Suggested Best Practices?

A search on Google for the exact phrase “suggested best practice” turned up 9,230 hits, while “suggested best practices” turned up 30,300.

I wonder what the difference is between a suggested practice and a suggested best practice?

Is best a matter of suggestion? I don’t think so. What is lost by removing the word “best”? Like a bad hair piece, it just makes methodologists who use it look ridiculous.

Imagine if the Harvard webmaster removed the word “best” from this page: Would it lose credibility? Or would it gain?

7 thoughts on “Suggested Best Practices?

  1. Overemployed catch phrases (that expression itself might be redundant) have been excoriated by many, some of my favorites on the topic being Eric Blair (“George Orwell”), William Strunk, Jr., F. Scott Fitzgerald and Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain”).

    If I thought simple mockery would avail anything, I’d blow off some steam by creating a “Best best practices” web page. Or write a “Practice Practical Best Best Practices Bestly” article for Stickynotes.

    “Omit needless words. Vigorous writing is concise.” — W. Strunk, Jr., Chapter 13 of _Elements of Style_

    The people who talk the “best practices” talk are often just Pointy-Haired Bosses (a la dilbert) or others trying to do verbal “primate grooming” and soothe one another, and the stockholders (or stakeholders). We’ve always had such bosses and such gullible stakeholders, and I expect we always will. Compare and contrast this with, say, “Management By Objective”. _That_ too often turns into just another “I dictate, you perform” framework. “Management By Walking Around”, likewise, turns into micromanagement with a figleaf.

    “Best” anything is intended as a confidence builder. Just like the Emperor’s wardrobe, it is rarely a sign of humility. The business culture doesn’t especially reward humility; and it _sometimes_ punishes hubris. But businesspeople still egg each other on in these ways. And they rationalize that *this* instance of hubris is the *real* deal, not hubris at all. Sometimes I weep for the species.

  2. Hi,

    I am a little confused about the first post:

    You say you searched for:
    1 – “suggested best practice” and
    2 – “suggested best practices”,
    And then you say about differences in the results when omitting the word best (which seems to be in both queries).

    “Suggested practices” search returns about 68k results and “suggested practice” about 38k

    [James’ reply: I’m not talking about the differences in results. I’m talking about the fact that any results appear at all. In a world that uses words meaningfully, the queries I did should not return anything. The term “suggested practice” is fine. The term “suggested best practice” is, in most contexts, direct evidence that the term “best practice” has become marketing idiom instead of a meaningful phrase.]

  3. and what if we replaced all instances of “best practice” with “pattern”?


    [James’ Reply: If we replace the phrase “best practice” with the word “pattern” and leave all else the same? Think about it… What would that do? I think it would make very little difference. Can you see why? (or if you you disagree, can you frame the argument on that side?)]

  4. I agree completely, and now I get to state my punchline: what best practices were to the 90s, patterns are becoming to the 00s, their context-free use justified because they appeared in print somewhere.

    In fact, isn’t using patterns a best practice?

    [James’ Reply: I hear you. In my community, the word “pattern” has become slightly radioactive.] 

  5. This is all very recognizable. Right now, I’m contracted to test in an organisation that wants me to follow their ‘Master Test Plan’ template, based on, yes, you’ve guessed; ‘Best Practices of TMap’. The template is 22 pages long, even without any content (!?!?!?!?). Having done my best to fill in only the mandatory sections, it becomes 31 pages. I now get comments sent back to me saying I should document and justify all the tests I’m NOT planning to carry out and providing justification for not filling in the paragraphs that I haven’t filled in. I’m a bit concerned here; this ‘best practice’ is going to lead to a 60 page plan, with no time for actually testing any software, which is what my customer has supposedly hired me to do.

    Personally I think that the longer a plan gets, the less it reflects the real world. Thoughts?

    [James’ Reply: I think your clients probably don’t know what they are doing. In their ignorance they panic. They shield themselves with rhythmic patterns of ink, blessed by a technocratic priesthood. They chant and throw paper in the air, investing their resources in ways they hope will distract and confuse their tormentors. You are involved in a ritual, Michael. Whatever it means, it has little to do with testing.] 

  6. Why does the term “best practices” get you so worked up? If someone wants to share experiences and processes that have provided good results for them and their organization and they want to share it with rest of the world, who cares if they want to call it “best practicesâ€? or not. Take what you can from the advice they have to offer and leave the rest behind.

    [James’ Reply: “Best Practice” is not just an innocent expression. It’s direct evidence of incompetence or lying or both. It corrodes our craft, to the point where the only people who aren’t cynical about what almost anyone says about test methodology are people who don’t know anything about it. I’d like to reverse the corrosion.

    At least within my community, I’d like to set a strong positive example of how competent and serious technical people should speak about methodology. Most of the world will ignore us, but more and more people will come to respect and trust us over time if we clean up our act.]

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