Lately I’ve been receiving lots of emails that urge me to do something or other because it’s a “best practice.” Nine times out of ten, adopting the new best practice involves buying the sender’s product or service. These attempts to sell me on so-called best practices make me wonder what people are thinking when they use the term.


“But don’t you talk about best practices, too?”

I can hear some of you already, saying “Wait a minute! You do that, too! You’re always saying that the Information Mapping Method is a best practice for writing business communications.”

You’re right—I do say that, all the time.  (It’s nice to know that you’ve been listening.) And admittedly I’m not a disinterested observer. Of course I’d like to see everyone adopt the Information Mapping Method.  Fortunately, the Method has a lot more going for it as a best practice than just my say-so.

It’s a best practice only if it’s been tested and proven

NASA’s engineering experts have long recognized the Information Mapping Method as a best practice for documentation. So have other federal entities, oil companies, and pharmaceutical manufacturers. There’s a major bank that won’t hire documentation developers who aren’t trained Mappers. And many other organizations have confirmed that the Method is the real deal-- a proven best practice. Without that kind of supporting evidence, my claims would be meaningless.

That’s why I’m skeptical of all those emails touting new so-called “best practices.” A best practice isn’t a best practice just because somebody says it is. It’s not a best practice just because it sounds like a great idea, or because it’s tied to an exciting new technology. It’s not a best practice just because it’s easy, or because it’s appealing, or because it’s cheap. Until it’s been tested and proven it’s not a best practice at all.

Real best practices lead to measurable improvement

Real best practices lead to measurably better outcomes. If implementing a best practice doesn’t result in some sort of real improvement—such as greater efficiency, increased productivity, higher quality, fewer errors, increased customer satisfaction, a safer work environment or greater market share, for example—then you’re just doing things differently, not better. If there’s no measurable improvement, it’s not a best practice.

Real best practices have been tried and have proven effective. Organizations should test theirs early and often to make sure they’re still working well. And marketers need to find other ways to describe products and services that have yet to be tested and proven. Let’s not make the term “best practice” into yet another empty buzzword.