Luc Bouquet, Teka
1. Is there anyone (or a group) in your organization who does something that you would like others to do too?
2. Is that practice eligible to be described in a structured way, so that others can ‘copy’ it?
If you can answer these two questions affirmatively, then you might well have spotted a ‘Best Practice’ which is worth being described and published for the entire organization. How you can do so is described in this article. The focus in this article will be on the ‘manual’ for the communication specialist appointed to write and publish the Best Practice(s).
The diagram below depicts the overall process in the identification and publication of Best Practices:
Figure 1: Overall Process
Publishing Best practices can best be handled centrally. When done so, management may rest assured that:
- the Best Practice project is not going to die prematurely, nor that it will proliferate in an uncontrolled and unmanageable way;
- the published Best Practices are correct as to content and formally coherent;
- the Best Practices project is consistent with the objectives of the organization.
A task force on management level scouts for Best Practices in the organization and has them described and published. For each of these Best Practices an ‘owner’ needs to be identified. In a formalized operation it will be the process owner. In less formalized operations it might be, e.g., the manager of a successful workgroup or department, an individual who has invented a successful new working method etc. Once the list of suitable Best Practices is available, a dedicated communication specialist gets to work to record, describe and publish the Best Practice(s).
Identifying Suitable Best Practices
As you have understood from the second question in the beginning of this article, not every success story is a suitable Best Practice. Hence the importance that any Best Practices project is centrally initiated and monitored. Here are some examples of practices which are not suitable to be published as Best Practices:
Some people are successful through individual characteristics such as creativity, charisma, flair … It is tempting to try to duplicate their successes. However, that type of success cannot be described in terms of processes and procedures as we will recommend in this article. If you still would like to do so, try a modeling approach such as NLP (Neurolinguistic programming).
Tips and Tricks
By tips and tricks we mean all kinds of quite relevant knacks and workarounds, such as ‘How to fit my Word table in the page frame after having inserted a new column’. These tips are worth being published through the organization as they can prevent quite some inefficiency and frustration. But within this context, they are too confined to act as Best Practices. You can share them, though, in a less formal format such as a wiki or twitter.
Not every Best Practice is a ‘Good’ Practice!
I’ve seen myself that a Best Practice project became a victim of its own success, in that some people in the organization took the opportunity to get under the spotlights with a ‘Best’ Practice, which in fact was a very bad practice! Hence again the importance of a central approach: a central instance on management levels decides what is eligible for a Best Practice and what is not.
Leave the Writing to a Specialist
Leave the writing and publishing to a dedicated communicator: a structured writing specialist with complementary interview skills. The Best Practice owner is the least suitable person for that task, if you would find a subject matter expert at all, who has the time, the willingness and the skills to do it. The owner only needs to fix a two-hour appointment in his/her agenda. On top of that, the owner will need to spend maximum another hour for revision and comments, and optionally an hour or so to collect information.
Manual for the Communicator
The illustration below depicts the procedure for the communicator appointed to record, write and publish the Best Practice(s):
Figure 2: Procedure for the Communicator
1. Create a template for the Best Practices (see sample in frame). This is a one-off activity. The estimated time needed for this is two days, including the meetings with your client on management level.
2. Interview the Best Practice ‘owner’ using a standard and structured questionnaire based on the template. This interview should last no longer than two hours.
3. Write the first draft by filling in the topics of the template with the information given by the owner during the interview. You will need about a day for that. If you go to a new page for each topic, you will end up with 11 to 15 pages which is the ideal length for a Best Practice.
4. Get feedback from the Best Practice owner for corrections, refinements, additions.
5. Copyedit the final version and publish.
Work with a Fixed Template
In the frame you will find a universal template that you can use as a starting point to describe Best Practices. It follows a logical sequence which leads the reader along a decision path at the end of which he/she answers the question: ‘Should we try this too?’. Eventually, the reader will use the information under the headings ‘6. What do you need for this Best Practice?’, ‘7. How does the Best Practice work?’, and ‘8. Specific instructions’ as a kind of manual to ‘copycat’ the best practice in his/her organization.
In the first place, you will use the template as a questionnaire. Print the template and leave sufficient space between the headings so to note the answers to the questions during the interview. During the editing stage, you will use the template to describe the Best Practice.
Advantages of the Template
Thanks to the template you will obtain consistent descriptions and you will also know for sure that you have asked the essential questions. You can better create a template with too many topics than one with too few topics. Later on it is quite easy just to skip the superfluous topics. In fact, you use the template as a checklist so to not overlook information which is vital for readers to make it through the Best Practice without too many problems.
Tips for the Interview
The quality of the interview is crucial for the success of the Best Practice. We assume that the writer is a communication specialist and has the skills needed. We therefore limit this paragraph to some specific advice for the registration of a Best Practice:
- Explain the goal of the project and determine the scope of the Best Practice together with the owner. Make him/her clearly understand that you need a practice that has proven to be successful, that is clearly identifiable and that can be described so that others can easily adopt it.
- Keep the owner to the subject! People who are elected to share their Best Practice are obviously proud of it and have the tendency to come up with more success stories.
- The owner may involve a staff member or a co-worker in the interview. In such case, speak with the two of them together, not separately. If later on, their versions seem to contradict, you will lose time to find out whom of them was right.
- Take away any complementary material you can: internal procedures, excel sheets, documents, mails, photographs…
- Bring your camera to take a picture of the owner. Choose a background that refers to the Best Practice.
You can publish Best Practices on a variety of platforms.
- A DMS is probably the best platform to publish a series of Best Practices. You can add metadata so readers can search for a Best Practice in a goal-oriented manner.
- You can use a CMS too, although it will have little added value over the DMS. Each Best Practice needs to remain indivisible, and you are unlikely to reuse information across Best Practices.
- You can just publish it as a document in print or PDF. A series of related Best Practices can be published and distributed as a booklet.
- If you want to publish your very own Best Practices yourself, your personal blog will perhaps be most appropriate.
Luc Bouquet is Partner Consultant at Teka, based in Belgium. Luc started his career as a technical writer and technical trainer at Océ Technologies and Wang Europe. He founded and managed ATEK, a technical communications firm from 1988 to 2002. Today, he promotes a practical approach to knowledge management under the umbrella of Teka Infopilots. Developing practical and creative solutions rather than abstract theories has been a red thread throughout his career.