Spinach and Standards: Much in Common

Best Practices, Starting an Association : Article

organization_standardsMy neighbor is a spinach farmer. Because his work is so much different than mine, I ask him about it whenever I can. What I’ve learned most through our conversations is that in farming, timing is everything. This past week is a great example of that. Ordinarily my neighbor would have seeded for his spring crop last week, to ensure that the seedlings would mature enough to survive the first frost. He couldn’t do that, though, because our area received significant rain last week, softening the ground too much to accept the seeds. That meant, by his calculation, yesterday and today were the only two days available to get his spring crop planted. That his team’s plows kept running in the field until 3 am this morning demonstrated that he wasn’t taking any chances on missing that critical window. 

So what does spinach farming have to do with standards? Actually, a whole lot. When it comes to standards, timing really is everything, too. After all, the most technically sound standard is worthless if it is not delivered when the market really needs it. Take, for instance, standards that require integration into semiconductors. Due to elongated design and fab cycles in that industry, new standards have to be baked into chip designs often years in advance. Those design schedules would certainly be critical information to factor into a standards development schedule. The same holds true for OEM product cycles, OS releases, etc. In other words, while the makers of the world’s technologies are usually willing, if not eager, to adopt standards, they are surely not going to slow down their business processes to wait for them. 

Unfortunately, too many standards groups do not consider market timing at all when developing or managing their standards efforts. Most just tap their resident committees and working groups to develop standards in certain areas, and then stand by until those groups develop a document to approve. A standards development committee without a clear expectation of schedule is one that will almost certainly focus solely on the technical aspects of the work at hand, not on the speed of development. And once entrenched in that mode, it is often a tough (if not impossible) task to accelerate their efforts. 

Standards groups can avoid this fate by ensuring that they factor market need and timing into their standards development schedules. Most board of standards groups should have a pretty clear idea about when a standard is really needed. If they don’t, they should enlist the help of their resident technical steering group or, should such a body not exist, pull together the right mix of member company experts who might know. From there, it’s critical that the market timing be applied to the schedule and scope of the standard being developed – and before work even starts. As the adage goes in the world of standards, to get something done fast, you either can add resources (tech writers, editors, etc.) or reduce scope, or both. But no group will ever accelerate a standard if they don’t know that they need to.

Want to make sure your standards-setting organization is driving interoperability and functioning at peak efficiency? An association management company like Virtual can help.


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