Thursday, March 25, 2010

Summary of Findings (White Team): Best Practicies (3 out of 5 Stars)

Note: This post represents the synthesis of the thoughts, procedures and experiences of others as represented in the 12 articles read in advance of (see previous posts) and the discussion among the students and instructor during the Advanced Analytic Techniques class at Mercyhurst College on 25 MARCH 2010 regarding Best Practices Analysis specifically. This technique was evaluated based on its overall validity, simplicity, flexibility and its ability to effectively use unstructured data.

Best Practices methodology aims to identify those practices (ways of doing things) that are most effective for improving an organization's competitive advantage. This is done by determining which processes or practices are employed in a given industry and, of those, which practices reflect commonality and/or innovation. Cost benefit analysis is a complementary component to this methodology. The methods employed are dependent upon the definition of "best" including, but not limited to, the practices that are accepted as the best standard (generally accepted and employed) or the most innovative and effective practice.

  • Can be taught
  • Allows people entering a field to quickly identify common practices
  • Is an investigation of what works, rather than just studying how to avoid failure
  • Can be applied to multiple areas within one company
  • Requires analysts to operationally define qualitative elements to be measured

  • Definition dependent
  • Can result in copycatting without innovation, not dynamic
  • Ignores outside influences such as cultural norms and geography
  • A best practice in one company may not be applicable in another corporate culture
  • Doesn't work in overly competitive constantly changing industries
  • Confined to a particular time frame

  • Identify business processes or services which need to be improved (Ex: Mercyhurst home page)
  • Identify the metrics that we need to improve in that process or service (User interface and appearance)
  • Identify peers / competitors who are considered to be the best in that particular industry (Ex: Best Liberal Arts colleges in the US) or firms that may not be from the same peer group / industry but have a process that is considered best (Ex: Any other webpages identified by the team as having the best user interface)
  • Collect information on the metrics relating to the best practice or service identified from the peers / competitors identified
  • Look for commonalities in the collected metrics from the peer group identified
  • List down the parameters which were common across the peer group and ascertain how feasible it would be to implement them
  • Implement the process and measure the results

Personal Application:
During our classroom exercise, our team decided to look at the websites of the top ten liberal arts colleges in the United States. We developed an Excel spreadsheet dividing our criteria into two categories: layout and content. Layout, in this exercise, consisted of how the website was organized. We looked at several aspects of each website, from where the images were located, where the links were located, whether a search feature was available, navigation links on the top/bottom of the page, and how large the page was (minimal scrolling, lots of scrolling, no scrolling) There were many more aspects regarding content; basically, if one college had a particular link (say to "sustainability" we put it in the Excel spreadsheet and checked the other sites if they had it. Once we had the layout and content criteria established, we went through each website and which colleges matched the individual criteria, and which ones did not.

This exercise taught us to evaluate the meaning of the word 'best', and how it is applied to the subject and methodology. Is best the most common way? The most profitable way? The most efficient way? These are questions that one must ask when deciding how to distinguish a Best Practice. In this case, the best way was defined as the most common way among the top liberal arts schools. Breaking down the requirements into component parts and giving value to each part in relation to the end result is significant as well. Best practices methodology would have to be revisited in order to update the method if there were significant changes. For example, if a college or university started offering on their homepage the ability to manage a student's financial aid via a new software program, then that may be found to be a best practice that is adopted by other schools.

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