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When "Best Practices" is not the best

Every workman likes to do a good job. If he doesn't I hope he's not working for you! Jokes aside, there has been a big push to incorporate best practices into every aspect of our working day. It seems that corporate business is well on the way to demanding best practice in every department and section, with small business feeling pressured to follow just to stay competitive.

I would like to suggest that doing so is not only counter-productive, but impossible.

Now, before you paint me as an heretic, and round up a posse to tar and feather me, consider this. Does your workshop or service department do only one type of job? Do you only have one job a day? If you can answer 'Yes' to either of these questions then congratulations, you have a blessed life indeed. If you are like most service departments; run off your feet, not enough hours in the day, stock not arriving in time, a key workman phoning in sick (or not phoning in at all); then you know all too well the difficulty of trying to reach multiple goals. If all workers turn up and perform all allocated jobs for week, management will be asking you to cut hours, or cram more jobs into each week.

Here's the dirty little secret of our industry: Producing consistently good results from a service operation is hard work. Very hard work indeed.

It is an absolute impossibility for every facet of your operation to conform to "Best Practices". Every player on a football team must forgo a little of his capacity in order for the team to excel. If the winger always performs to his absolute best, then either the centre or the fullback will have to reduce their input, if only by a small margin, in order to give room for the winger to perform. The beauty of a team that works well together is that the team is able to make goals that the individual players cannot.

We have all worked with a (perhaps) brilliant, (perhaps) super-efficient worker that comes across as a prima-dona or rubs others in the team the wrong way. For all the work he performs, you spend time massaging the hurt egos of others, or worse, re-scheduling work that could not be done due to that worker's "best practices". Or, the boss introduces a new system to fix widgets that works really for widgets, but makes an absolute mess of the wigwam repairs; or a new employee work scheduling system is introduced by HR that makes a mockery of your machine servicing schedules.

Think about it for a minute and ask yourself this: Do you want "best practice" or "successful practice"?  Just because a method, process, or model is successful in one industry, or even for a competitor, does not mean it has the portability to bring the same results to your shop.  And here's another question: What's the difference between "best practice" and "common practice"? If you can't tell the difference why are you changing, and how will you know what to change?

A team is only a team when all players work together to get the desired result. Incremental improvement across all the activities you are responsible for makes for a much more sustainable, and manageable, difference to the bottom line. A one percent (1%) improvement in 100 activities is far, far better than a 100% improvement in just one activity.  

Posted by Mark Chimes
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