Best Practices Vs Bright Spots

Finding an Auto Rickshaw on the wrong(?) side of the roads in Hyderabad is no surprise to anyone.  This must be a best practice they adapted from US.   Don’t they drive on the right side of the road in US?

If the above doesn’t sound like a good idea, why should any standardized set of best practices termed as a "process model" be any different?

Lets look at the preface of “CMMi for development 1.2

“CMMI® (Capability Maturity Model® Integration) is a process improvement maturity model for the development of products and services. It consists of best practices that address development and maintenance activities that cover the product lifecycle from conception through delivery and maintenance.”

“CMMI for Development is a collection of best practices that is generated from the CMMI Framework.”

Why only CMMi,  it would be safe to claim that any standardized process model or framework is mostly a collection of best practices.      Some of those best practices may even be stolen (err.. adapted)  from other industries like Manufacturing.

And then… you find people screaming loud at these best practices.   Why do companies spend enormous efforts in vain searching for “Best Practices”?    Screamed Naresh in his blog.

Agile supposed to be a relief from this maddening  best-practice-gold-rush.      Agile (in my opinion)  was a collective loud scream against the best practices.   “Please allow us to find our way.  Probably we know what we are doing here better than anyone else.  Give us a chance to find our course”.

Before the world settled down to a possibility of this new hope, we started finding “Agile best practices”  (Déjà vu ).    There are now people who can evaluate and tell you how much “agile” you are based on how much and how many of agile best practices you successfully have adapted.  No wonder Naresh summed it up by saying “Agile is the new waterfall”.

It was instantly convincing to me what the other agilists were complaining about best practices.   However, I was apprehensive to accept them unconditionally.   I always wondered if we can really rule out the presence of these practices.   I was afraid,  discrediting best practices may make me a closed thinker and narrow minded.   Don’t we want to learn from others?  What’s wrong in doing that?  In fact, isn’t that desirable?  Hmmmm…

So I waited.   I waited silently and until I read this book Switch from Heath brothers.   Besides a lot of other good stuff in this book related to making change happen, what struck me most was their concept of "bright spots".

Look at their story about the problem of malnutrition in Vietnamese kids.     To find a solution to the problem,  it is intuitive (?) to first find statistics, data and history.   Then find experts who can decipher this data and come up with  (if I may call) best practices to be implanted to fix the problem.    Well, the heath brothers observed something different that happened there.

All the data, the way Heaths called it, just  "TBU" (True But Useless).   What actually worked there was finding what is already working there in Vietnam and in that very context.  Despite all the short comings like poverty and such, find those few kids who are healthy and bigger than rest.   The story goes on explaining how the effort went on to replicating that bright spot across.

This model, I am convinced, will work.  But standardizing that as a best practice and trying to roll out in India, I will not agree. That is the difference between a bright spot and best practice.

"Bright spots" are those that encourage learning from peers.  The collaboration that we talk about.     It encourages taking ownership of the challenges.  Building solutions from bottom up.  This is in contrast to  trying to force fit best practices from elsewhere to the local context.

With this new learning, I have no problem joining the rest of the agile crowd to debunk best practices.   To me, being open minded is to listen to my own peers with respect and confidence.   Learning from and helping them with my little wisdom.

You may also want to watch the video of Dan Heath talking about how to find bright spots.

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4 Responses to Best Practices Vs Bright Spots

  1. Naresh Jain says:

    Nice blog. I like the concept of bright spots. There is some interesting stuff on similar lines in the Complex Adaptive System’s Theory. You should see Dave Snowden’s work on this subject to get a feel for it.

  2. Hi Akki,

    Great post! Why don’t “Best practices” don’t work most of the times? I can see a few reasons:

    1. They become generalized & abstract (e.g. Getting up early is good for health, or good communication is cornerstone of technical leadership)

    2. They are stated in a context independent manner. However, they are really context sensitive. (e.g. Want to become healthy? Run for 20 minutes every day).

    Bright spots try to fix both these issues. A bright spot acts as a concrete example as against an abstract one. Also bright spot, by definition, works within *your* context. Hence, what ever subtle/cultural biases apply for you, in all likelihood they apply for the bright spot as well.

    Keep posting.


  3. Shankar says:

    Interesting take

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