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Succeeding as a Standards Professional

by Laura Hitchcock

Part 2: Basic Career Tools
Building a Business Case for Standards Participation

This is the second in a five-part series of articles [go to Part 1] 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.

“It’s hell when you have to fight like a dog to be able to go and work like a dog!”

a frustrated standards engineer

As standards professionals we know and understand the importance of our work. However, corporate funding for the development and management of standards is often subject to the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.” With corporations in a constant state of re-organization or “right-sizing,” you can no longer count on having management that understands what you do or why. Approval for funding often has to come from a person or an organization unfamiliar with standards or your work. Having a good business case in hand when you seek management support will make it much easier to secure the resources of time and budget. This article provides a set of guidelines for developing a solid business case, as well as some suggestions for how to promote and secure support for your case.

Elements of a Business Case

A successful business case will incorporate many of the elements outlined below. Your objective is to present a clear, concise, preferably one-page outline that anyone in your company can read and understand why a particular standards activity is important to the company. In this age of management by the bottom line and shareholder value, it’s important that you translate your work into language that makes clear its value to the company.

Description of the organization/ committee—Summarize the scope of the standards developed by the organization or committee with which you are involved—especially the ones used by your company. Describe how and where these standards are (or could be) used in company projects or products. Cite any internal corporate documents that reference or call out these standards. If applicable, note the number/value of parts or materials used, purchased, or in inventory that are governed by these standards. Also note the amount/ value of any tooling, testing, etc., governed by these standards. This gives an idea of the size of the corporate investment that you need to protect!

Overview of the purpose for involvement—Give a short statement why your company is involved with the organization and the reasons why each business unit would benefit from this involvement. In other words, does your company have a specific objective for participation? Do you have specific engineering requirements to protect or promote? Would this facilitate the development of requirements that might then be adopted by regulatory agencies? Highlight specific issues of interest to your company. Relate the activities of the standards developing organization (SDO) back to the products and processes of your company’s business units.

Specific commitment required of you or your company—Document the dues; number of participants; resources in terms of time, travel, etc.; activities required to support involvement (number of meetings, number of standards committees and/or sub-committees, etc.); intellectual property expected to be donated; and any other expectations that might be placed on your company through this relationship. Note which of these are one-time, short-term, long-term, or ongoing.

Specific benefits—Outline the benefits you expect to accrue through participation in standards development with this organization and the specific benefits to be accrued by your business unit or other parts of your company.

• Highlight the expected value or return on investment in terms of actual dollars gained or saved or cost avoidances.
• Define the value in terms of enhanced products or processes.
• Define the value in terms of enhanced customer/supplier/industry/government relationships.
• Provide any other hard data on benefits that would go toward justifying the investment.

Specific company focals and participants—Detail who would be a part of this activity/organization, their roles and responsibilities and their home organizations.

Dissemination and coordination—Include a statement of how your activities with this organization will be coordinated throughout the company to gain the greatest possible leverage for your involvement. Indicate your plans for how the activities and outcomes of your standards development efforts will be disseminated and communicated throughout the company.

Risks of not participating—Outline any potential risks your company may incur by not participating. This is basically the flip side to the benefits statements. What could go wrong or what costs could your company incur if a critical standard were changed to the point that it no longer fit your company’s intended product or process?

Competitive advantages to participation—Identify any other positive benefits from participating such as contacts with suppliers, customers, competition, or market surveillance opportunities. Indicate if participation would give your company an advantage over the competition because they are not at the table, or if your presence is needed to insure parity because your competition is there.

Making the Most of Your Business Case

Your business case for participation in standards development activities should be a living document. You should always be prepared with a current accounting of the value of a particular activity so that at the least questioning of why you or your company needs to be involved, you’ve got the answer. You can’t expect management to intuitively understand the value of your work. You have to be proactive about educating them.

Test yourself. If tomorrow you found yourself on the elevator with your CEO and you had two minutes to communicate the value of your standards work, what would you say? You should be able to present your business case at any level of detail. When you initiate participation in a new committee or SDO, you will probably have to develop a more comprehensive accounting. However, it’s a good idea to attach a brief summary of your business case to each travel request. It never hurts to remind those who hold the purse strings what they’re getting for their money.

A good business case feeds a lot of other standards-related activities. You can use elements from your business case to support such things as internal standards training, executive pitches and year-end reviews, budget and statement of work exercises, organization metrics, and personal development plans.

Once you have a business case, you need to promote it. Coordinate your business case throughout your company. Ask for input and support. Make sure there are people outside of your immediate organization who see the value of your participation. The more people who see, understand and buy into your business case, the more potential champions you may have for your activities. Utilize any communications vehicles your company may have such as newsletters and Web sites. The more your company is aware of the value of your standards work, the better able you are to ensure funding survives.

The Business of Standards

The mark of a standards professional, as opposed to someone who just does standards work, is the understanding of the business aspects of standards and standardization. It’s not enough to have the technical knowledge to develop the content of a standard. To be an effective and valued standards professional, you need to understand and communicate the business case for standardization. This means being able to define, in language your company can understand, the value and benefits of a particular standard or standards activity. If you do this well, you will find management willing to support your efforts. //

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.