Best Practices. Says Who?

I was discussing with my team members, reviewing a part of a Salesforce solution we were implementing at one of our biggest customers when it happened to be Paul’s turn... I asked, "So, Paul, can you take me through your design please?". "Sure" said Paul, "I’ve been working on User Story #US240 and have applied the usual best practices". I was expecting a little more details considering that I was supposed to sign-off the solution design in the name of my team but Paul sounded like he was finished. "And…" I asked. "And that’s it" said Paul, "Just applied the BP’s, you know...". I wasn’t happy and explained to Paul that “his” BP’s won’t cut it for me. He understood and drilled down into more details his design justifying his choices.

The thing is that, in consultancy, “best practices” have turned into sacrosanct tools used to justify the added value we are selling to our customers. Because we, as a company, have done what the customer wants times and times already, we’ve supposedly collected a set of best practices which make us the customer safe option. And that’s it, don’t go against best practices or you’re in trouble! Now, I have nothing against the concept itself. There are, effectively, patterns that consultants regularly find at different customers and which can be addressed using similar, road-tested, solutions. What I’m saying though is that best practices are powerful tools which should be used with caution. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Best Practices Are Not Anonymous
    All serious source of information come with a reputable origin. If you can't track where a Best Practice is coming from then consider it as suspicious and act accordingly.
    If software vendors seem like a good source because they know their products better than everybody else, be careful to avoid “business development initiatives”. I’ve seen in the past, vendors recommending design choices leading to a heavy increase in licenses count...

  • Innovation Wins Over Best Practices
    The fact that an implementation method has proven to be successful time and time again turning into a best practice is good to know. But it shouldn't prevent you from exploring better alternatives.

Don't re-invent the wheel, but feel free to improve it. Your customers will appreciate...

  • Best Practices Are Context Sensitive
    Best Practices have a context and one working for a customer based in New-York won’t necessarily be applicable to a similar customer in London. Clients have got more differences than their industry and this need to be recognised. For this reason, your best practice must come with a justification (why is this a best practice?) and a history of successful applications. This will help the decision to use a best practice or to go the innovation route.

  • Best Practices have an expiration date
    What was true yesterday, may not be true today. Technology improves fast, as we all know. So, what used to be the best way to do something may now be deprecated by a new feature. So again, you need to associate some extra information to any best practice: it’s dependencies. When all dependencies have gone, then the BP isn’t valid any longer, and you need to find another way.

  • Best Practices are centrally stored in your KB
    What? You don’t have a team Knowledge Base? Your consultants memorise their best practices as they can? Then, you can’t sell "Best Practices". Many consultancies pretend they deliver a value added they don’t have. Best practices should be written with contextual information and stored in a searchable database (or wiki), accessible to all consultants.
    See below an example of a Best Practice record:

Your best practice KB entry may look like the one above or any variant you may think of. The point is that to fully leverage best practices you need to:

  1. Store them somewhere
  2. Understand them inside-out
  3. Challenge them
  4. Own them.

At this stage, you become a Best Practice Master and you can comfortably decide to use them in your designs or "invent a better wheel"...

If you decide to build a best practices knowledge base, then you'll find the documents below very useful as a starting point:

  1. Best Practices for Implementation Consultant
  2. Best Practices for Administrator
  3. Best Practices for Sales Manager
  4. Best Practices for Marketing Manager

I hope you enjoyed this post. Don't hesitate to ping me on Twitter if you have any comment or question.

Fab 🐸