work with out how they could track variations in the outcomes.

“Who are the best practices supposed to be best for?”

Instead of Best, we started thinking about the concept of Better.  We looked for changes that might yield any improvements in cost, schedule or performance or might be better for the customer, the staff or associated organizations.  We helped them test proposed changes and check the outcomes.

“How could you convince everyone that one version of a practice is best?”

Once the practices were consistently followed and the outcomes tallied, we presented convincing data on how different ways of performing the practices affected performance.

The best idea

As we started our hunt for best practices we realized that they don’t exist, there is always something that can be done better.  So now we hold the workshops regularly. Our hope is that we can get on the path outlined in the old poem:

Good, Better, Best

Never Let it Rest

‘Til the Good is Better

And the Better, Best

Continuous Improvement

Flying ducks for sale by Etsy

Read another opinion


  1. Bill,

    My life has been spent in services environments not manufacturing. It is an environment where flexibility/responsiveness is a vital ingredient. Why? People are not inanimate objects – even the same person can be in radically different moods (upbeat v downbeat) on different occasions and so calls forth, to he who is not bound by script, to come up with the right response for that mood, for that occasion. And yes, there is always some aspect/s of work that can do with being standardised. So what is required is a judgement call – where to follow ‘best practice’ and where best practice is not to follow ‘best practice’.

    So after, reading your thoughts, it occurs to me that ‘better’ is more useful than ‘best’. As you say ‘better’ is dynamic, suggests and encourages movement. Whereas ‘best’ suggests stasis: smugness that you are the best and no more thought, tinkering is necessary. And importantly, improvement, movement away from ‘best practice’ is not tolerated by those ignorant – not close to the work – usually supervisors and managers.


    • Thanks for your comment. When you are trying to motivate people to improve their processes, going for “Better” let’s you award prizes every day. Going for “Best” gives you only one chance for rewarding — and you never get there.

  2. Hi Bill,
    Thanks for your post.

    Wanting to improve a process is great. As is innovation as well as a number of other things like productivity etc etc. However, don’t all of these things require a context? Ie. a specific problem to solve or address so that they have focus and something to improve?


    • Yes, you need a context — and the context is the processes in which you are involved. Your processes are what you do and if you make them visible, you and the others involved can look at them and find ways to make them better. Take a look at my e-book to see how it’s done.

Speak Your Mind