Are “Best Practices” really the “Best”?

Written by: Majed Abdeen

Date: 05/11/2022


I'm writing this article as an answer to an animated discussion on the topic: "Good Project Management is the application of best practices". There are many practitioners who would agree with this statement, however, there are many who disagree, or who feel that the statement as-is, is incomplete. Below, I present the arguments of both sides, and conclude that the statement requires to be expanded to include the concept of tailoring.

In this article, I discuss the problem of how this phrase is misunderstood, and how it can mislead organizations into forgetting both creative thinking and continuous improvement, preventing the organization from becoming a "Learning Organization" and embracing Business Agility.

The argument starts with the perspective that many books use the term "Best Practice" as an attractive catch-phrase, while in fact, Practice should be tailored to best meet the desired outcomes, and meet the needs of the organization, stakeholders, and the project (PMI, 2023, p.1). Since each project is unique, I argue that following a fixed and unmodified "Methodology" or so-called "Best Practice" is against "tailoring". This argument is supported by many scholars, including the PMBOK 7th Edition (PMI, 2021, p.132).


From my perspective, defining "Best Practice" is like defining "Logic". This means that what you see as logic from your perspective is different than my logic. It is the same for "Best Practice". What is best for you is not automatically best for me, I might see it as "good", "acceptable", "suitable" or even "bad". Thus, organizations define the term "Best Practice" differently.

Let’s begin with some definitions of the term "Best Practice". The following quotes each define the meaning of “Best Practice”:

“A best practice is a procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption” (Merriam-Webster, 2022).

“Best practices are optimal methods, currently recognized within a given industry or discipline, to achieve a goal or objective” (PMI, 2013, p.111).

“Best practice describes a method or technique established through experience and research consistently shows results superior to those achieved with other means” (European Union, 2018, p.122).

MaryPat Begin states that a Best Practice is “a superior method or innovative practice that contributes to improved performance of a process and must demonstrate that it is better, faster, and cheaper” (Kaiserslautern American, 2004).

Even Wikipedia (at the time of writing) notes that “A best practice is a method or technique that has been generally accepted as superior to other known alternatives because it often produces results that are superior to those achieved by other means or because it has become a standard way of doing things, e.g., a standard way of complying with legal or ethical requirements" (wikipedia, 2022).

All of the aforementioned authors agree that the results of the application of "Best Practice" will be superior and optimal. This leads us to think about the definition of "Best". Best means best, right? Best is not only good, best is not only acceptable, best means perfect, not even excellent. What I understand from the term "Best" is that it implies it would be the most excellent, suitable, and optimal solution to be used for any organization.

I do agree with Abudi (2009): When organizations look at developing a best practice around the project management function, they usually mean one or more of the following:

  • Standardized processes

  • Standardized tools and templates

  • Standardized software

  • Development of competencies

  • Assessment of skills

  • Development of a process for resource planning/allocation

  • Development of career paths

  • Development of strategic training/education programs

  • Formalized mentoring and coaching plans

  • Requirement and support for industry certification (CAPM®, PMP®, PgMP®)

  • Development and rollout of a PMO function

Is it acceptable to use "Good Practice" instead?

Here, I'd like to quote the PMBOK 6th edition "This body of knowledge is constantly evolving. This PMBOK® Guide identifies a subset of the project management body of knowledge that is generally recognized as good practice" (PMI, 2017, p.2). Good practice means there is general agreement that the application of the knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project management processes can enhance the chance of success over many projects in delivering the expected business values and results (PMI, 2017, p.2).

This answers the common misunderstanding that the PMBOK is based on "Best Practice".

The PMBOK is not the only standard from PMI recognized as “Good Practice”;The Standard for Portfolio Management and The Standard for Program Management both provide good practices for each domain (PMI, 2013, p.21).

Context Counts

Let's discuss one of the "Disciplined Agile" principles. Every person, every team, and every organization are unique. This means that each person, team, and organization needs a framework that provides them with choices so that they can tailor, and later evolve, an approach to address the situation that they face in practice. Although prescriptive, one-size-fits-all frameworks such as SAFe or Nexus may seem like an attractive solution to process-related needs at first, in reality that they can often do more harm than good, within the organizations that adopt them (Ambler & Lines, 2016, p.4).

Projects exist in a wider organizational context. A “best practice” may not be best when applied out of its context (Cronemyr, 2007, p.93). This context often encompasses a number of different organizations.

The core of project management is, in its most basic form, the need to do the right projects and then to do the projects in the right way, i.e., dealing effectively with the issues of change, governance and stakeholders. There are, though, specific considerations of the context in which projects take place that are worth noting.

No best practice is best for every organization, and every situation will change as individuals find better ways to reach the end result. (Abudi, 2009).

The problem

In addition to the problems with the term "Best Practice" identified so far, we can also argue that the term contradicts some of the Project Management Principles: Focus on Value, Systems Thinking, Tailoring Based on Context, and Embrace Adaptability and Resiliency (PMI, 2021). When we apply the "Best Practice" without tailoring, the focus will be on the practice itself, not the value, because the team, in this case, believes that the practice is the “best”, thus, it should provide value. The same scenario can be applied to other principles.

I agree with Stan Garfield in his argument about this topic. He said: “The problem with the term “best practice” is that it connotes that an ideal has been achieved, whereas “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.”” (Garfield, 2017).

Project, program, portfolio, organizational and stakeholder complexity all present several challenges for the management of programs; the desire to blindly follow best-practice methods as though "One size fits all" without regard for actual context can result in suboptimal outcomes (Oehmen et al., 2015, p.9). Using industry best practice may not be the most suitable practice for the organization (Eskelin, 2015).

A best practice may not be appropriate or applicable for the needs of any given organization. Project managers need to have the strategic ability to balance the unique qualities of their organization with the most suitable practices for their organization and context.

There is no such thing as best practice

I will cite Ambler & Lines in their book, Choose Your WoW!: A Disciplined Agile Delivery Handbook for Optimizing Your Way of Working, as I believe what they wrote is a good reply to those who believe in applying "Best Practice" blindly:

“There is no such thing as a best practice—every given practice/strategy works well in some contexts and is inappropriate in other contexts” (Ambler & Lines, 2020, p.72).

“DA doesn’t try to dumb things down into a handful of “best practices.” Instead, DA explicitly communicates the issues that you face, the options that you have, and the trade-offs that you’re making, and simplifies the process of choosing the right strategies that meet your needs” (Ambler & Lines, 2020, p.77).

We sometimes find that teams follow a specific technique because they believe that it is the best strategy available. They may have been told that this is “Best Practice,” or it may be that it is the best strategy they know about, the best they can do at that time, or it may have been prescribed to them by the methodology they have adopted, and they have never considered going beyond this methodology. By providing teams and organizations with a number of different strategies and valid options, with the trade-offs for each clearly described, teams are better positioned to compare and contrast strategies and potentially choose a new strategy to experiment with (Ambler & Lines, 2020, p.79).

Ambler & Lines further specify:

“Options (Ordered): Core agile practice/“best practice.” The team adopts industry or organizational “best practices” that have often been identified/selected by our organization. Trade-Offs: There is no such thing as a “best practice.” All practices are contextual in nature, working well in some situations and very poorly in others. Just because someone else thinks a practice is “best” for us doesn’t mean it actually is. “Best practices” are often the excuse that bureaucrats use to inflict common processes on teams to make it easier for them, regardless of the negative impact that those practices may have on the teams” (Ambler & Lines, 2020, p.354).

Tailoring and "Best Practice"

In order to understand the term "Best Practice" more, I recommend reading the methodology definition in my article about the difference between terms such as Method, Standard, Methodology, Framework, and Approach (

PMI also highlights the importance of tailoring, as when methodologies are applied without tailoring, they are not properly customized for the context of the organization:

“The alternative to tailoring is using an unmodified framework or methodology. There are many methodologies available that provide descriptions of processes, phases, methods, artifacts, and templates to be used in projects. These methodologies and their components are not customized to the organizational context” (PMI, 2021, p.132).

The PM² methodology claims that it provides "Best Practices", yet they do emphasize that it is up to the Project Managers and project teams to choose the PM² practices that will bring the most value to their projects (European Union, 2018, p.1): “A Project Support Office (PSO) can tailor the project management methodology to new best practices and help project teams implement the updated methodology effectively” (European Union, 2018, p.7).

The same is true of OPM3: “An OPM3 practitioner tailors the approach based on the organizational environment in which OPM is being assessed.” (PMI, 2013). In addition, in the OPM3 Best Practices List, there are some "Best Practices" which emphasize tailoring the Project Management Processes used (PMI, 2013, pp.117, 123, 177):

“The organization applies processes in a manner that is relevant to each project”

The “organization also permits these techniques to be tailored based upon the specific needs of the project”

The “organization provides tailoring guidelines for the project management templates to allow controlled customization of templates amended based on project approach”

When is "Best Practice" acceptable?

I do not wish to argue against the use of the term “Best Practice” within a particular organization and within the team internally. This is because a particular team can record the lessons learned from their projects, and they can say: this is our "Best Practice" after we learned from our mistakes, and after we tailored good practices such as methodologies, standards, approaches, etc., and after we learned from outside benchmarking. This will not stop us from continuous improvement and enhancing what we see as “Best” to be “Better” in the future. Using the term “Best Practice” in this way ensures that teams and organizations avoid resting on their laurels and remain aware that the environment in which they work is, by nature, ever—changing, and that organizations must remain adaptable towards change. As I observed at the beginning of this article, "Best Practice", used alone, suggests that we have peaked, and can no longer adapt or improve.


Each project is unique, and applying a "One Size Fits All" methodology to your projects without tailoring, will harm it more. The term “Best Practice” should always be used with “tailoring”, to emphasize that alone, “Best Practices” are not necessarily “Best”.


Abudi, G., 2009. Developing a project management best practice. North America, Orlando, FL. Newtown Square, Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2009, PA: Project Management Institute.

Ambler, S. W. & Lines, M., 2016. The Disciplined Agile Process Decision Framework. Switzerland, Springer, International Conference on Software Quality.

Ambler, S. W. & Lines, M., 2020. Choose Your WoW!: A Disciplined Agile Delivery Handbook for Optimizing Your Way of Working. 1.1 ed. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

Cronemyr, P., 2007. Six Sigma Management: Action research with some contributions to theories and methods. Göteborg, Sweden: CHALMERS UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY.

Eskelin, A., 2015. WHY PMOS FAIL?. [Online]

Available at:

[Accessed June 2019].

European Union, 2018. PM² Project Management Methodology Guide. Brussels, Luxembourg: Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Garfield, S., 2017. Proven Practices Process: Don't call it "best practice"​. [Online]

Available at:

[Accessed Nov 2022].

Kaiserslautern American, 2004. Support battalion creates ‘best practices’. [Online]

Available at:

Merriam-Webster, 2022. best practice. [Online]

Available at:

Oehmen, J., Thuesen, C., Parraguez Ruiz, P. & Geraldi, J., 2015. Complexity Management for Projects, Programmes, and Portfolios: An Engineering Systems Perspective. PMI White Paper: Project Management Institute, inc.

PMI, 2013. Organizational project management maturity model (OPM3). 3rd ed. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

PMI, 2017. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK Guide). 6th ed. Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc.

PMI, 2021. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK guide). 7th ed. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc..

PMI, 2023. Process Groups: A Practice Guide. Newtown Square, Pennsylvania: Project Management Institute, Inc..

wikipedia, 2022. Best practice. [Online]

Available at: