Common practice or best practice? A key distinction in user adoption practice.


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Congratulations! You’ve just implemented your new IT system. As end-users use the system, they will discover new and creative ways to use the technology. To optimize their efficient methods throughout the end-user community at your organization, you need a mechanism to identify emergent best practices and share them across the enterprise. Unfortunately, organizations assume that knowledge sharing and best practice identification happens organically. It doesn’t.

There are two obstacles that typically prevent best practices from being adopted enterprise-wide. One, organizations mistake habits or “common practice” as being a well thought-out and detailed “best practice”. Two, organizations assume a “best practice” will naturally become the standard working method. Both assumptions lead to failed expectations.

A common practice is something that workers gravitate to because it has become the norm via habit. However, a common practice may not be the correct or the most efficient way to perform a process. By contrast, a best practice is a technique or methodology that, through experience and research, has proven to reliably lead to a desired result.

Even If one has deliberately created a best practice, it takes an equal amount of deliberate planning and action to make it the “common practice”. “Word of mouth” does not ensure the best practice will behaviorally be adopted by all end-users.


A best practice is the collection of knowledge that is cultivated, sought out, and disseminated with purpose and intent. An organization will need specific criteria for how to capture behavioral steps, analyze & test them to determine which are the most productive/most efficient, and then standardize them into a best practice. The structure does not need to be complicated or complex to be effective, but it must be able to defend its conclusions/recommendations.

In addition, an organization will need the proper and robust set of support mechanisms to ensure end-users adopt the best practice. Such mechanisms include: processes, training, job-aids, subject matter experts, and communications.


  • What are your organization/department’s criteria for forming a best practice?
  • Who determines what is a “common practice” vs. a “best practice” in your organization?
  • What are the preferred communication methods for announcing the best practices (Town halls, emails, shared drive, demonstrations, planned education sessions, etc.)?
  • What steps do you need to take in order to institutionalize the behavior of best practices?

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Jason Whitehead
Jason Whitehead is CEO of Tri Tuns, LLC, an organizational effectiveness consultancy specializing in driving and sustaining effective user adoption of IT systems. He works at the intersection of technology, process, culture and people to help clients actually achieved measurable business benefits from their technology investments.


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