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Succeeding as a Standards Professional

by Laura Hitchcock

Part 3: The Art of the Trip Report

This is the third 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.

“Where Did You Go?” “Out.”
“What Did You Do?” “Nothing.”

book title, by Robert Paul Smith

The business of developing standards invariably involves some travel, whether it’s to committee meetings, technical symposia, or conferences. You go off to “do good work” on behalf of your company. You work hard at the meeting; you come back home, and then what? If you’re like many, you jump right back into the hectic business world and your trip becomes a hazy memory. Or, if your organization requires a trip report, you quickly dash something off, check that square, and it’s back to work. Either way you’ve just missed one of the best opportunities for you, as a standards professional, to have your work and your contributions recognized. Trip reports are an invaluable vehicle for communicating the benefits of standards and standards developing activities. In today’s business environment, with increasing emphasis on the bottom line, it’s imperative that you communicate the value of your standards activities. This article covers some of the essential elements of a trip report, as well as ways you can use your trip report to the best advantage.

What a trip report isn’t:

• A trip report is not a courtroom transcript of a meeting. Recounting the blow-by-blow details of “he said/she said” will quickly lose your audience.
• A trip report is not a distribution list tacked on to the agenda for a meeting or the resulting official minutes. The first contains little information, and the second lacks the translation into specifics relative to your company and your role.
• A trip report is not a vague, high-level description of an activity, which is simply regurgitated each time a trip is taken. There is no currency or sense of immediate impact or results in that.

What a trip report is:

• The best marketing tool you could have. This is your opportunity to communicate the value of a standards activity and the importance of your work.
• A mechanism for ensuring that all interested and impacted parties in your organization understand what has transpired and how it affects the company.
• A catalyst for engaging others from your company in the standards development process.

Elements of a Good Trip Report

It may be helpful to review last month’s article on building a business case for participation. A trip report, in many respects, is just the flip side of the business case – one says why you need to be there, the other tells what you accomplished. A well-written trip report contains the following elements.

1. Your name and contact information (organization, phone, e-mail address). Make it easy for people to know whom to contact for further information.

2. Committee meeting name, date and location.

3. A brief description of the organization/committee. Summarize the scope of the standards developed by this organization/committee — especially the ones used by your company. Describe how and where these standards are (or could be) used in your company’s projects or products. As a communications and marketing vehicle, a good trip report should begin by level-setting the audience and reminding them “why they should care.” Remember, in this age of instant forwarding of e-mail, your report can take on a life of its own, being passed on beyond your original intended audience.

4. An overview of the purpose of the meeting. A brief sentence or paragraph stating the scope of the meeting and relating it to the benefits your company receives from your attendance.

5. List of other attendees (both from your company and from other organizations, including your competition). Depending on how big the meeting was, you may just want to highlight some of the more relevant companies present. This helps lend scope to the activity. And let’s face it—a lot of companies determine the importance of an activity by whether or not the competition thinks it’s important.

6. Highlights of the standards/topics of specific concern to your company addressed at this event. List the products or processes these support. Make it clear that these are the highlights from this meeting, and for greater detail, readers should contact you.

7. List any company positions that you supported at this meeting.

8. List any votes taken that may impact your company.

9. Highlight other actions/info that occurred and are of concern to your company. Note interesting sidebar meetings or conversations with customers, suppliers, or your competition.

10. Identify any on-going responsibility or action items you have in this activity.

11. Outline your recommendations for further corporate actions and support.

12. Include a brief statement of how the results of this meeting or any follow-on activities will be coordinated throughout your company to gain the greatest possible leverage for your involvement.

13. Note the date/location of any future meetings.

Trip Report Format

The idea of the trip report is to give anyone who reads it an immediate sense of what transpired, why it was important or how it relates to the company, and what follow-up actions are planned. A trip report is really an executive summary with provisions for anyone who wants more in-depth information to contact you. The opening part should contain, as briefly and succinctly as possible, the first five elements. No more than a paragraph or two.

The meat of the most successful reports I’ve seen consists of short paragraphs or bulleted items (no more than two to three sentences each) that highlight the most important topics, activities, or issues from the meeting. Each highlighted item should incorporate the applicable portions of elements six to 12 above and should answer the following questions:

• What was the topic (subject or gist of the discussion)?
• Why is it important to your company and, if there is a company position, what is it?
• If applicable, what do you plan to do about it (monitor, disseminate this information, work with a particular organization on a resolution, contact someone for more information, pursue a particular opportunity, attempt to get something started or stopped)?

This is where the real “art” part of the trip report comes in. How to distill one or more days of meetings into a set of short, pertinent highlights (no more than 10 to 15 or you will lose people’s attention) is a skill. You can’t detail everything that happened. Therefore, pick those key items that reinforce your business case for participation. Highlight those activities with the greatest impact on your company (either financially or with regard to processes). Include those items that will require other people or organizations within your company to become involved. Indicate how you will work with others in your company on actions or resolutions arising from the meeting (this underscores the fact that you are not working in isolation, but rather representing the needs of your company).

Keep in mind that today’s trip report becomes tomorrow’s business case. Actions you indicate as needing to be worked following one meeting, become your reason for attending the next time. Business case feeds trip report which feeds business case—the circle of life for the standards professional. Your goal, when all is said and done, is to make anyone who reads your report (and most particularly the folks with the purse strings) feel like it was a darn good thing you were at the table for this meeting, that important things are happening with this activity, and that the company needs to stay engaged.

The Life of your Trip Report

So now that you’ve put all this time into a great trip report, what do you do with it?

Distribute – Make sure your trip report gets out there. Distribute it beyond your immediate management chain to any group that may be interested or impacted. Be sure you include any person or organization you cited as one with whom you wanted to coordinate regarding a particular highlighted item.

Post – The Web is a great tool for marketing your activities. If your group or organization has a Web site, consider adding a page to cover your standards activities. Post your business case and then any trip reports, organized in such a way that people can easily find them. It’s amazing how many people with standards-related questions will find you as a result of having your trip reports on the Web. What better way to become known as a resource?

Archive – Make sure you, and others, can find all your past trip reports. This is an excellent way to track items, maintain continuity from meeting to meeting, and monitor progress on items of interest.

Excerpt – Use your trip report as a great source of information to feed other communications vehicles. Activity reports, newsletters, executive briefings, organizational metrics, end-of-the-year reports can all be enriched by items from a good trip report.

Succession Planning – Trip reports are a key training tool for passing the torch. When you first started attending standards committee meetings, did you receive a chronological collection of agendas and trip reports from past meetings so you were up to speed on the committee’s activities, their importance to the company, and the organizations and people you need to keep in the loop? No? Well here’s your chance not to perpetuate this oversight in succession planning. Make sure your company doesn’t miss a beat when you win the lottery and someone else takes your place on a committee.

Review – And lastly, use your trip report to prepare for the next meeting. When you get your meeting announcement, take out your trip report from the last meeting and read it over. Make sure you’ve completed any actions you noted. Research the status of on-going activities. Note any follow-on discussions or sidebar meetings you might want to hold based on ones you had at the last meeting. //

“Where did you go?”
“To a standards meeting.”
“What did you do?”
“Just take a look at my report!”

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.