Context and problems with “Best Practice”

I sometimes have to suppress a shudder when people use the term “best practice”. Despite a positive sounding name, the idea of “best practice” is almost always used in a way that is restrictive rather than enabling. Declaring one approach or solution as “best practice” by implication shuts out other answers.

I will admit that for some (very narrow) fields there can be a common understanding of the one best way to do something, but this is often so well understood that it does not even get a name. Walking on your feet is generally better than walking on your hands or knees, for example, but I have never met anyone who referred to foot-walking as “best practice”.

In my world of software development, where the landscape changes at a moment’s notice, naming something as “best practice” is tantamount to declaring it obsolete. Yet large numbers of software developers still numbly follow the its lead.

James Bach tackles a similar issue in testing James Bach’s Blog » Blog Archive » The Great Implication of Context-Driven Methodology.