What’s Wrong with Guidelines?

Kristina Podnar DG Blog

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a guideline as “a line by which one is guided: such as a) a cord or rope to aid a passer over a difficult point or to permit retracing a course, or b) an indication or outline of policy or conduct.” I like to define digital guidelines as “statements developed to help digital professionals decide about appropriate actions for specific circumstances.”

No matter which definition you choose, the reality is that guidelines can be helpful in the context of digital operations, but they cannot be relied upon to create a predictable and expected outcome. This might seem obvious in context of the aforementioned definitions, but much too often I see organizations creating a set of guidelines hoping that individual staff will follow them, and then being astonished when they don’t.

The reality is that guidelines are

  • subjective by nature;
  • based on the best available evidence;
  • essentially “recommendations” and not hard-and-fast rules.

Most individuals accept guidelines as just that, guidelines, and thus treat them as optional for execution. So, always be clear about what you are asking of individuals creating or producing digital in your organization, and determine whether guidelines are the best way to govern for the desired outcome. If the principle should always be followed and never deviated from, then consider a policy. If there a specific way to execute digital, create a standard. Or if you are looking for a repeatable process to be followed, leverage a standard operating procedure.

There is nothing wrong with guidelines. As long as you use them in the right way!