Stan Garfield

Jun 20, 2018

8 min read

Originally published on January 12, 2017

17th in a series of 50 Knowledge Management Components (Slide 25 in KM 102)

Proven practices: selecting, documenting, and replicating processes that have proven to improve business results so that others in similar environments or with similar needs can benefit from proven successes

Proven practices are methods that have been demonstrated to be effective and lend themselves to replication to other groups, organizations, and contexts. Typically referred to as “best practices,” they are sometimes called “good practices.” The problem with the term “best practice” is that it connotes that an ideal has been achieved, where “proven practice” more reasonably asserts that an approach has been tried successfully. It’s better to learn about and adapt proven practices that fit your environment, whether or not they are the “best.”

One of the key benefits of knowledge management is making the organization’s best problem-solving experiences reusable. Consistently applying proven practices can significantly improve the results of any firm. For example, if a manufacturing plant in one part of the world has figured out how to prevent the need for product rework, and all other plants around the world adopt this practice, savings will flow directly to the bottom line. By establishing a process for defining, communicating, and replicating proven practices, an enterprise takes advantage of what it learns about solving problems.

Communities of practice are a natural vehicle in which proven practices can be shared. Threaded discussions, repositories, and community knowledge sharing events can be used to publicize proven practices and encourage their application. Document templates for proven practices should be provided so that all necessary content is captured, including process descriptions, photos, and specifications. Video recordings can be helpful in showing how a process is actually performed, and can be delivered through standard e-learning systems.

Proven practices should be as specific as possible, have obvious benefits, and be readily reproducible. Consider offering a formal process for collecting, storing, disseminating, and replicating proven practices. The resultant benefits can often be used as proof of the value of a KM initiative.

10 Ways to Replicate Proven Practices

1. Nurture a knowledge sharing culture in which proven practices are replicated.

2. Set an objective to increase profits by sharing and reusing proven practices, or to lower sales and delivery costs by replicating proven practices.

3. Implement proven practice strategies:

  • Motivate: provide incentives for sharing and reusing proven practices.
  • Analyze: select proven practices from collected stories.
  • Disseminate: distribute proven practices in a monthly newsletter.
  • Demand: allow searching the proven practice repository.
  • Act: reuse proven practices on new opportunities.

4. Set goals for proven practices, for example:

  • Have community members share proven practices in discussions and on calls.
  • Harvest collected knowledge in the form of proven practices.
  • Implement changes to existing processes to enable replication of proven practices.
  • Identify and designate proven practices.
  • Document and replicate proven practices.

5. Measure performance against goals. For example, report the number of proven practice documents downloaded, and the reported value of replicated proven practices as collected in user surveys.

6. Capture proven practices as pictures, video, and audio telling the story of how to apply them. This will make them easier to replicate than if they are in a written document. If you get teams to discuss proven practices on podcasts, the knowledge will be more effectively shared than if the same information was written down and submitted to a database. Hold a regular conference call where presenters demonstrate their proven practices and explain how to replicate them.

7. Review collected information to reveal patterns, trends, or tendencies which can be exploited, expanded, or corrected. After collected knowledge has been analyzed, it can be codified to produce repeatable processes by identifying proven practices.

8. Send out email messages sharing proven practices to increase awareness.

9. Provide incentives for proven practices, for example, the people who submit the proven practices that are the five most replicated will each win a financial reward.

10. Participate in the International Best Practice Competition.


Here are five KM methodologies for proven practices.

  1. Appreciative Inquiry is the co-evolutionary search for the best in people, their organizations, and the relevant world around them. In its broadest focus, it involves systematic discovery of what gives life to a living system when it is most alive, most effective, and most constructively capable in economic, ecological, and human terms. This process can be applied in almost any context, and the philosophy can be applied to proven practices.
  2. Positive Deviance is based on the observation that in every community there are certain individuals or groups whose uncommon behaviors and strategies enable them to find better solutions to problems than their peers, while having access to the same resources and facing similar or worse challenges. It is an asset-based, problem-solving, and community-driven approach that enables the community to discover these successful behaviors and strategies and develop a plan of action to promote their adoption by all concerned.
  3. Checklist is a job aid used to reduce failure by compensating for potential limits of human memory and attention. It helps to ensure consistency and completeness in carrying out a task.
  4. Most Significant Change is the collection of significant change stories emanating from the field level, and the systematic selection of the most significant of these stories by panels of designated stakeholders or staff. Once changes have been captured, people sit down together, read the stories aloud, and have in-depth discussions about the value of these reported changes.
  5. Proven Practice Replication is a process developed at Ford for ensuring that proven practices are shared and replicated across multiple manufacturing plants. A community of practice (e.g., body assembly) focal point person looks for noteworthy practices, prepares a picture sheet using a web template, quantifies the benefits, and emails it to a company-wide community administrator. The administrator screens all submissions, and if they are gems, they are posted on the intranet and emailed to all community focal points. The community focal points then take them to plant management, who must report if they will adopt, adapt, investigate, or reject, and the reasons for their decision. Adoption scores are kept by community and by plant.


1. Ford Proven Practice Replication

At Ford, where proven practice replication has been a foundation of their knowledge management initiative within manufacturing, senior management made it a priority for plants to share their proven practices with each other so that all plants could benefit from efficiencies being realized at any one plant. When visiting one plant, the senior vice president would ask which practices had been shared with other plants, and which ones had been implemented from other plants. Each plant visit included similar questioning, and this established the importance of the process.

From Measuring the Impact of Knowledge Management by APQC, here are three Ford examples:

  • A forklift operator whose job was to transfer stacks of truck frames from a rail car to the production area, thought that there was enough space on the rail car to accommodate five stacks rather than four. Trials were conducted and the idea was proven.
  • A plant investigated the benefits of replacing up to 40 individual air houses on the roof with one unit. Multiple plants now have the larger units.
  • A product developer created a mathematical model that associated design variables and features with known customer expectations, likes, and dislikes. This predictor model was replicated across all vehicle platforms.

For more on Ford, see:

2. BEEP: The Best eEurope Practices Project collected, analyzed and refined good practices (best practices) in a variety of socioeconomic areas by collecting case studies and coding them according to a wide variety of indicators.

3. Others


1. Steve Denning: Knowledge artifacts are one of the key elements of a KM program. These include records of previous projects, emphasizing best practices.

2. Seth Godin: From The Curse of Great Expectations

Benchmarking against the universe actually encourages us to be mediocre, to be average, to just do what everyone else is doing.

3. David Skyrme: From Knowledge Flows: Mainstream or Myths?

Best Practices Aren’t Best Practices

Organizations want to reuse knowledge and avoid reinventing the wheel. By seeking out and documenting best practices they hope to improve the performance of some activities from mediocre to better. The “best” is inferred from benchmarking results from different approaches. But like many things in knowledge management, there is a large contextual element. What may be best in one situation is not necessarily so in another. It is also not always obvious what is cause and what is effect. For this reason, some people prefer the term “good practices.”

Furthermore, aiming at today’s best may be unambitious. The more successful organizations longer term are those that are innovative and seek breakthrough solutions, not merely the best. On the other hand, if your poor performers aren’t learning from the best you have today, are you not perpetuating the knowledge and performance gap?


  1. Proven practices for lessons learned — and lessons learned about proven practices
  2. Are Your Best Practices Really the Best? By David Skyrme
  3. Knoco Stories by Nick Milton
  4. Above and Beyond KM by Mary Abraham
  5. The network is more powerful than a best practice by Shawn Callahan
  6. KM, Best Practice and Buzzword Bingo by Chris Collison
  7. Knowledgeable by Chris Collison
  8. Against Bestness by Patrick Lambe
  9. The challenge of using someone else’s Best Practices by Dave Snowden
  10. Cognitive Edge by Dave Snowden
  11. The Obvious by Euan Semple
  12. Performance improvement: does one size really fit all? by David Griffiths
  13. Why Best Practices Don’t Work for Knowledge Work by Luis Suarez
  14. The problem with best practices by Shane Snow
  15. Culture: the reason “best practices” are stupid by Francois Gossieaux
  16. Best Practices — Aren’t by Mike Myatt
  17. Forget Your Industry’s Best Practices by Eric Holtzclaw
  18. Template for Capturing Best Practices and Transfer of Best Practices (Collection) by APQC
  19. How to Transfer Best Practices in Your Organization and 3 Models to Transfer Best Practices in Your Organization by Lauren Trees
  20. When Do You Know a Practice Is Truly ‘Best’? by Chris Gardner
  21. Identifying and sharing best practices by the UK National electronic Library for Health
  22. Promoting the Adoption and Use of Best Practices by University of Kansas Work Group for Community Health and Development
  23. How To Use Best Practices To Spur Innovation Forward by Greg Satell
  24. Best Practice Guide by Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montreal
  25. What is a Best Practice? by Business Performance Improvement Resource (BPIR)