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Best Practices (The Context Driven Folks Are Gonna Crucify Me!)

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Eh….It wouldn’t be the first time.  I doubt it will be the last.

Let me say up front that I agree with most of what they have to say.  The only part I really have a problem with is the first tenant -” There are no best practices…”   I partially agree.  Is there one single, works in every situation best practice?  Of course not!  Still with me Agile Disciples?

I’ve learned a lot from observing how people do things.  Especially the ones that do things well.  It is something I learned from a very wise, yet crusty, Senior NCO that I used to work for when I was in the  Air Force.  Field Training Detachment (FTD) 910, Hahn Air Base, Germany.  We would get inspection reports all the time from similar units that just completed a major inspection.  90% were rated Satisfactory, 1% got the absolute highest rating – Outstanding (the rest failed).  In any of the reports if a unit did something very well it was highlighted in the final report by the inspection team.  Usually with a good description of what they did to achieve the highest rating – a “best practice”.   We would comb thru these reports and compare what they did to what we were doing.  Then we would try to do as well or better. Of course the Failed reports were valuable too.  We made sure we were not doing the same thing!   We did this for every process or task we had.  The result – we got an Outstanding Rating!  In most cases, we now owned the best practice.  It was by far the most rewarding job I ever had!

There are hundreds, if not thousands of best practices.  For any give problem, issue, or situation there are some people who have put a lot of thought into it.  They found a great way to do it.  They are successful and they should be looked at as an example of how to do something well.   Role models.

The life-cycle of any best practice is short however.  It’s only a best practice until someone makes it better.  Like we did.  Eventually someone probably topped us (they had not before I left).

Will any Best Practice apply 100% – of course not!  But there may be pieces of it that work very well.  Take it as a foundation – a starting point –  and modify it to meet your needs.  I probably carry around dozens of best practices to every consulting engagement I’m on.  I pull out the ones that best fit, then tweak them as needed.  Voila!  A new best practice is born. 

Now ‘THAT’s Agile!  OK – bring on the hammer and nails – I’m ready.



  1. You could choose to say “useful” or “reasonable” or “valuable” or “good”. Only someone who actually believed in best practices would crucify you for using the word “best” in a way that is completely divorced from its usual meaning.

    While you’re waiting for the Romans to come, though, you might consider looking at http://www.context-driven-testing.com, and in particular at the principles and the sections labelled “An Example” and “Commentary”.


    —Michael B.

    • Cap'n Dave says:

      Thanks Michael!

      This post was actually inspired by a lunch conversation I had with a collegue. We were discussing some changes I was making to a Defect Mangement system that I had created a few years ago. I made the mistake of saying I’ll have to update my repertoire of “best practices”. Oops.

      She turned white and scolded me that according to the Context-Driven School, there are no “best practices….” So I explained to her what I meant and that it was “in the spirit” of my understanding of the school and we were cool. She was so fixated on the term “best practice” that she didn’t get what I was trying to say.

      Anyway… I’ve been using the term “best practice” for over 20 years. I understand the concept, and I just like the term. In the context (wait, did I just say “context”) I use it, it makes perfect sense to me and to those I work with. Sure, I could change to a different term, but I’m getting stubborn in my old age – so I’m not gonna do it. 🙂

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