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Succeeding as a Standards Professional

by Laura Hitchcock

Part 4: Tools and Tricks for the Standards Professional

This is the fourth 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.

Successful professionals have briefcases full of tricks to help them do their jobs a little better or a little faster. These consist of ways to be more organized, tools for communications, tricks for tracking and reporting, and ideas for increasing the visibility of your work and yourself. Collected here are a number of practical, easy-to-implement ideas gathered from standards professionals from various industries. Hopefully you can adopt or adapt one or more of these to help you in your career as a standards professional.

The Standards 101 Pitch

Today’s business environment is one of constant change. Rightsizing, reorganizations, mergers, and acquisitions mean ever-changing organizational structures and management chains. You should always have a Standards 101 pitch ready to pull out at a moment’s notice. This should cover:

• The types of standards used by your company,
• Corporate policies regarding standards and standardization,
• The governance structure for standards activities and the organizations and individuals involved,
• The business process used to develop, coordinate, approve, release, distribute and use standards data, and
• Any tools (e.g., databases, authoring software, electronic part selection programs, etc.) used to facilitate the above processes as well as the value of standards to your company, i.e.,
— How standards are used by your company,
— Where they add value,
— How your company participates in industry, national and international standards setting activities,
— Any regulatory impacts of standards on your company and industry.

You should maintain and regularly update this pitch in both electronic and hard copy format. Keep the files in a public place so others can borrow them. Be able to slice and dice the material for any audience for 10 minutes or two hours. Being able to quickly jump in with a briefing at a moment’s notice allows you to take advantage of any opportunity to educate new management (and potential new champions).

Library of Pitches

The corporate world revolves around the communication of ideas and knowledge. Being able to present your story in a compelling visual format is key to how your audience receives it. Build a library of pitches. Keep and organize those pitches you’ve done so you can quickly grab, update, or re-work presentations that have been successful. But in addition to your own work, be on the constant lookout for successful pitches or graphics from other sources. (This is not a suggestion to plagiarize or violate copyright laws, but rather to be sensitive to how others use color, format, graphics and statistics to make their point.) And don’t confine yourself just to standards pitches.

Visual Aids

As standards professionals, we tend to focus on the documents and the technical requirements they contain. We sometimes forget that to those outside of standards, a little “translation” can be helpful in understanding the role standards play. I know a standards engineer who has a drawer full of “visual aids.” These consist of parts and chunks of raw materials. As part of his Standards 101 pitch he passes around a bolt, holds up the paper describing the bolt, reports on the amount of money the company pays yearly to purchase that bolt, and the amount of money it takes to manage that part in inventory. Somehow, being able to touch the bolt makes the standard and all the other statistics more meaningful.

Internal Web Site

Employees increasingly use the Internet as their first avenue for locating information. A Web page is one of your best tools for providing visibility for your company’s standards activities, the personnel involved in standards development, and your role as a standards professional. Put on your standards user hat and ask yourself what kind of information would you want and need from a Web site. Then take some time to look at other Web sites, both internal and those of standards developing organizations, and see how they’ve addressed the standards user’s needs. Without going into Web site development, the best words of advice are: Don’t be seduced into jumping first into graphics and layout until you have clearly answered

• Who will be coming to your site?
• Why will they be coming?
• What do they want to know?
• What is the best way to get them to the information they need quickly and logically?

If you don’t have a Web site for your standards activities, it’s long past time that you provide one. If you do have a Web site, look down at the “last revised” line. If the date is six months in the past, you probably have some work to do. You can’t project an image of indispensability if your Web site communicates the message that nothing changes in standards.

If one of the functions your site performs is to list those employees involved in standards developing committees, then by definition you have an ever-changing data set. Set up forms so that users can easily notify you electronically of changes in participation. Look at ways to automate as much of your maintenance as possible. Your goal is to have every standards user in your company bookmark your site.

Contact Log

Keeping a list of all those who have contacted you for information or with requests, be they from inside or outside the company, may sound like a lot of busy work. However, this is an extremely useful supply of information. It can be a great source of metrics and a valuable communications tool for use with management. I keep track of:

• Who contacted me (whether by phone or e-mail),
• Contact information such as name, title, organization, phone number,
• Request or reason for contact,
• How I resolved this request, along with links to e-mail, etc., and
• The amount of time I spent on this request.

I keep this in an Access database right on my desktop so it’s easy to fill out at the time of the contact. By keeping it in a relational database, I can pull out reports based on contact from various business units, internal vs. external, and time spent on customer support. This type of information can illustrate how enterprise-wide your services are, or whether there are parts of the company that don’t yet know about you. This is also a great educational tool. By sharing with others your responses to requests, you may save them time and effort should they receive a similar request. Trends in requests can also suggest changes to your Web site, additions to your FAQs, revisions to user training, or other ways you might be serving your customers. Contact entries can serve as the basis for weekly activity reports or other management reporting tools.

Rolodex

We’ve all heard the old saying “It’s not what you know, but who you know.” Nowhere is this truer than in standards. I have found the kind of Rolodex in which you just drop people’s business cards to be the most useful and easiest to work with. Collect and file cards from those you meet, make notes on the back of additional information, and periodically go through and clean out your Rolodex.

Multi-Year Calendar

In may sound trivial, but having a small, multi-year date-book always handy is a must for those who participate on standards developing committees. Most committees set meeting dates two or more years in advance. To the extent that you have visibility on what dates and locations have already been set up, you can guide additional meeting planning.

Back Pocket Benchmark Data

Being able to cite how other companies or industries are addressing a particular standards issue can be extremely valuable. Managers who don’t appear to listen as you describe your own activities will suddenly perk up their ears when you relay facts and figures about other companies. As you attend standards meetings or other events that put you in contact with people from other companies, have a “Question of the Quarter” ready in case an opportunity presents itself for a sidebar benchmarking discussion. However, remember to avoid issues of cost, pricing, teaming arrangements, etc. (all those things that don’t belong as part of any standards-setting discussions) and be willing to share similar information from your own company. Done correctly, gathering this information can be very useful in supporting why or why not your company should take a specific tack with regard to a standards issue.
These are just a few of the basic tools a standards professional can employ to further his or her career. No mystical instant success, just common sense ideas. See if there’s one or two you could incorporate into your daily routine and let us know of others you may use. //

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.