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Topics: Governance, Innovation, Leadership, Quality
Do 'Best Practices' stifle Innovation?
To what degree do 'Best Practices' inhibit Innovation? What can be done to achieve a "healthy balance" between processes that have worked well in the past versus innovation? Specifically, somewhat radical innovation not incremental improvements via Kaizen.
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It is a very interesting question John. I was waiting to see others comment on this since morning. Here is my two cents: In order to maintain a balance maybe the following help:
- Keep an open mind on new ideas, even if the suggested best practice was your idea
- Systematically promote innovative thinking
- Reward staff for thinking out of the box
- Study new suggestions and their impacts, don’t just reject because you know better
- Incorporate idea generation tools and techniques in your processes
At no degree, there is nothing that impacts innovation when you use best practice. What is a best practice? Something that showns results superior to those achieved with other means and is used as a benchmark. What is innovation? Something (and idea) that when applied results in new ways to do things and create value to the environment. So, you can innovate from best practices. In my case (and when I have to lead teams) we use best practices as a mean to do not reinvent the wheel. No more than that.
Best practices don't stifle innovation. It's the flagrant abuse of the term that is detrimental.
As Sergio points out, you should think of best practices as a starting point, not an end.

I always focus on the desired outcome. There may be different ways (i.e., processes) to get the desire outcome. You will have to try then evaluate the various processes to see which ones work best for you.

Sometimes you may want to have multiple processes. For example, you may have a process for standard requests and another for emergency requests. (Be careful not to confuse urgent with emergency. It is not unusual for people to try to treat an urgent request as an emergency.)

As your processes evolve and improve, your organization will always have the best practices it can have at a given point in time.
Agree that "best practices" should be interpreted to mean "the best of the methods that have been identified so far". Allow for new methods as long as they can be monitored and there is a way to identify performance. There should be an awareness that whatever is termed "best practices" does not have to be treated as a formalized, inflexible process that must be followed. It's what we'll do until we find a better way.
If best practices are reevaluated periodically, then they are more likely to be aligned with an environment that allows for innovation.
In my opinion , correct me if I am wrong , best practices and innovations go hand in hand. Should welcome the innovations from any quarter if they are beneficial to organizational values without diluting the best practices.
I don't believe that best practices necessarily stifle innovation, but overly-heavy governance can do so. I believe it all comes down to mindset. My approach is to err on the side of light for process and governance, while incorporating many best practices of the profession. There are some topics where I see no value in being innovative, such as the steps for risk identification and management. Since a tried and true process exists for this, that has worked effectively for me, countless times, I'll incorporate it. I'll shift my focus on being innovative, if possible, in finding solutions to problems for project delivery, where the best solution may be less clear, or where an existing best practice is unsuitable or insufficient.

The key is to be selective in integrating the best practices and in how they are incorporated, so as to not be so bogged down in process and governance that innovation does become stifled. For example my change management template and process is light, so as to be able to respond quickly and not deflect too many resources from the work that was already committed. This works for my organisation and projects.

In being light in process and governance, there is room for creativity of approach, which may lead to innovation.
Following "Best Practices" is basically Feed Forward system. It is a modelling technique - modern technology to excel - to avoid rigor of "reinvent the wheel" - complete waste of time and less achievement in our life time.

Project management follows same technique but here "Best Practices" provides only a frame to begin with. It did not say to follow the fixed model fed in before hand all way, on the other hand, it promotes innovation by feedback (lesson learned) system and that too by iteration method.

Feedback is very powerful to incorporate innovation time to time suitable with our project, and culture of organisation. It is the method to make a feed forward model to our own - better than the Best. To make this feedback system more powerful (in innovative sense), it is mentioned repeatedly that lesson learned (feedback) should be holistic involving all stakeholders and on continuous basis (Initiating to Closing) by which we can take all perspectives in consideration during our journey.

Actually we process all information in our brain thru' three filters (Generalization, Deletion, and Distortion), out of those, first two are innovation killer, however, Distortion is helpful for innovation and creativity thru' lateral thinking. Involving all stakeholders and their perspectives in lesson learned (feedback) system, we can minimize Generalization and Deletion of individuals, and maximize Distortion (brainstorming) - the path of innovation.
Therefore, I think door of innovation is kept open in Project Management by modelling "Best Practices" with a simple and holistic Feedback (lesson learned) Loop.
I think contributors have already given so much valuable information.

I think the outcome from best practices or innovation should be continuous improvement. Best practices avoid reinventing the wheel and allows for standardisation which is critical for quality. It does snot mean an organisation becomes static when following best practices and bench marking. It only means now has a strong foundation to move forward.
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