How many times have we heard that “do this” or “do that” because it is an industry best practice? Per my observations, even though the “best practices” (of anything) may have resulted in a good outcome in the majority of cases, the actual implementation of the same is subjective that depends on a specific environment or situation.
Practically, there is no one-size fit all approach. Consider any IT framework or methodology, most of them have one thing in common — they advise the common sense way of thinking, and do not force it as a principle that one must adhere to all the time.
Application of Best Practices in a Small Town Grocery Store
In a small town somewhere in east India, there is a family run grocery store. The population of that town might be around 1,500 people. The grocery store sells the stuff in the shop mostly on cash. However, some families insist on interest-free credit, which they usually settle monthly. No, the store does not use the VISA or MASTER or AMEX Cards. All they have is a paper notebook, a ballpoint pen, and verbal trust — a kind of a mutual credit system. The grocery store owners know pretty much every family in the town. As long as they know you, you can walk in, ask for a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk — they will make a note of it, and hand it to you. They capture each transaction in a paper notebook (like a ledger). At a particular frequency, say, monthly, the store owner and the head of the family settle their accounts.
The most remarkable thing is that I never heard of any dispute on the data entry or charges. Once in a while, folks do say, “Hey, I paid that amount” or “hey, I asked for it, but I didn’t get it, or I returned it.” Usually, after a discussion and walking down the memory lane one convinces the other and they settle the disputes, if any, and shake on it. No courts. No cops. No credit cards. No banks. No IT software. No IT infrastructure.
[FYI… No, it is not an Indiana Jones jungle — just outside the town they have almost all the standard branded stores and companies — like, Nike, Adidas, Reebok, Gap, Old Navy, United Colors of Benetton, McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, Subway, KFC, Wal-Mart, Citi Bank, Bank of America, Multiplex Movie Theaters, etc. Yes, they do have cell phones (iPhone’s, iPad’s, etc.) and internet (broadband).]
Overall, the whole system is working for them flawlessly for at least last 30+ years, even in this age of the day.
The Morale of the Story is the Environment and the Situation Matter
The small size matters — they don’t need any state of the art financial system to manage the store.
There is no need for a risk management system — the community works as an engine to enforce the social responsibility — this fosters the trust and the honor based system.
One may argue there is a risk — what if the notebook is stolen or destroyed in a fire or flood? There must be backups. There is a risk that the customer may cheat or the shopkeeper may cheat. So there must be a process to keep each transaction receipt (both soft copy and hard copy).
All of these “what ifs” are valid, but one does not need to implement multi-million-dollar systems and processes for the given use case. Consider the size and scope of the situation and the corresponding (higher) cost for the (low) benefits.
Of course, there are always some known bad actors that get barred from the honor based credit system — like the famous Seinfeld episode of The Soup Nazi, “No soup for you!” Or should I say, “No credit for you!” In other words, they maintain a no-credit blacklist for repeat offenders (cheaters).
From best practices standpoint, they do log each credit transaction. Once they settle the accounts, they destroy those transactions. All payments are in cash.
Like any corporation or enterprise, there is an element of customer service in the model. As part of excellent customer service, while serving them, they chat and talk about each other’s day/family, etc. that helps them build the bond towards a potential honor based credit system.
Also, for the families with older adults, they even do free-home delivery that too on interest-free credit, if the customers wanted (assuming they are not on the blacklist!).
One should not implement the best practices blindly. The current situation in the client environment, the scope, and the maturity of the organization are all critical aspects that one must consider before applying the vendor, or IT framework forced one-size fit all approach. Always consider implementing a small scale simple solution (minimum viable product), and observe the behavior. Being agile in such cases is not just nice to have, instead, an essential part of the integral approach.
One must always think of the option of tailoring the framework suggestions, and should not treat it as a commandment “thou shalt do this, or thou shan’t do that.”
After all, the focus of the process improvement is to support the core business, not the core business itself.