March 2000

Back to Contents

Plain Talk
for a New Generation

Mission Accomplished

ASTM’s MISSION is to produce the best standards in the world. That’s our goal and our purpose. We know where we’re going. In some areas, we’re already there. In some areas the ASTM standard is the standard of choice for people all over the world. Goal achieved. Mission accomplished.

But the last thing we want to do is rest on our laurels. Our mission is to imbue every ASTM standard with the highest possible degree of quality and relevance, the best attributes of the best standards in the world. Our work is cut out for us.

But what is that work? What needs to be corrected, adjusted, re-evaluated? What are the obstacles that stand between us and the ultimate attainment of our goal? Let’s identify one right now. It is a malady called irrelevance; and it may be the greatest challenge to those of us who are involved in developing standards.

Nobody likes to think of their work as being irrelevant, especially people who develop standards, but it can happen. As improbable as it may seem, it is possible to develop a good standard that is irrelevant, a standard that’s technologically interesting but unrelated to events in the marketplace.

The growth of irrelevance in a standard is mostly a subtle process; it is gradual and stealthy and can go for a long time undetected. It may let time gently pass the technology by, or it may cause work to drift in directions without destinations. It may permit old versions of standards to glide comfortably through the process to reapproval without passing through the rigors of progress. A standard’s irrelevance is inevitable when the document’s development is disconnected from command centers, when it goes forward without the benefits of consultation, or when it operates without a soundboard to transmit the resonance of market realities.

What prevents insularity and inertia—and irrelevance—from settling into the process? Our missions. Irrelevance and missions cannot occupy the same space. Irrelevance comes about when the missions of companies, customers, and governments are not part of the standards development plan. And vice versa. Irrelevance comes about when an industry’s plans for the future are not part of the committee’s consciousness or when new or changing regulatory initiatives are not conveyed and integrated. Irrelevance creeps in when standards are developed independently of the vital flow of company or agency information.

Standards are not an end in themselves. They must have purpose and they must fit into the scheme of things. When we examine the ASTM committees that have developed the best standards in the world, we find well-defined mechanisms for matching standards with new directions, new technologies, new cycles, and new ways of performing. We find constant communication between those who define the needs of the future and those who develop the solutions. We find goals in sync. We find quality and relevance and success. We find missions accomplished.

James A. Thomas

“When we examine the ASTM committees that have developed the best standards in the world we find quality and relevance and success.”

  • Go to 1999 Plain Talk for a New Generation articles.

  • Go to 2000 Plain Talk for a New Generation articles
  • E-mail comments to: Jim Thomas