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About Core Practice

This page is part of a set of pages: "An Introduction to Core Practice"
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Not everyone can afford or wants best practice. We fully support best practices for those organisations that have the commitment and resources and reason to adopt best practice. For those who do not, something more pragmatic is required, which can be distilled from best practice as well as from legislative requirements and other sources. For these organisations (e.g. small businesses, start-ups, the cash-strapped) there is Core Practice. “If you do nothing else, do these things.”

We call it CoPr, pronounced "copper". Why copper? Well, because that is how the acronym sounds, obviously. But also because it isn't gold. You want the gold version? There are plenty of organisations who will sell you the gold version. This is the copper version. It is nearly as pretty and has all the same properties (near enough), but for a lot less cost.

Best Practice has become something of a sacred cow in business. It is taken as a given that organisations want to achieve best practice in everything they do and an organisation that doesn't is somehow less worthy than those that do. This should not be the case. Pursuing Best Practice is a strategic decision, which should be taken when there is an agreed ROI (tangible or intangible) for the resource investment required to get there.

"Decision" implies there are options: to do it or not. So what is the alternative to Best Practice? Searching the Web will yield some talk of “minimum standards” or similar concepts. These are of two kinds: meeting legislative and other obligations/requirements, and not failing. But there is usually a negative connotation around these, and there isn't the systematic approach that there is to the concepts of Best Practice.

We believe the world is ready for

Core Practice: the strategic decision to minimise cost in a discipline of the enterprise by implementing practices sufficient to (a) meet obligations and (b) to make processes work to a standard sufficient that risk (to the organisation and to people in its care) is reduced to some acceptable level.

Never mind TQM and Continuous Incremental Improvement: sometimes it's OK to “do it'll-do”, to stop at good enough.

Examples:

  • Small businesses seldom have time, money or people to achieve more than a minimum standard in anything they do, except in a few select critical areas core to the success of the business. Yet they are often made to feel guilty about all the other domains where they allow expediency to rule, as if they were in some way failing to be good managers.
  • Start-ups have to get to market before the money runs out. Very few start-ups are so well funded that their systems can be anything more than the bare minimum needed to get off the ground. Once the business has got past the initial cashflow trough and revenue starts to stabilise, only then do they have the leisure of improving process. They run the risk of destabilising the business again unless they are careful to work on processes only in domains that will deliver a sufficient benefit to the business.
  • Cash-strapped organisations. Many organisations know what they would like to be doing but don't have the resources to do it. Ill-conceived attempts to pursue best practice at this time could destroy the business rather than helping it.

Core Practice does not mean shoddy practice, or avoidance of any design or planning. Core Practice is not the absence of formalised practice. It is a defined set of essential or minimum practices.

By consciously considering the options of Core Practice and Best Practice for a given discipline and choosing to adopt Core Practice for that discipline, an enterprise gains:

  • Reduced costs (and hence increased competitive advantage) by not overspending on a non-critical area
  • Resources freed to concentrate on Best Practice in critical or strategic areas
  • Faster implementation of systems
  • Removed distraction of guilt or perceived risk through not having implemented Best Practice: shareholders (or taxpayers), partners and management can rest assured that it is a considered and acceptable option rather than just an omission or exposure

In addition, of course, they also gain the benefits of adopting any formal set of practices, Best or Core, including:

  • Reduced process development and implementation costs: an off-the-shelf approach
  • Greater efficiencies through elimination of unnecessary or duplicate work
  • Improved quality through reduced errors due to proven and formalised processes
  • Reduced risk through adoption of proven processes
  • Easier agreements with providers because of standardised terminology and processes
  • Easier induction of new staff because of standardised terminology and processes
  • Compliance with any standards arising from that set of practices

 

We have created the Institute of Core Practice (IoCP) as an international body to gather, agree, manage, promote, certify and publish this defined set of Core Practices, starting with key business disciplines such as Governance, Computing (IT), Service, Operations, Finance, and People (HR), and starting with a focus on small business (as the group we see having the most crying need for defined Core Practice).

CoPr for Small Business Process Map

 

Such a set of practices needs to fulfil the following criteria:

  1. Provide a minimum functional operational capability
  2. Reduce risks to people to an acceptable level
  3. Reduce risks to the organisation to an acceptable level
  4. Meet regulatory requirements
  5. Create a foundation for best practice and standards compliance for those who adopt them later (i.e. create no incompatibilities, or at worst create only reversible and understood incompatibilities)

It can be seen that the practices required to meet these criteria will vary between organisations and between countries. However, the effort involved in analysis, design and implementation of tailored practices to the specific requirements of an organisation is the biggest objection to the adoption of Best Practices. For Core Practice to be an acceptable alternative, it needs to be useful out-of-the-box.

This dilemma is resolved (pragmatically) by accepting that any published set of Core Practices can only be a lowest common denominator set of practices, universal to organisations and countries alike. It will reduce most risks in most organisations, and meet most regulatory requirements in most countries.

The delta between what the published set delivers and what is required in any given instance is met by:

  • Colloquial networks of users in the local community (forums, meetings, seminars) help each other
  • Local chapters of the owning Institute create localised modifications, supplements and/or guidance
  • Users accept the exposure and take the risk (the strategy of choice for most small businesses anyway)
  • Consultants will inevitably emerge to offer tailoring services for those who can afford them

The risks of these less-formalised approaches are mitigated somewhat by the fact that Core Practices are simpler than Best Practices by definition, so tailoring requires less analysis and less rigour. Informal approaches and self-help will be adequate to achieve a useful outcome. We believe many organisations will take the third option and operate on the minimal set without tailoring, at core for a time and/or in non-critical areas.

Core Practice should be the default: the most sensible option for most organisations in most situations. Best Practice is an option to be adopted where it gains a competitive advantage or efficiency sufficient to justify the investment in achieving it.

Examples of where Best Practice is usually more appropriate:

  • Highly competitive industries that differentiate on quality. The classic example is of course the motor vehicle manufacturers, the origin of a lot of the theory of Best Practice.
  • Complex processes that need improvement. Existing processes are as extensive as Best Practice ones, but sub-optimal in design. They may never have been designed but rather grew organically. Re-engineering them will bring efficiencies that pay for the effort.
  • Service providers who deal in life and health: medicine makers, medical centres, rescue services, social welfare. Even in this instance, it is the core services that must be delivered to Best Practice. Many of these organisations are chronically under-resourced and so Core Practice should always be a considered option for ancillary and supporting processes.
  • Providers to clients or partners who require compliance to a Best Practice standard.
  • Dangerous or unpopular industries: aerospace, aircraft, nuclear power, chemical engineering, fuel storage, genetic engineering, explosives. Even in situations where human life is not endangered the public relations risk of an error is too high.

“Best practice” is an unfortunate term because of the pejorative implication that anything else is not-best. “Best” is an emotive and judgemental word that implies several things: (a)nothing else is better (b)anything else is worse (so by subtle inference there is something wrong with you if you choose to do anything else) (c)someone has evaluated it to determine it is best (so by inference it can be measured).

 

Until now there has not been a generally accepted alternative concept to Best Practice. In most disciplines, the standards, guidance or methodologies define only the Best Practice. The only option is “absence of Best Practice”. Occasionally there is both Best and Minimum Practice, but usually with the implication that the Minimum standard is not a desirable state of affairs: users are expected to “pull their socks up” at some later stage and achieve Best Practice.

We want it to be acceptable for someone to say "we take a Core Practice approach to X", and do so without shame or embarrassment. We want that to be a respectable business decision to make and a viable option to select.

In most situations we expect that an enterprise will first implement Core Practice across the board as a foundation of effective processes, and then later opt to enhance processes up to Best Practice standards in strategically selected disciplines where a business case can be made.

     
     
This page is part of a set of pages: "An Introduction to Core Practice"
Turn the page: