Best Practice vs. Useful Practice

Phil Stubbington (a good guy), pithily describes Best Practices on the AYE Conference wiki:

Best Practice

A completely fatuous concept based on two dangerous assumptions:-

a) someone else knows what’s best for you

b) you don’t have to think about your context.

James Bullock (also a good guy and fairly frequent commenter on this blog) elaborates here:

Useful Practices

A less fatuous concept that substitutes better ideas for the dangerous assumptions associated with BestPractice:

BestPractice – someone else knows what’s best for you UsefulPractices – you are stuck deciding what’s best for you. It’s your butt, after all.

BestPractice – you don’t have to think about your context. UsefulPractices – you are the one in your context. So pick what works for you there.

BestPractice – you can have success by doing these things without understanding anything about them. UsefulPractices – only through understanding of the practices and their principles do you stand a chance of succeeding.

BestPractice – is an exclusive practice. These are best. We know best. The work is in selecting out. UsefulPractices – is an inclusive practice. These seemed to work. We have some ideas. The work is in selecting in.

Where BestPractice presents a limited prescription, UsefulPractices presents a loose-leaf catalog. Where BestPractice presents technique without principles, and rules without reasons, UsefulPractices presents examples of principles, and guidelines that describe.

So the real best practice (lower case) is to consider the context, the desired outcome, the people involved. And then choose the most appropriate practice for the situation at hand. The best practice you choose might be a Best Practice, but only you can determine if it’s best for you. (Of course, this does imply knowing more than one way to do any give thing.)