“Best Practices” Not Just a Phrase

Jan. 23, 2014

The term “Best Practices” has become an overused catch phrase in our construction industry. It’s like the weather; everyone talks about it, but practically no one does anything with it. Managers use the popular Best Practices phrase to sell an idea or a concept. A Best Practices program is really a formalized, documented system of managing continuous improvement. Over the years, I’ve spoken with scores of construction companies who say they are true believers in Best Practices management, but I’ve only seen one (yes, only one) construction company that really employs the concept on a complete company-wide basis as a driver for innovation. As you can probably tell, I’m a big advocate for the Best Practices concept.

Some of the characteristics of a successful Best Practices program are:

• A Best Practices program will only happen if it has real support from the company’s top management. It should have its own budget. It won’t happen unless it is assigned to an accountable manager as part of his/her job description. That person becomes the Best Practices Coordinator. In a large company, there may be several coordinators that are full- or part-time.

• A Best Practices program is recognized as a long-term program; that is, invest some dollars today to save big dollars over and over again in the future. It is one of those programs that will be hard to quantify the savings into a ROI.

• It must be a relatively simple, categorized system of user-friendly standard procedures. These procedures or practices can be divided or subdivided into functions such as contracting, field operations, equipment operations, administrative, etc.

• A Best Practices program needs its own unique identity that is different from the company’s normal policies and procedures. For example, a Best Practices glossary might identify each “practice”
as a practice, a protocol, an event, or a play (football analogy).

• A Best Practices program should be heavy into the “How” and “How to” verbiage. Practices are usually suggestions and not directives. They are usually simple in scope and avoid excessive detail. They typically include lots of forms and pictures.

• A Best Practices program is almost always fully electronic and rarely paper-based in stuffed binders. Anything that is in paper form will need more maintenance.

• A Best Practices program is most important to companies that are de-centralized or have operations in many different locations. The larger and more diverse the company, the more valuable it is to have a formal Best Practices program; but what works in Kansas may not work in Kentucky.

• At or near the end of every initiative (such as a budget preparation, a large crane purchase, a large bid, a large concrete deck pour), the Best Practices Coordinator and the performing manager should meet and decide if a new or revised practice is appropriate. If so, the Best Practices Coordinator should be charged with
its preparation.

• Every initiative should begin with a quick review of the Best Practices file to see if a new or revised practice has been introduced. This may sound routine, but it may be hard to get the veterans to be receptive to new ideas and change.

• A Best Practices program is NEVER finished. It is ongoing and is the spark that drives the company’s innovative fire.

Best Practices are probably easier to imagine and use for field construction operations than for equipment. For example, writing up practices to identify creative ways to more safely use new equipment and techniques for beam setting, heavy lifts, or haul-road maintenance seems like a natural fit for such a program. With a little thought, it can be used for almost any division in virtually any application. The key is whether your company has the commitment to have the structure and budget to install and manage a Best Practices program. It could become the proof to your employees that your company is serious about creativity.

Think about it.