Understanding the value of best practices

The discipline required to follow standardized programming best practices can pay off in the long run.


The discipline required to follow standardized programming best practices can pay off in the long run. Courtesy: AvanceonAccording to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a "best practice" is "a procedure that has been shown by research and experience to produce optimal results and that is established or proposed as a standard suitable for widespread adoption."

The important words in this definition are "experience" and "optimal results." When developers build solutions following corporate best practices, they'll follow proven designs established through experience for general program structure, user interface, and operation. If their organization's standard best practices are already good, then following them will help the developers deliver the quality results their organizations demand.

But what about this thing called "optimal results?" How do standardized best practices provide them? The real answer lies in how they are implemented.

Implementing standardized best practices

Many developers come to their jobs without exposure to standardized programming practices. When they start, they may feel they're not being trusted, that being required to follow best practices is something of a slap in the face. But most organizations with a commitment to excellence do indeed establish standard ways of doing things, as do their customers. A new developer is likely to encounter device-based best practices, equipment-based best practices, and procedural best practices. They may find themselves wondering what kind of over-regulated environment they've fallen into. It may all feel a little overwhelming and more than a little bit constraining.

What new programmers are likely to find after a few years on the job is that these standard practices deliver tangible results. As they adhere to the best practices that both their own organization and their customers' companies require, they'll begin to discover why standardized ways of doing things have value. Best practice programming approaches help save time developing and implementing new software. They also make code reuse easier. If developers can recycle existing code for a new project, they can save considerable engineering time. And time, as we all know, equals money. 

Reaping benefits of programming best practices

Many integrators will find that the real value of programming best practices is that they help build the confidence to go to different plants for the same customer and dive right in to fix or change things. If the programming best practices have been followed and routines have been designed according to the proper guidelines, they will know how the code is organized and how the results should act and look, even if they were not the original coders. Standardized practices make integrating new functionality easier and troubleshooting issues far less troublesome because they provide integrators guideposts for finding what they're seeking in the code—especially when standardized, reliable documentation is one of the best practices being followed. The value for in-plant engineers is even greater: each time they return to their code, they'll have the security of knowing exactly how things are being done, no matter which system they're examining.

So here is the message to give new programmers: Best practices aren't constraining, they're liberating. They allow developers working with existing systems to concentrate on achieving desired results rather than figuring out how the current system is implemented. They make new projects more likely to be able to reuse existing code. They provide a structure and process flow that makes program maintenance easier. They're called "best practices" for a good reason.

It sounds a bit like a contradiction, but the constraints of best practices can actually set you free. 

Bryan Little is a principal engineer and food leader specialist at Avanceon, providing support for food & beverage customers. He has been working in the world of integration for more than 20 years. 

This article appears in the Applied Automation supplement for Control Engineering and Plant Engineering.

- See other articles from the supplement below.

Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2017 Top Plant.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
March 2018
SCCR, 2018 Maintenance study, and VFDs in a washdown environment.
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
December 2017
Product of the Year winners, Pattern recognition, Engineering analytics, Revitalize older pump installations
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Maintenance & Safety
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
Industrial Analytics
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
IIoT: Operations & IT
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me