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Succeeding as a Standards Professional

Part 1: Basic Career Tools
Get it in Writing

by Laura Hitchcock

This is the first in a five-part series of articles that examines how standards professionals can protect and even promote their roles within their companies. First presented at the Standards Engineering Society’s Annual Conference in August 2001, the idea was to give those working with standards, either as subject matter experts or in the management of standards systems, concrete ways to help them have their work and their profession recognized as providing value. Given that few companies provide formal training in standards or well-defined career paths for standards professionals, it’s up to individuals to protect their current positions and define their futures. Please let us know if you find these “tricks of the trade” useful or if you have any of your own to add.

Formalize Your Job

Many standards professionals are working today with little or no formal job description governing their standards work. Most often this applies to subject matter experts who work with standards in addition to their normal technical job. However, it’s surprising how many full-time standards personnel are working to vague or inaccurate job descriptions as well. In order to get the recognition and credit for your standards work, it’s critical that you ensure that formal documentation is in place.

Document Tasks for Performance Management

If your company has a program of annual or semi-annual job performance reviews, this is an ideal time to formalize your standards work. How often have we heard the cry “Management doesn’t understand what I do!”? Or more importantly, management doesn’t recognize the skill and knowledge needed to do a job. The first step to formalization and recognition of your work (and your value) is to document all the tasks involved in your job with standards.

However, don’t just stop with a simple listing of the tasks. Itemizing tasks addresses the “what you do,” but doesn’t reflect the knowledge and skills necessary to accomplish these tasks. As one standards engineer I know is fond of saying, “If it were as simple as it sounds, they could have just hired my cat.” Don’t let management think that just anybody (or any cat) could do your job. As you can see in the sample on the opposite page, even the reasonably simple task of coordinating draft industry standards within the company requires quite a bit of knowledge and several skills.

Doing a task/knowledge/skills chart can be an eye-opener for both you and your management. But beyond that, the chart then becomes a valuable job tool. The information mapped out this way can be used when hiring new standards personnel, when comparing tasks, or when working with a junior employee on a career development plan. It’s also a good idea to update it every year to track and document your own growth. It’s a great affirmation to see new tasks, knowledge and skills added during the course of a year.

Develop a Training Plan

Standards are a subject often overlooked by formal education. Few institutes of higher learning or schools of engineering offer training in standards. Even fewer companies have formal, in-house courses in standards. Therefore it is up to you, as a standards professional, to take charge of developing a course of training designed to broaden and deepen your skills and knowledge in standards and standards management.

Take the time to research and set down a plan of training. Document your plan, review it with your management, and update it frequently. Make your training a formal part of your career development that is recognized, acknowledged and approved by your management. Such a plan, at a minimum, should address the following areas:

Basic Skills—There are a number of skills that are fundamental tools for doing business. Some examples are communications skills (writing, speaking, presentations), team and meeting facilitation, project management, and computing skills. These are the foundation skills that will allow you to better use and communicate your standards-specific knowledge.

Standards Training—If your company has internal standards you should take any available training or set up your own training to ensure you are as knowledgeable about your internal standards as possible. Next, take advantage of externally offered standards training. A number of organizations offer a broad range of courses on standards, standards development, and standards management. These include the Department of Defense’s Standards Training site (www.dsp.dla.mil), courses offered by the American National Standards Institute (www.ansi.org), and training provided by standards developing organizations (SDOs) such as ASTM International, SAE International, Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, or others.

For those standards professionals in SDOs, take it upon yourself to become familiar with the company standards of some of your larger corporate customers. This will give you a better understanding of how these companies integrate their internal data with your external standards.

Reading List—There is a small but slowly growing body of books and articles on standards. ANSI and the Standards Engineering Society (www. ses-standards.org) are two places to check for bibliographies on standards related information. Make a list of books and articles and then make it a point to read one or more each month. Take note of publications that are pertinent to your job or business situation and share them with others in your organization. This will help establish you as a knowledge resource.

Familiarization with Internal Departments and Products—All too often standards professionals are located in one part of a company, with little opportunity for access to the broader enterprise. Take it upon yourself to become familiar with the products and processes used by the entire company. Take any classes offered on product overviews, study marketing brochures, and take every opportunity to walk through the factory. To the extent that you know your products and the processes used to create them, you will have a better understanding of where and how standards are used. Additionally, it’s important that you understand the major business units and functions of your company. While standards are generally thought to be the domain of engineering, if you are familiar with other departments including quality assurance, procurement, manufacturing, etc., you are in a better position to facilitate standardization throughout your company.

Familiarization with Standards Developing Organizations—Make sure you know and understand the structure, processes and products for those SDOs whose standards you use or with whom your company participates in the development of standards. Acquire and be familiar with the organizational and committee structures, the bylaws and governing documentation, the standards development processes, and the relevant point of contact. Then make sure that others in your company know you have this knowledge. Again this makes you a great resource.

Look at What the Other Guy Is Doing

A little informal benchmarking is always a useful tool. The next time you’re at a standards committee meeting, conference or symposium, ask other standards professionals what kind of training they’ve found useful. See if they have a formal job description that they might be willing to share. Offer to trade your own “lessons learned.” Also, don’t be shy about providing feedback to SDOs and other standards organizations about what support and training they provide that’s useful and what additional things they might do to support standards professionals.

Get It in Writing

While it’s often hard to find the time to devote to personal career development, if you don’t do it, no one else is going to do it for you. Defining your current job completely and accurately and plotting out your educational growth is critical to being recognized as a professional. Get it in writing. Review it with your management, your group and your peers, and keep it current. You will find this goes a long way toward building your role as a standards professional in your company, your industry, and the standards arena at large. //

Copyright 2002, ASTM

Laura Hitchcock is senior standards specialist, external standards management, with The Boeing Company, Seattle, Wash. She has over 20 years of diversified experience in standards, standards administration, and management. Hitchcock is a member of the ASTM Board of Directors.