About best practice

This idea of best practice continue to pop up. For me is disturbing, in the sense that some practices are being introduced just because near them appears the word “best”. And this is bloody dangerous. In the lines below, I try to decompress what I have just said because I realized that even though we speak about 2 words, is important to say what those 2 words might mean and all the thoughts regarding them.

As a premise, I have to say that language is very important because it can trigger different kind of thoughts( I thought is not true, but after reading some of Antonio Damasio work, I am sure now) . For example, I told to a Scrum Master that her role is like an attractor ( attractor idea from Lorenz attractor). I could have used a word which Scrum Masters are accustomed, but I might have failed to communicate what I wanted to say.

So, for me there are 2 things/directions to think about this topic, at least to try to clarify or see if is some coherence. First what some might really mean/think by “best practice” and second, see what exactly really is “best practice”.


1. what some really might mean by “best practice” -> to really see what might they mean, I imagine there can be lot of inference.

Here I identified 2 directions also, there might be others:

1.1 some people want to say something else, but don’t have the words.

For example: We want to use a new JS framework, like Vue/React/Angular. No one knows the particulars. So someone might say: “What are the best practices for developing with Vue/React/Angular?” By saying this, in a way, is trying to see how to deal with uncertainty regarding that framework. For sure the official documentation/video trainings give a way to handle the work with Vue/React/Angular. This means that, by best practice that person might mean some common norm/recipes to tackle that UI framework. If that person will follow the patterns exposed by the documentation of others then he/she will be able to learn/do/search for the work – at least this might be his/her thoughts.

With this example I have noticed some things:

– Is one thing to learn a specific syntax. Then those, introductory, videos/documentation might help;

– Is a totally different story to structure/architect the code and not being biased by the UI framework. I have to say that I do not search for a Vue/React/Angular developer, I search for a craftsperson developer which is a totally different thing(1) – by the way this is becoming a serious problem, especially in outsourcing;

– Framework designers will not ask for my or yours permission to modify or retire a framework;

So, in this case, “best practice” might mean something like finding a way to deal with unknown. But, but, if by solving this unknown thing ( at least having the impression it can be solved) in the end might use the, so called, best practices. These best practices are like universal rules for that specific framework and might be  in the thoughts of a lot of people. And here, at least for programmatic stuff, trouble might begin.

Small conclusion of this point: Best practice, maybe, is used in two ways. First to tackle/understand the unknown in a tacit way and then as universal receipts, but with no context awareness. And maybe the person using it not being aware of this.

1.2 Mechanistic thinking, truly believing/hoping there exists this “best practice” applicable everywhere.

For example, an upper manager who has to handle multiple projects, new and existing, in an outsourcing regime.

This kind of person might look to see best practices in architecture, again as recipes. He/she will want this because once it has the list of the so called architectures, then the  architecture subject will no longer be a problem. He/she can really concentrate on hiring React/Vue/.Net/… developer, not a craftsperson developer.

With testing, he/she will ask the infamous ‘lets automate all’, and a common approach to all projects of what automation to be done, like using Gherkin and that’s it.

This kind of person, thinks that everything is the same. But he/she forgets that “God is in the details”(2).

These kind of persons will come with a checklist, to be sure that some practices, they already have in their head or imposed by others, pardon best practices, will be implemented. What is sad is that those practices are the same for each project, context is not considered at all. I have noticed that some use “good practice” , not “best practice”, but their dynamic of actions is the same, they only changed “best practice” with “good practice”.

Small conclusion of this point: Here “best practice” is much more dangerous than the one described in section 1.1, because it imposes a certain way of doing things no matter what. The dynamic of actions generated by this can and, I think, will generate lot of strange and unwanted things.

2. See what exactly really is “best practice”

Here I’m influenced by the book “Tools of Critical Thinking: Metathoughts for Psychology”, in the sense that is there a chapter which gives examples of a concept being true and wrong in the same moment – I hope I recall ok this.

Also I have to say that I’m influenced here by the work of Alicia Juarrero and Dave Snowden.

I like the idea of seeing context from the point of view of constraint and casualty. For contexts were best practice might be applicable the constraints are governing ones. They are very rigid. And regarding casualty it should imply that it can be identified very clear and without doubts that event B appeared because of event A and nothing else.(3)

So, the context must be very very rigid. But when we deal with human systems, generally speaking, if it will be constraint in such a way, it will crash or find hidden ways to do the work.

Small conclusion to this point: Even if best practice might mean and have a sense, for sure it has a bounded applicability and this is not understood by a lot of people.

Conclusion: When I hear the words “best practice”, for me is like a heuristic for sloppiness/anomally/something to raise the guard, which if is imposed, it might hurt a lot. For sure is a good indication to see the situated present and how analyze/see/make a sense of it .

(1) David Schmitz, “10 Tips for failing badly at Microservices”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X0tjziAQfNQ

(2) James Coplien, “Lean Architecture: for Agile Software Development”, https://www.amazon.com/Lean-Architecture-Agile-Software-Development/dp/0470684208

(3) Dave Snowden and Mary E. Boone, “A Leader’s Framework for Decision Making“, https://hbr.org/2007/11/a-leaders-framework-for-decision-making