The Power of Patterns and Practices
When you name something it’s powerful. You have a way to reference it and share it with others. Patterns are named problem and solution pairs. They are a simple way to build and share a catalog of knowledge. You can use patterns to efficiently share strategies or principles. One good name is worth a 1000 words. Practices are methods or techniques. They are “how” you do something. By leveraging patterns and practices, you can improve your ability to get results. Basically, it’s a way to build a mental toolbox of insight and action to draw from.
You can think of a principle as a fundamental law or truth. They can explain how things work or what to expect, such as the law of gravity. You can also think of principles as internal motivation to do things (i.e. a matter of principle) vs. external rules that compel you and are enforced by threat or punishment. You can also think in terms of guiding principles. Guiding principles are strategies or guidelines or rules of thumb that guide your thinking or doing. You can think of principles as strategies and rules as tactics. Rather than have a rule or tactic for every situation, you can leverage guiding principles to help you find a solution or response.
The power of principles includes:
- Explaining how things work.
- Explaining what to expect.
- Naming and sharing fundamental laws or truths.
- Naming and sharing guidelines and rules of thumb.
You can think of a pattern as a proposed model or a recurring event. Patterns are all around us. You can see patterns in nature, in people, and in the shapes of buildings. You may be familiar with design patterns, behavior patterns, patterns of events, spending patterns, or thought patterns. You can also think of patterns as a proposed model. If you’re a dress maker, you might use design patterns as a template to start from. In software, patterns have been especially effective for documenting and sharing collective knowledge in the field. Each pattern is a problem and solution pair. The chunk of advice is structured and includes key information such as the context so you know when to use it or where it applies. Because patterns are rooted in practice, they are discovered versus created, and as general rule of thumb, it’s not a pattern unless you can point to three examples where the pattern is used in practice.
The power of patterns includes:
- Creating a shared vocabulary.
- Naming and sharing solutions to common problems.
- Sharing principles efficiently.
- Documenting knowledge in a field.
You can think of practices as methods or techniques. In other words, it’s a way to do something. You’ve probably heard the term “best practices.” While “best” is subjective, the idea is to share the most effective techniques. On the patterns & practices team, we adopted the term, “proven practices” since some customers didn’t like the term “best practices.” In our case, proven simply meant we tested the practices we shared for specific scenarios. At the end of the day, our goal is to find and share practices for customer success.
The power of practices includes:
- Creating a catalog of techniques in a given domain.
- Naming and sharing methods or techniques.
- Sharing expertise more effectively.
Examples of Principles, Patterns, and Practices
The following table shows some examples of principles, patterns, and practices:
Stephen Covey is also a good example in action. He’s created a shared vocabulary by sharing a set of principles, patterns, and practices in the form of habits: habit 1 – be proactive, habit 2 – begin with the end in mind, habit 3 – put first things first, habit 4 – think win-win, habit 5 – seek first to understand and then to be understood, habit 6 – synergize, habit 7 – sharpen the saw, habit 8 – Find your voice, help others find theirs.
Photo by Bludgeoner86.