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Good Practice, Best Practice and 1984

George Orwell got it

Whenever I hear the term “Best Practice” I think of 1984. Not the year, the novel. George Orwell tells of doublespeak, the language of the oppressive state. In doublespeak meanings are reversed: “War is Peace”, “Freedom is Slavery”,” Ignorance is Strength” and so on.

Words are powerful, as Big Brother knew, and repetition can change meaning. So it is with “Best Practice” which now really means “Mediocre Practice”, since it isn’t what “The Best” are doing merely the average.

But that isn’t even what I dislike most about the term. Worse is the implication that the pinnacle has been reached, after all what’s better than the best? So by a combination of repetition and implication mediocrity is now installed as the most desirable state.

IT is still growing up

Information Technology as an industry is in its infancy. It started in earnest fewer than 60 years ago. The reality is we have very little idea how to create and operate efficient, robust and usable software that meets the need of our users.

In another 60 years people will look back at the primitive state of our tools and methods and laugh, just as we now laugh at early attempts at medicine – think leeches! We try to make ourselves look respectable. We copy ideas from mature industries like architecture and engineering. But the reality is that IT projects are still regarded as failures 60-70% of the time.

Calling what we do today “Best Practice” is so wrong it’s not even funny. I know it’s just marketing, but as Orwell knew, words are powerful and what starts as a harmless phrase soon comes to represent truth.

Good Practice

So how do we change this? First we stop using the term “Best Practice”. When you find yourself reaching for this phrase, substitute “Good Practice” instead.

“Good Practice” is always worth striving for, and does not imply that any sort of pinnacle exists. It’s not complacent. It’s open to change and improvement and constructive criticism is welcomed. There is recognition that improvement is always possible. There is always room for something better.

If I’m still working in IT in 60 years, there will still be “Good Practice” – although it won’t look anything like what we do today. Hopefully we’ll also have left the whole idea of “Best Practice” behind us – with the leeches.

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