Standardization News

Enhancing Your Role as a Standards Professional, Part 3: Maximizing the Value of Your Participation in Standards Development

Jeffrey Strauss

Part 3: Maximizing the Value of Your Participation in Standards Development

A mindmap can help standards professionals to assess the complex connections of standards development, business benefits and the details of both: here's what to consider.


It is difficult to overestimate the importance of standards to competitiveness. A lack of standardization can keep products and services from working effectively with other products and services or with available infrastructure. This can, in turn, discourage investment. On the other hand, the right standards can support a company's products and services and provide a platform for future offerings.

Failing to participate in relevant standards initiatives or participating without proper planning can be disastrous. But strategic participation can provide several benefits by:

  • Ensuring the standards that your company needs get developed;
  • Enabling your team to assess technology trends, as well as competitor positioning, vulnerabilities and emerging alliances;
  • Allowing you to test ideas through careful presentation and assessment of reactions; and
  • Building relationships and establishing credibility for future negotiations.

Achieving these objectives presupposes that you are able to select which development initiatives to join and the extent of your participation. Guiding questions that will prepare you for participation include:

  • What relevant standards exist or are evolving?
  • What is their importance to my organization?
  • What are we likely to gain from participating? (Consider the range of potential benefits and competitive advantage compared to others in negotiations.)
  • What might I lose by not participating?
  • What levels of participation are possible? (Conduct a cost-benefit analysis.)
  • What resources can I allocate? (Take into consideration competing priorities and expense constraints.)
  • How readily could I enter negotiations later if I don't participate now?

This analysis is enabled when standards professionals are involved in strategic planning within the company (see my previous article in this series, "Maximizing Input into Strategic Planning," in the May/June SN1). Using the roadmapping technique (described in that article) helps in analyzing requirements, resources, timing issues and obstacles that can inform your standards participation.

But roadmapping is often product-specific and the standards professional likely must consider multiple negotiations crossing product lines. Cross-product input and your understanding of both technical and strategic issues may be strengthened by consistent interaction with your company's marketing, R&D, design and engineering, and product management units along with supply chain and alliance partners.

These groups may not consistently communicate with each other. Targeted technologies and alternative approaches may also be evolving. Getting the necessary input, particularly on potential changes and emerging requirements, will require both the active support of upper management and a communication tool. Mindmapping can be such a tool.

Promoted by Tony Buzan beginning in the early 1990s, mindmapping is a spider diagram that lays out, often in a hierarchical fashion branching off a central topic (in the illustration, negotiating position), complex facets of a system and how they interrelate. Figure 1 shows a simplified example of considerations going into standards negotiation.

A key benefit of a mindmap is visually detailing and communicating relevant issues and their interaction. A user can zoom in on one part of the map that may be most relevant to a needed source of input without losing the broader picture. The mindmap itself can stimulate shared understanding and collaboration and be further refined in discussion with stakeholders.


Building the Mindmap

Common questions regarding each node in the diagram that will allow further detailing of subtopics include:

  • What does this assume or require? How does it impact my planning and position?
  • Who needs to be involved and how?
  • What else impacts this and how (the context)?

The illustration suggests initial subtopics within focal areas likely needing to be addressed.

Focusing on negotiation-specific considerations, standards professionals should begin developing their mindmaps by assessing their own positions (incorporating input from their extended organization) and those of others at the table (an ongoing process as negotiations proceed). In trying to anticipate how others might negotiate, an observation2 by Carl Cargill (now of Adobe) is useful. Based on his long experience in standards negotiation, Cargill suggests that stakeholders may wear multiple hats representing the following perspectives:

  • Corporate/organizational goals;
  • National interests;
  • Industry, global community;
  • Personal or pre-established relationships; and
  • Strategic.

Moreover, participants, particularly in global standards development negotiations, are likely to be very mismatched, differing in important ways:

  • Types of organizations, from governments to industry to other stakeholders;
  • Levels and standing of individual representatives;
  • Varying agendas, knowledge bases and experience in target domain and standards setting in general; and
  • Cultures and development stages.


Questions for Planning the Negotiation

I suggest the following basic guiding questions for planning negotiation:

  • Whom/what do I represent? What authority do I have? What is critical to me?
  • What do I know and not know? How can I gain more knowledge? What can/should I learn from the negotiations?
  • Who is at the table? Whom/what do they represent? How are they interrelated?
  • How do they currently relate to my organization outside the standards development realm (trade partners, alliances, suppliers, customers, competitors)?
  • What are the positions, authority and standing of the representatives?
  • What do they know and not know? Can I expand their knowledge productively?
  • Who could block? Who might enable?
  • What are my competitive strengths and weaknesses?
  • How are current negotiations (and players) linked to other negotiations? Who might I need in the future and how? How does theses interrelationships impact the extent and nature of my participation?
  • What are my underlying assumptions (and those of other parties)? How can I validate or challenge these assumptions and what could be implications for negotiating positions if they are incorrect?

Standards negotiations can take significant time during which needs and priorities may change. These are signaled in the example mindmap as dynamic considerations and are informed by the scenario planning discussed in "Maximizing Input into Strategic Planning". Scenario planning systematically defines and evaluates strategic considerations for possible alternative operating environments based on key changed variables. Relevant here is the fact that technologies targeted by standards development initiatives are increasingly evolving and corporate operations and associated requirements including standards are subject to changing conditions, as are available resources. The two-headed arrow in the figure between current and potential future strategies reflects desired iteration as significant possible changes are identified or begin to manifest.

Further guiding questions, then, should include:

  • How could my company's needs and priorities and my authority and resources change? How would this impact my position going forward?
  • How might the needs of other players change?
  • How might negotiations change if the representatives change?
  • How might my competitive position change?
  • How might the focus technology change (or competing technologies emerge) and how might this impact X?

The next article in this series will consider how education and training can be designed to improve the skills and understanding of standards professionals.



1. Strauss, Jeffrey, "Maximizing Input into Strategic Planning," ASTM Standardization News, Vol. 43, No. 3, May/June 2015, pp. 34-39. The first part of this series is "The Elevator Speech," March/April 2015 SN.

2. Derived from Carl F. Cargill, "Why Standardization Efforts Fail," Journal of Electronic Publishing, Vol. 14, No. 1, Summer 2011.



At Northwestern University for 31 years, Jeffrey Strauss is acting director of Northwestern University's Center for Technology and Innovation Management within the university-wide Buffet Institute for Global Studies where he develops programs targeting cutting edge industry problems. He is particularly active in Northwestern initiatives supported by NIST that enhance attention to standards in business and engineering curricula. He has taught undergraduate, graduate and executive education courses on related subjects. He serves on multiple standards education committees and is vice chair for the Americas for the International Cooperation for Education and Standardization. He will be lead instructor on a MOOC related to standards education for IEEE next spring.

Issue Month: 
Issue Year: