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  • 1. from the editor E d i t o r i n C h i e f : Wa r r e n H a r r i s o n I P o r t l a n d S t a t e U n i v e r s i t y I w a r r e n . h a r r i s o n @ c o m p u t e r. o r gBest Practices: Who Says?Warren Harrison W e often hear the term “best prac- didn’t follow best practices, is that negligence? tices” used in software development If your organization did follow best practices, contexts. Since I’ve been IEEE Soft- is that a defense? Should customers select ware’s editor in chief, I’ve seen the Company A’s products over Company B’s be- phrase in many submissions, a few cause Company A follows best practices? of which have even proudly pro- What exactly is a best practice? claimed in the title that they were presenting a The term “best practice” has several defini- best practice. Like countless others in the devel- tions, but the American Society for Quality’s opment community, I’d fallen into definition probably comes closest to what we the habit of using the term indis- in software development mean when we use criminately for any activity that the term. The ASQ defines “best practice” as a looked even remotely useful. superior method or innovative practice that However, over the past several contributes to the improved performance of an years, I’ve taken a serious interest organization, usually recognized as “best” by in computer forensics, including other peer organizations. looking for better ways to extract criminal evidence from suspects’ Problems with best practices hard drives. In a lot of ways, the First of all, I’d like to state that I’m not fun- problems are analogous to soft- damentally opposed to using the term “best ware engineering issues—a mix- practice” or its significance in establishing due ture of process and technology. Because of this care or negligence. I’m not even against using similarity, I was surprised to find many of my it to distinguish between competing products; law enforcement colleagues horrified by the in fact, I’d be very much for it. However, it’s idea of labeling something a “best practice.” It that last phrase in the ASQ definition that turns out that in a criminal trial (at least in the troubles me: usually recognized as “best” by US), the failure to follow an established best other peer organizations. Although I think this practice in an investigation could result in an phrase is important (in fact, essential) in estab- acquittal. I learned it’s far safer to avoid the lishing something as a best practice, it raises term when discussing techniques investigators serious issues about how we determine what’s might use. a best practice to begin with: What does it matter? I Exactly who are these “peer organiza- In software development, using (or failing tions”? Are they peer organizations simply to use) a best practice could have numerous because they develop software? Or do they ramifications. For instance, if your software have to be in the same general industry? fails, customers sue, and your organization What about size? Do Motorola’s peers in-8 IEEE SOFTWARE Published by the IEEE Computer Society 0740-7459/04/$20.00 © 2004 IEEE
  • 2. FROM THE EDITOR clude a 10-person start-up? Do the velopment practice will differ de- velopment, I consider this a serious peers of an organization that pro- pending on whom you ask. question. If readers see an article, in duces Web content include NASA as I And what about conflicting best this or any other publication, that well as Podunk Savings and Loan? practices? CMM versus agile? Mid- claims an activity is a best practice, it’sI How many peer organizations have dleware versus native OS support? reasonable for them to think the activ- to recognize the practice as best? J2ME versus WAP? Objects versus ity is recognized as “best” by other Must it be a certain number or per- datastores? Surely not everyone peer organizations. centage? If it’s a percentage, how do agrees on every good idea ever in- Because of this, I’ve begun restrict- we know how many peer organiza- troduced in the software develop- ing use of the term “best practice” in tions exist? ment community. articles that we publish in IEEE Soft-I Who’s responsible for collecting ware. In most cases, “good practice” data about which peer organiza- Good ideas and best practices or “effective practice” serve as ac- tions recognize the practice and The fact is that we really don’t have ceptable substitutes. I hope other edi- which don’t? Consultants? Re- a mechanism to formally establish best tors consider similar measures for searchers? Academics? Magazine practices in the software development their publications. At the same time, I editors? I was at a recent conference community. Of course, plenty of prac- would welcome attempts to formalize in which the keynote speaker (an tices exist that most, if not everyone in its meaning for software develop- academic) proposed that a special the community, think are good ideas. ment. Until we get there, be wary board of notable researchers be But when does a good idea become a about using the term indiscriminately. formed to determine and publish a best practice? Frankly, I don’t know. It might come back to bite you or list of best practices. In principle, And, if “best practices” were just an- your company. this sounds like a pretty good idea. other slick advertising term that folks But few researchers are purely ob- like to throw around, I wouldn’t care. What do you think? servers—most are (or at least try to However, I fear that one of these days, I’d like to hear your thoughts on best be) change agents. If change agents adherence to best practices will mean practices. What does it take to convince sit on the board, which is likely, the difference between negligence and you that something is a best practice? Do they’ll no doubt innocently record responsible development in a lawsuit. you think we have any best practices (us- observations about organizations We’d better have an answer by then. ing the ASQ definition) in the commu- they’ve influenced or tried to influ- As editor in chief of a fairly influen- nity today? Please write me at warren. ence. This seems to guarantee a tial magazine dealing with software de- harrison@computer.org. skewed observation.I How does a peer organization rec- ognize a best practice? Does simply performing an activity make it a best practice? If other peer organi- zations don’t perform the activity, Goodbye … Hello does that imply that not performing it should be a best practice? For ex- The Hawaiian greeting ample, some companies use inspec- “aloha” is an acknowl- tions and some don’t. If performing edgment that means an activity is the only requirement, hello or goodbye. I’d we could end up with two best prac- like to take this oppor- tices: using inspections and not us- tunity to say aloha to ing inspections. some old friends asI What about organizations in which well as some new ones. some units use a particular practice Maarten Boasson, and others don’t? Must an organiza- associate editor in tion always use a particular practice chief for design, and for it to be recognized? My experi- Jeffrey Voas, associ- Maarten Boasson Jeffrey Voas ence leads me to believe that large ate editor in chief for gaps often occur between different quality, have completed their terms of you. But, in keeping with the aloha business units’ practices (and often service with IEEE Software’s Editorial theme, it really isn’t just “goodbye”; even in projects within a given busi- Board. They’ve both been instrumental it’s also “hello” because they’re contin- ness unit). Certainly an organiza- in making IEEE Software what it is, uing with us as members of our Indus- tion’s use of almost any software de- and we all owe them a hearty thank trial Advisory Board. January/February 2004 IEEE SOFTWARE 9
  • 3. FROM THE EDITOR I’d also like to say Stan Rifkin is known aloha to two new Edito- throughout the software D E PA R T M E N T E D I T O R S rial Board members: engineering community. Bookshelf: Warren Keuffel, Philippe Kruchten, who He is a principal at and wkeuffel@computer.org joins us as associate edi- the founder of Master Sys- Construction: Andy Hunt and Dave Thomas, tor in chief for design, tems, a software consult- {andy, dave}@pragmaticprogrammer.com and Stan Rifkin, who ing company. Design: Martin Fowler, fowler@acm.org will serve as associate ed- Stan helps clients im- Loyal Opposition: Robert Glass, itor in chief for quality. plement engineering and rglass@indiana.edu Philippe Kruchten is management process Manager: Don Reifer, d.reifer@ieee.org a professor of software improvements. He also engineering at the Uni- Philippe Kruchten helped establish and par- Quality Time: Nancy Eickelmann, nancy.eickelmann@motorola.com, versity of British Colum- ticipated in several soft- and Jane Hayes, hayes@cs.uky.edu bia in Vancouver, Can- ware engineering process Requirements: Suzanne Robertson, suzanne@systemsguild.com ada. He has 28 years of groups and software pro- industrial experience de- cess improvement net- STAFF veloping large-scale soft- work groups. Senior Lead Editor ware-intensive telecom- Stan cowrote (with Dale C. Strok munications, aerospace, Priscilla Fowler) Soft- dstrok@computer.org defense, and transporta- ware Engineering Process Group Managing Editor Crystal Shif tion systems. He spent Group Guide, consid- Senior Editors 17 years at Rational ered a seminal work on Shani Murray and Dennis Taylor Software, now part of how to establish and Assistant Editors IBM, where he led the sustain a SEPG and re- Rebecca Deuel and Denise Kano development of the Ra- Stan Rifkin lated software engineer- Editorial Assistant Joan Shim tional Unified Process, a ing process improve- Magazine Assistant Web-based, generic software develop- ments. The guide has had major Pauline Hosillos, software@computer.org ment process. He wrote three books on influence on the proliferation of grass- Art Director the RUP and created a model for rep- roots SPINs around the world. He Toni Van Buskirk resenting software architecture based also cowrote Measurement in Prac- Cover Illustration Technical Illustrator Dirk Hagner Alex Torres on multiple coordinated views, which tice, a study of the US’s best metrics Production Assistant Production Artist led to an IEEE standard. He coau- practices, and recently wrote “Why Monette Velasco Carmen Flores-Garvey thored the Object Management New Software Processes Are Not Executive Director Group’s Software Process Engineering Adopted” for Advanced Computers. David Hennage Publisher Assistant Publisher Metamodel, an industry standard for Rifkin previously served on the edi- Angela Burgess Dick Price process modeling. He also represented torial board of Empirical Software Membership/Circulation Marketing Manager Rational on the industry advisory Engineering. Georgann Carter board of the Software Engineering He earned his BS in business ad- Business Development Manager Sandra Brown Body of Knowledge project. As a mem- ministration (quantitative methods) Senior Production Coordinator ber of the International Federation for from California State University at Marian Anderson Information Processing Working Northridge and his MS in computer Group 2.10 on software architecture, science from the University of Califor- CONTRIBUTING EDITORS he leads the steering committee for the nia at Los Angeles. He also did PhD- Candace English, Robert Glass, Anne Lear, Rita Scanlan, Keri Schreiner, Joan Taylor Working IEEE/IFIP Conferences on oriented postgraduate study in applied Software Architecture. science and engineering at UCLA and Philippe received his diploma in me- the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Editorial: All submissions are subject to editing for clarity, chanical engineering from École Cen- He is currently a doctoral fellow in ex- style, and space. Unless otherwise stated, bylined articles and departments, as well as product and service descrip- trale de Lyon, France; his doctorate in in- ecutive leadership at George Washing- tions, reflect the author’s or firm’s opinion. Inclusion in formation systems from École Nationale ton University. You can find out more IEEE Software does not necessarily constitute endorsement by the IEEE or the IEEE Computer Society. Supérieure des Télécommunications in about Stan at www.master-systems. Paris; and his certificate in intercultural com/Stan.ivnu or at www.computer. To Submit: Access the IEEE Computer Society’s Web-based system, Manuscript Central, at http://cs-ieee. studies from the University of British org/software/experts. manuscriptcentral.com/index.html. Be sure to select the Columbia. Find out more about Philippe right manuscript type when submitting. Articles must be original and not exceed 5,400 words including figures and tables, which count for 200 words each. at http://philippe.kruchten.com or at www.computer.org/software/experts. T o all of these individuals … aloha!10 IEEE SOFTWARE w w w . c o m p u t e r. o r g / s o f t w a r e
  • 4. FROM THE EDITOR EDITOR IN CHIEF: Warren Harrison 10662 Los Vaqueros Circle Los Alamitos, CA 90720-1314 warren.harrison@computer.org Reader Survey: EDITOR IN CHIEF EMERITUS: Steve McConnell, Construx Software stevemcc@construx.com Tell Us What A S S O C I AT E E D I T O R S I N C H I E F You Think! Education and Training: Don Bagert, Rose-Hulman Inst. of Technology; don.bagert@rose-hulman.edu Design: Philippe Kruchten, University of IEEE Software is published as a British Columbia; kruchten@ieee.org Requirements: Christof Ebert, Alcatel; service to its readers. We’d like to christof.ebert@alcatel.com know how well we’re doing. If Management: Ann Miller, University of Missouri, Rolla; millera@ece.umr.edu you receive the print version of Quality: Stan Rifkin, Master Systems; the magazine, you’ll notice that sr@master-systems.com Experience Reports: Wolfgang Strigel, this issue includes a postage- Software Productivity Center; strigel@spc.ca paid, self-addressed survey. EDITORIAL BOARD Please take the time to fill it out and send it back to us. We can Nancy Eickelmann, Motorola Labs Richard Fairley, Oregon Graduate Institute tailor the magazine to your in- Martin Fowler, ThoughtWorks terests only if you give us feed- Jane Hayes, University of Kentucky Andy Hunt, Pragmatic Programmers back. If you subscribe to only Warren Keuffel, independent consultant the online version and don’t have the survey, Karen Mackey, Cisco Systems email us at software@computer.org, and we’ll make sure you get a copy. Deependra Moitra, Infosys Technologies, India Don Reifer, Reifer Consultants Look for this and other surveys in the future at www.computer.org/software. Suzanne Robertson, Atlantic Systems Guild —Warren Harrison, editor in chief Richard H. Thayer, Calif. State Univ. Sacramento Dave Thomas, Pragmatic Programmers INDUSTRY ADVISORY BOARD Robert Cochran, Catalyst Software (chair) Dave Aucsmith, MicrosoftNew! Maarten Boasson, Quaerendo Invenietis Annie Kuntzmann-Combelles, Q-Labs David Dorenbos, Motorola Labs Enrique Draier, MAPA LatinAmericaSoftware Engineering Overview: David Hsiao, Cisco Systems Takaya Ishida, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. Dehua Ju, ASTI Shanghai Preparing for the Donna Kaspersen, Science Applications International Pavle Knaflic, Hermes SoftLab IEEE Computer Society Wojtek Kozaczynski, Microsoft Tomoo Matsubara, Matsubara Consulting Masao Matsumoto, Univ. of Tsukuba CSDP Examination Dorothy McKinney, Lockheed Martin Space Systems Stephen Mellor, Project Technology Susan Mickel, Lockheed Martin Dave Moore, Vulcan NorthwestExpand your knowledge and advance your Melissa Murphy, Sandia National Laboratories Grant Rule, Software Measurement Servicescareer with a new online training course Girish Seshagiri, Advanced Information Services Chandra Shekaran, Microsoftcreated exclusively for software professionals. Martyn Thomas, Praxis Rob Thomsett, The Thomsett Company John Vu, The Boeing CompanyThis interactive course offers 10 modules that cover all Simon Wright, Integrated Chipware11 knowledge areas of the CSDP exam. Key concepts and Tsuneo Yamaura, Hitachi Software Engineering Jeffrey Voas, Cigitalprinciples of software engineering are presented with M A G A Z I N E O P E R AT I O N S C O M M I T T E Eclear and concise explanations. Plus the course providesa list of references to aid further study for each area. Jean Bacon (chair), Thomas J. Bergin, Pradip Bose, Doris L. Carver, George Cybenko, John C. Dill, Frank E. Ferrante, Robert E. Filman, Forouzan Golshani, Rajesh Gupta, Warren Harrison, Mahadev Satyanarayanan, Register Now Nigel Shadbolt, Francis Sullivan For more information or to enroll for P U B L I C AT I O N S B O A R D Software Engineering Overview, visit Rangachar Kasturi (chair), Jean Bacon, Laxmi Bhuyan, Mark Christensen, www.computer.org/certification/distancelearning Thomas Keefe, Deependra Moitra, Steven L. Tanimoto, Anand Tripathi January/February 2004 IEEE SOFTWARE 11