The Standards Game


The 10th Commandment: Know That Standards Have Technical and Business Aspects

I’m starting the new year by finishing a project, and it feels great. I posted the first of my “10 Commandments for Effective Standards” way back in February of 2008. Today, I’m completing the series with a concept that summarizes what I’ve learned about the standards game. image

The 10th Commandment for Effective Standards is: Know That Standards Have Technical and Business Aspects.

When you think about a standard, the first thing that might come to mind is its technical nature. How can a standard’s working group piece together formats donated from several companies into a single, cohesive standard? How will the standard be implemented into existing algorithms and code? How will customers be able to plug together products that support the standard from different vendors? Which features of the standard must be included in the first version and which can be saved for future revisions?

These are vital questions to be answered, of course. But addressing only the technical aspects of a standard does not ensure that an effective standard will be produced. The business elements have to be considered as well.

Practical questions should be settled during the standardization process – if  not by the working group members, at least within the participants’ own organizations. For instance, how much will modifications to current products cost in order to support the proposed standard? Can new products be developed quickly enough to make use of the standard? Will it be economically feasible for customers to switch to a new standard?

To create an effective standard, not just a technically elegant one, the people working on a standardization effort need to realize – and be able to address – business concerns equally as much as technical concerns. I can think of four ways to meet this requirement.

First, a company can find an employee who has both technical expertise and business savvy to represent the company in the standard’s working group. This person is someone who can navigate his or her way through challenging technical issues as well as complex commercial constraints. It’s true, I know, that individuals who are skilled in two clearly different areas can be hard to find.

A second way to address both technical and business elements of a standard is through “on the job training”. A person working on a standards project can gain expertise in the area that’s not their specialty by watching and learning from others who are part of the project. I admit I learned a lot about the business side of standards by watching my competitors’ behavior.

A third approach is for companies to consciously and actively train their employees who are destined to work on standards projects before they start participating in standards development. This sounds like common sense, of course, but it does require forethought and investment in a training program.

A fourth way to balance technological and business considerations is for companies to send more than one representative to the standard’s working committee. This does mean additional resources must be invested, but it can certainly pay off.

Realizing the technical and business aspects of the standards game will help you be as effective as you can in the standards game. Happy New Year!

P.S. Watch for my upcoming book, “The 10 Commandments for Effective Standards”, from Synopsys Press. I hope it will be published in a few months.

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