Standards Development How-to

To Begin a Standard

Plan for a Standard’s Development

Standards development, particularly for the task group chairman or first-time project leader, can be daunting. But planning ahead, breaking down the project into smaller steps, delegating tasks and using ASTM International’s online tools can make the process more manageable.

When your ASTM task group or subcommittee decides to develop a standard, consider in detail what the final document should — and should not — be: its purpose, its use, the need for it. Is it a test method that produces a result or a practice that does not? Is it a specification that prescribes several parameters and references test methods for measurements? What will the standard address?

The importance of this early step cannot be overemphasized: when you take the time to plan for every aspect of the final specification, practice or test method, etc., a high quality published standard, one that meets a need in the marketplace, should result.

The value of this up-front work, critical in project management, can be illustrated by the development of standard F2656, Test Method for Vehicle Crash Testing of Perimeter Barriers, from ASTM Committee F12 on Security Systems and Equipment. The standard helps ensure the safety of nuclear power plants, embassies and other critical spots through a procedure that determines whether a barrier possesses the strength needed to withstand a truck crash.

Dean Alberson, Ph.D., P.E., assistant agency director at the Texas Transportation Institute, College Station, Texas, and the ASTM F12 member who led F2656’s development, says that the responsible group had to be sure of what would go in the standard. “We knew it was going to be taken and used immediately,” he says. “That was the important part of having the right players at the first meeting. We knew all the basic nuts and bolts we needed to have, and we spelled that out early on.”

Once you decide to embark on a draft standard, your group should gather manufacturers, test laboratories, product or process users, government and academic representatives, to help plan and produce the standard. If you need additional participants, your staff manager and ASTM’s corporate communications department can help get the word out about the activity.

The draft standard is registered in an online collaboration area, which you access through “MyASTM.” The collaboration area collects task group member and contact information, drafts of the standard (with the most recent at the top) and related files, discussion areas and milestone dates. It’s a virtual space designed to help organize the project and enable the process to go as quickly as determined by the group.

Following the project management model, the task group chairman could assign a draft section or subsection, including the scope, to one individual. The organization of a standard, as laid out in Form and Style for ASTM Standards, and in the draft standard templates, lends itself to this one section – one person approach.

When the scope, and later the other sections, have been drafted, task group members can review and comment in the online collaboration area. A conference call or virtual meeting, which can be scheduled using the link in the collaboration area, could follow to discuss revisions and refinements. A sequence of draft – virtual meeting – revised draft – virtual meeting could continue for all sections of the proposed standard.

Along the way, the chairman tracks the progress of the standard’s development and reminds members about tasks to help keep development moving. Remember that ASTM staff can help with process questions, and help is available for technology issues.

Keep in mind the twice yearly or annual meeting of your committee to take advantage of the benefits of gathering in one place — putting your heads together on more intricate or complex points of the standard or addressing ballot results. Virtual meetings help accelerate standards development, and standards development can — and does — take place solely in virtual space when necessary, but meeting in person provides its own synergy. We’re social beings. Take advantage of it.

Standards development, like project management, can be as simple or as complex as the topic. Taking the time up front to consider what the final product should be and breaking down the project into manageable pieces can deliver the highest quality standard. That’s what ASTM’s consensus standard development tools are all about.

This article appears in the issue of Standardization News.