Making the Business Case
When you participate in technical committee activities, you join colleagues - corporate and government representatives, academics and researchers, consultants and consumers - who have experience and expertise in work on standards that your company may be able to use, or already does use.
However your work connects with standards, it's an important role to contribute to a standard's development before it reaches the marketplace. Your participation means that your viewpoint, and that of your company, will be heard. You can speak to the steps in a proposed method, the performance requirements of a specification, the wording of a definition and more. Plus, your voice counts all through the balloting process, which means that any concerns you raise on a draft must be addressed.
"If a company truly wants to be an industry leader, they want to provide the best product, the best material, the best service they can, then you have to be involved at the standards and specifications level," says D. Thomas Marsh. Marsh, president of Centrotrade Minerals and Metals Inc., Chesapeake, Va., and a member of the ASTM board of directors, adds a particular bonus for his work: attending a committee meeting affords him the opportunity to see a number of customers in just a few days - something he could not do otherwise.
The advantages Marsh names can boost a company's bottom line, which speaks for itself. Standards provide benchmarks for safe products and high quality services, so your input into and knowledge of standards and their development enables you to assist your organization in avoiding unnecessary costs and incorporating value into manufacturing and testing. That's a return on the investment of participating.
Boeing's Laura Hitchcock, a senior standards specialist and an honorary ASTM member, says, "To understand standards is to understand the technical requirements and processes needed to support an industry or a company's products and services. A subject matter expert, by understanding and utilizing standards, is better able to evaluate, communicate and incorporate the data needed to produce safe, reliable, quality products."
Technical committee participation also provides the opportunity to further your expertise about emerging technologies and to share that information. At an ASTM meeting you have the opportunity to learn more about industry developments and how your fellow committee members may be approaching challenges in your industry.
William Ullrich of Link Consulting LLC, Annapolis, Md., formerly a corporate representative but now a consultant who works on Committees E54 on Homeland Security Applications, F12 on Security Systems and Equipment, and F14 on Fences, explains, "I have been a member of ASTM for about 35 years and have found ASTM participation to be very, very useful. It provides me with an in-depth knowledge of all the specifications within my industry so I am able to understand the products and their applications better. It helps me interact better and provides me greater credibility when dealing with architects, engineers and agencies. ASTM provides me with a platform to introduce my point of view to possibly clarify, correct or develop a new standard. "
Or, as veteran ASTM member Paul Guevin, a consultant based in Westerville, Ohio, says: "ASTM is the technical society that keeps me abreast of the latest technology."
It is advisable, however, to do more than to take that seat at the standards table and participate in the development process. Encourage your company to support your standards work by letting your colleagues and your supervisor know about it. In a word - communicate.
In her comprehensive 2002 series of articles in Standardization News, "Succeeding as a Standards Professional," one of Hitchcock's recommendations is to write down your business case. Think of how you would summarize your company's qualifications for a project and your relevant experience. Do the same for standards - why your company participates, why you participate, how the company benefits, how you benefit - with reference to the spectrum of the standards used. Add statistics where possible about costs avoided and money saved (client meetings, design considerations, performance needs, etc.) That's your standards business case.
Don't stop there. Share the business case. Ask for input. Your colleagues and your supervisor will gain a better sense of what standards work involves, and the advantages of your part in it, with a clear statement about the importance of standards development. Further, disseminate information about standards in general. Similarly, document your participation in your performance reviews and trip reports. Performance reviews allow you to connect specifics about your knowledge, skills and responsibilities as related to standards. Trip reports for ASTM meetings give you the opportunity to describe the committee, its scope and its standards, and the topics covered that impact your company.
Finally, standards participation can be a great deal of work, but it has a great deal of value. For more about these benefits and about succeeding as a standards professional, view the video at www.astm.org/membership and peruse Hitchcock's SN How To series on the topic (go to www.astm.org/SNEWS/archive, August 2002, for the first of five installments).
To compare your experience with those of other code and standards professionals, see the member survey excerpts beginning on page 36 in this issue. And consider certification, education and networking opportunies through SES - the Society for Standards Professionals (www.ses-standards.org).
There are personal benefits to participating as well. Ullrich says, "The consensus process of writing a standard and the ASTM balloting process has helped me in business to be better organized and better arrive at a business decision via consensus opinion; in essence, the ASTM process has helped me think more clearly in everyday decisions. ASTM also has provided me with lifelong friendships with smart giving people who do not hesitate to offer help when needed."
Richard Lynch, Ph.D., president of Lynch and Associates Inc., Wyckoff, N.J., puts it this way: "It's become a vital part of my career, and frankly, a vital part of me."
For a PDF of this article, go to www.astm.org/businesscase.10 Reasons to Participate in ASTM Standards Development