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What are Best Practices?


"Best practice" is a phrase used to identify a documented way of achieving a specific results under specific circumstances in an effective way. It is a concept based on lessons learned by one group that are passed on to other groups. In this way an individual or organization can focus on performance of the task rather than first determining the best way to accomplish the task. This can save both time and money. In addition, the use of best practices can facilitate a more consistent set of results.

The wheels of progress would turn much more slowly if every time an organization began a task that they had never done before, they had to use a trial and error method to determine the most efficient way of performing the task. However, by relying on other people and/or organizations’ trials and errors that have evolved into a method that has been proven to be the most efficient, they can begin the task using a proven method. The proven method, known as a "best practice," can then be tweaked if necessary to meet specific needs of their organization. This is the essence of best practices.


In order for a method or idea to be considered a best practice, it must have certain characteristics including the ability, and the desire, to be duplicated by others. Best practices can be used in any kind of business. Some examples of areas they are used in include the development of new software, construction, transportation, business management and government. They can be used both in the policy, management or the actual manufacturing aspect of a business or organization. Best practices can be documented in the form of manuals, lists, reports, software, instructional documents or materials.

Best practices are not static and are continually being improved upon. This is especially important now in a time of quickly evolving technology. A method or technique of achieving success that is accepted as the best in the field today will very likely be replaced tomorrow as a result of technological advances. If best practices are never questioned or improved upon, then progress would come to a stand still. Consequently, in addition to their importance in providing a blueprint for success in carrying out a specific task, they are also important as a springboard for finding better ways to do the task and thus establishing new best practices.

Discussion Comments


What is the best way for identifying best practices? I have been tasked with creating a best practices white paper for the shipping and receiving department of my company and I am kind of lost in the woods. The biggest hitch for me is identifying empirically what methods work best.

I can do it intuitively, and I can talk to the guys that work in that department, but you can't know that something is the best without having hard data. How can I get this data for every possible variation in the process? That is an experiment that would take years and throw our whole operation out of whack.


When I was in graduate school for library science we talked a lot about best practices. One of the biggest areas was in help desk best practices, what most people know as the reference desk. We would talk about how to handle patrons, how to find information, how to deal with problems etc. And while the discussion was always interesting, very little of it actually applied once I got on the job.

I think that most people naturally settle in to their own best practices. And no matter how well trained a person is, it is hard to do the best possible thing at every possible moment. So best practices are an interesting mental exercise, but I don't know if they actually have the training function they are often given credit for.


It can sometimes be a tedious process to identify best practices but it is worth it to take the time and make the effort. By identifying best practices you are just maximizing your opportunity for future success in an efficient way. It is basically finding the path of least resistance for any possible scenario.

I work as a nurse administrator and we look at best practices all the time. It is not good enough for a health care environment to have the correct outcome 90% of the time. We want every patient to walk out of the hospital healthier than when they arrived. That takes a lot of careful planning and institutional organization.

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