You have probably, at one time or another, driven through or walked near a construction area where dirt, sand or clay may be mounded into piles and barren of vegetation? Rain in these areas randomly cuts a path through the mound, meandering as gravity pulls it along. Sometimes it cuts a new path, at other times it follows a path that has already been created. All of these are usually freeform, without a plan, eroding through the mound. If the construction company creates a channel, gutter or other place to be fed by the runoff water guiding it to a specific place, the mound will have a better chance of remaining intact.
Best practices are a channel that reduces random methodologies and consequences. Most companies have best practices in place. They are not necessarily those that would be found in anything created by the company. In the absence of best practices in place, each person develops practices of their own that meet individual needs within their perspective of the right way to do things.
Expense, risk and delays can be reduced by having communicated best practices in place. The example below is simple and illustrates a challenge when best practices are not defined and communicated.
Out of Coffee Again: Meagan ran a very tight ship and put many practices in place in order to ensure efficiencies and controls. All ordering was from the central office and based on inventory of supplies and usage tracked, with just in time ordering in place. Carefully crafted vendors relationships led to deep discounts. Each location had a limited inventory that was replenished from central supply. The series of best practices certainly achieved the objective of cost control and managed purchasing.
One day, a key location ran out of coffee. Running out of a staple item never happened in this company. No one knows for sure how they ran out, but one of the newer admins decided to solve the problem by going to the local store to buy coffee. The coffee machines required a specially packaged coffee pod which was not carried in grocery stores. Knowing that there was an important meeting to be held in the office, the admin decided to buy an inexpensive coffee pot, filter and the coffee. Several types of coffee were selected. When the admin got back to the office and went to set up the coffee, it was found that the other coffee pot had a permanent water line. No other convenient water source was available and there were no available outlets and no space in the coffee bar to set up even a small coffee maker.
The admin decided to set up the new coffee maker on one of the break tables in the kitchen. This meant carrying coffee to the coffee maker and taking away space that employees routinely used and did not necessarily leave in the same condition they found it. The coffee cups and condiments were near the regular coffee maker.
When the meeting was in progress and coffee requested, only ten cups could be made at a time taking staff away from other tasks. It took extra effort but they managed to serve the meeting. Afterwards, the admin wanted to be reimbursed for the cost of the coffee maker, coffee and filters. There was no method in place for the admin to submit an expense. This created an exception to the processes in place, since there was no way to enter a personal reimbursement of this type in the current accounting system. The first thought was to reimburse the admin out of petty cash but this exceeded the amount for a petty cash expense without documentation. The challenged rolled through the company, from the costs and time to address the problem to the level of exasperation. This expense which should have been less than $100.00, with all costs calculated, now had cost the company over $500.00 and caused many deviations in processes. This did not even include the cost of overtime for the admin to complete critical tasks that could not be done while the admin was in search of coffee.
The whole issue could have been circumvented if training had included the processes defined by the best practices methodology of the company, which included an emergency replenishment method. Cost of using the best practice in place would not have cost any additional dollars and certainly would not have created the havoc that the path taken independently did in the company.
Just like water eroding the mound of dirt at a construction site, this un-channeled and independent effort now had eroded processes in place so that what usually would have flowed smoothly, without obstruction, now included twists and turns, ruts and new rivulets that held little purpose.
Lack of communication creates an absence of best practices replaced by individual methodologies. This simple challenge grew to be a costly experience for the company. It could have been easily averted if the best practice in place had been trained and communicated. As is often the case, the best practice is not defined and communicated until it has cost the company money.