Blog: The Best Practices Fallacy

The “Best Practice” Fallacy

A best practice is something that industry professionals deem, through experience, to be the best way to do a thing. Since a lot of smart people have come to this conclusion, following these best practices is often desired by others in the profession or across industry. It makes sense that you want to do things the best way possible, but does following “best practices” achieve that? In this blog, I will explore that question by considering the following two additional questions.

  • Are these best practices really “best?”
  • What are the downsides to embracing best practices?

Are Best Practices Really “Best?”

Is there a best looking person? A best car? A best software application? “Best” is a rather strong word, is it not? Has anyone ever told you that some thing was the best, but you disagreed? Ok, so that was one person and not a large group of industry professions professing it. What about Car of the Year? Industry professionals claim a certain car is the best car of the year. Do you always agree? Nine out of ten dentists recommend abc brand toothpaste. Do you agree? Are any of your alternatives to the above “bests” equally as good or effective for you? At work, within Agile circles, daily standup meetings may be considered a best practice. These short meetings may very well benefit many teams, but some would argue this meeting is not best for them. At one time, it was best practice to deploy new software every couple of months, but that cadence has shortened, has it not? The user story format of “As a , I want to , so that <reason/benefit>” was once considered a best practice. Maybe it still is, but is it the best practice?

In a continuous improvement environment, best practices should be a moving target. Are they really 'best' if you are continuously finding better ways? Click To Tweet

The practices you use are merely ways to achieve broader objectives. Standup meetings serve the purpose of engaging better. Are there other ways to do that? User stories serve the purpose of focusing on the whole story, including the problem to address. Are there other ways to do that? To that point, best practices are a moving target – or should be. Continuous improvement is central to Agile-minded teams. How can anything you do be a “best” practice if you are always looking to replace it with something better?

What are the Downsides to Embracing Best Practices?

For some, they recognize that “best practice” does not mean the absolute best for all people and all situations, but rather that it is a tried and proven method that will broadly help many. For others, they take the notion of best practice literally and push those standards on the teams.

When you glom onto best practices, is there a reason to look for better ways? Does that stagnate continuous improvement?

When teams are forced to do specific practices because they are deemed “best,” this creates several unfortunate outcomes. Continuous improvement is about constantly seeking better ways of working. Is there a better way if what you are doing is “best?” Believing that what you are doing is the best will stifle the search for better. I also know that forced practices rarely are accepted well into teams. Inevitably, something the team is forced to do as “best” will not really be the best thing for that team in that moment. Unintended consequences occur. The organization was hoping for improved performance by pushing best practices, but receives the opposite instead. Team members that know there are better ways become frustrated. Frustration creates less effective and efficient environments.

Seek “Better”

The first line of the Agile Manifesto says, “We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it.” There are great practices you should adopt and try. Some you may do forever; others you will swap and improve upon frequently. The moment you buy into the idea that there are best practices in Agile, you stop improving. Let go of the notion that there is a “best” practice and focus on constantly finding better ways.

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