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Strategic Planning

Tools to Jump Start the Strategic Planning Process

by Tim Brooke and Dan Schultz

This is the first of a two-part series of HowTo articles on strategic planning. Part one will address ways of identifying new standards activities through internally focused or membership-based approaches. Part two (in March) will address external ways by assessing industry and government needs outside your committee membership.

No one would argue that strategic planning is an important management tool. Organizations use it to focus their energy, ensuring that members of the organization are working toward the same goals and assessing and adjusting the organization’s direction in response to a changing environment. Strategic planning is a disciplined effort to produce decisions and actions that shape and guide an organization’s future.

Strategic planning is also one of the most important processes carried out by ASTM International technical committees. It maximizes the committees' ability to develop relevant and timely standards. Through strategic planning, committees set major standardization objectives and develop comprehensive plans to achieve those objectives. Successful committee strategic planning:

• Leads to action;
• Builds a shared vision;
• Is an inclusive, participatory process in which stakeholders take shared ownership of standards;
• Is externally focused and sensitive to the needs of the industry;
• Requires an openness to questioning the status quo; and
• Is a key part of effective standards development.
Three tools to jump-start the strategic planning process are provided below.

The Survey

The first tool is a survey. When the input of a large audience needs to be known, a survey can be very useful and is well suited for obtaining information about new standards activities from all committee members, not just those in attendance at a meeting. In general, surveys should contain concise directions, a clearly stated purpose, that is, what kind of information the committee is looking for, and information about what will be done with the results. Survey questions should be open-ended to allow respondents to think independently and introduce new topics. It may also be worthwhile to make the survey anonymous in order to allow members greater freedom in their responses. Sample open-ended questions include:

• What are the important issues or problems facing your industry?
• What future technology do you see being used in your industry?
• What new standards do you think are needed in your industry?
• What are the potential barriers that might impede a new standardization activity?

Surveys are typically one to two pages in length and should not take a substantial amount of time to complete. Be sure to include clear instructions for returning the survey and provide an easy way to respond. Keep in mind that the ASTM staff manager can assist in the development and distribution of a survey, as well as in data collection and analysis.


Another tool for gathering information is brainstorming. This tool is well suited for committees that have solid, representative attendance at meetings. Brainstorming is effective because it promotes idea generation without limits. An obvious advantage of this technique is interacting and feeding off each other’s comments or suggestions. One idea may trigger another, regardless of the link between the two.

There are a few main rules that govern a good brainstorming session:

• No evaluation ("That's great!" "That's terrible.") of any kind is permitted when ideas are being generated. Individual energy is spent on creating ideas, not defending them.
• The quantity of ideas takes precedence over the quality. Emphasizing quality may lead to judgment and evaluation.
• Participants should build on or modify the ideas of others. Sketchy ideas that are added to or altered often become usable ideas.

Committee D20 on Plastics has held several brainstorming sessions. Paul Sample, the committee's chairman, gives his thoughts about the process and its success in the sidebar right.

Workshops and Seminars

The third tool is to sponsor a workshop or seminar on a topic of technical interest in conjunction with the standards development meetings. These information exchange forums allow individuals the opportunity to present new information or research related to a particular standards development area. This approach is especially successful when enough information has been gathered to allow for in-depth discussion. The discussion and information provided can then be used as a springboard for a new standardization activity. Committee C16 on Thermal Insulation has successfully used the seminar technique to grow standards development activities. Committee D01 on Paint and Related Coatings, Materials, and Applications has successfully used the seminar technique to grow standards development activities for the analysis of volatile organic compounds and hazardous air pollutants.

The information received utilizing any of the tools mentioned above can be overwhelming. Thus, it becomes important to analyze, sort and prioritize the information into a structured framework with some type of oversight accountability. This will ensure that the planning process moves beyond the plan toward implementation. //

Copyright 2003, ASTM

Brainstorming — A Tool to Capture the Thinking of the Membership

by Paul Sample
Chairman, Committee D20

As chairman of Committee D20 on Plastics, one of my goals has been to intensify the efforts of our committee leadership and members on strategic planning. We have utilized brainstorming sessions on three different occasions in D20 to solicit ideas in an uninhibited environment. The sessions lasted approximately one hour each and were held at a time when no other meetings were scheduled, encouraging the best possible attendance. All input was recorded on flip charts that were later typed into a database that could be sorted by category. Each category has been assigned to a committee vice chairman who is responsible for interfacing with the executive subcommittee and appropriate committee personnel to devise a plan with strategies for prioritizing and implementing the results. Much information has been gathered from these sessions.

D20’s last three seminars covered topics identified in the first brainstorming session back in November 2000. One of these seminars on biobased polymers has since resulted in the launch of a new standards development activity within Subcommittee D20.96. We have also implemented a promotional program to invite local customers and academics to our meetings – this has brought some new faces to our meetings and broadened our exposure. D20 has much more work to do in the strategic planning process but we have taken the hardest step and begun.