A best practice is the Holy Grail of instructional design. Pretty obvious, right? Why would you want to train people on anything other than a best practice? But, sometimes, this is exactly what happens because the instructional designer, or the subject matter expert (SME), is not completely clear on what exactly a best practice is.
A best practice:
1. Is a recipe. A best practice is not based on personal characteristics, such as a charisma or the ability to think on one’s feet. And, it is not based on talent. Rather, it is a recipe with specific, repeatable steps that guarantees success. Anyone with sufficient training and practice should be able to follow the recipe to achieve the desired result.
The recipe can consist of a series of physical steps to perform, such as push this button, empty that tray, or pull the green lever. It can consist of a thinking process, such as questions to ask or a mental checklist. Or, it can be a combination of both. The important thing is that actionable steps can be identified and repeated to consistently achieve a particular goal. The best practice should also specify workarounds so that following it allows you to achieve success even if conditions vary.
2. Produces a consistent outcome. Following the best practice consistently results in the same outcome. The outcome could be correctly diagnosing a problem, accurately entering customer data, roasting coffee to a desired temperature and color, or making a sale. Whatever the outcome is, it should be a specific, tangible, measurable result. You should be able to tell whether following the best practice resulted in the successful achievement of the outcome.
3. Is Tested. Best practices are not born. They are made. They are not invented on a conference room whiteboard, but instead evolve through trial and error in the field. And, they are tested under a variety of challenging conditions to ensure they work every time.
4. May not be unique. Sometimes more than one best practice exists to produce the same result. That’s okay. However, in this situation, you need to pick one, and only one, to document and train. This is because teaching someone multiple ways to do the same thing leads to more confusion than it does clarity. All things being equal, I like to select the best practice that is the simplest to learn and the easiest to remember. Another option is to select the best practice that is most efficient. In other words, it uses the fewest resources or takes the least time to perform.