Developing a clinical practice guideline (CPG) is expensive and time-consuming and therefore often unrealistic in settings with limited funding or resources. Although CPGs form the cornerstone of providing synthesised, systematic, evidence-based guidance to patients, healthcare practitioners and managers, there is no added benefit in developing new CPGs when there are accessible, good-quality, up-to-date CPGs available that can be adapted to fit local needs. Different approaches to CPG development have been proposed, including adopting, adapting or contextualising existing high-quality CPGs to make recommendations relevant to local contexts. These approaches are attractive where technical and financial resources are limited and high-quality guidance already exists. However, few examples exist to showcase such alternative approaches to CPG development. The South African Guidelines Excellence project held a workshop in 2017 to provide an opportunity for dialogue regarding different approaches to guideline development with key examples and case studies from the South African setting. Four CPGs represented the topics: mental health, health promotion, chronic musculoskeletal pain and prehospital emergency care. Each CPG used a different approach, however, using transparent, reportable methods. They included advisory groups with representation from content experts, CPG users and methodologists. They assessed CPGs and systematic reviews for adopting or adapting. Each team considered local context issues through qualitative research or stakeholder engagement. Lessons learnt include that South Africa needs fit-for-purpose guidelines and that existing appropriate, high-quality guidelines must be taken into account. Approaches for adapting guidelines are not clear globally and there are lessons to be learnt from existing descriptions of approaches from South Africa.