As I was thinking about writing this article, a song came into my head, "War, what is it good for?" Instead of the word “war”, I sang, "Standards, what are they good for?" Is just having a documented standard enough or do we want to know that it is fully implemented? Do we want to understand the value of a standard and see if it is really being used to manage the organization? It is important to understand how to evaluate the standards that you have. Does your organization provide the building blocks for a successful implementation of a standard? With that being said, I hope to provide you with a framework that can help you answer these questions and help you evaluate and/or implement standards effectively.
Drivers of Standards
Typically standards are driven by (and not limited to) external drivers, senior level internal drivers, and ground level internal drivers. It is important to understand the drivers so that you determine the context of the standard and where the value is perceived.
· If the standard is being driven externally like Sarbanes-Oxley (SOx), this forces an organization to follow the standards irrespective of whether those within the organization see the value. However, externally driven standards like SOx, need to be followed to avoid potential financial scandals. This is seen as a value from those outside the organization since potential investors perceive that the organization is being managed in a financially sound manner.
· There are standards that are driven by senior level executives in the organization such as senior management. The unfortunate thing is that there are typically dozens to hundreds of standards that are driven by senior management which makes it hard for the employees to grasp their meaning and application. To make matters worse, many of the employees within the organization may not even know that they exist or, if they know that they exist, they do not know what they should be doing about them since there is not always guidance on what to do about them (other than "just follow them"). While this is seen as a value to the Senior Management, if they do not provide implementation details to the standard (a.k.a., a practice) and manage to the standards (e.g., is the standard making their organization better and more value added), then it is only a standard by name.
· Then there are standards which are driven by the ground level folks in the organization. Often times, these are not defined as such, but may be seen as de-facto standards. Sometimes this is known as a grassroots standard since it is driven by folks at the individual contributor level. An example of this is that when a project team uses a particular technology, other project teams see the value in using the technology and then the next thing you know, most other project teams are using the technology. This is because teams see the implicit value in using the technology and it becomes a de-facto standard even if it is not listed as an organizational standard.