ASQ - Software Division

Why Care About Standards?

There are three main reasons to care about standards:

  1. as a way to add to one's professional knowledge-base;
  2. to be prepared when faced with questions from colleagues, managers, customers, etc.;
  3. because someone else says you must, i.e., your management or customer has mandated that you do.

These reasons build upon one another in that standards knowledge must exist to contribute to a reasonable implementation and adherence to other's expectations, and a reasonable implementation makes adherence to other's expectations much easier through reduced organizational stress and resistance.

Professional knowledge-base

Whether one agrees or disagrees with standards, they do offer a perspective on “Best Practice” knowledge regarding the topic covered in the standard.  Standards can offer a reasonably broad-based view of what is considered important in some domain(s) of the software industry through:

  • consensus among practitioners based on experience with “best practice” before the standards are developed,


  • field trials of the emerging standard during which practitioners and organizations provide feedback to the review/revision process.  (In this latter case, standards may initially be issued as Technical Reports or as “Trial Use” standards.)

Standards summarize the thinking of other professionals, perhaps saving you the time to research the subject.  External standards can become a source for the creation or revision of in-house standards and guidelines, saving an organization significant time compared to starting from scratch.

Proactive positions

When faced with questions from a colleague, manager, or customer, showing knowledge about standards demonstrates an aspect of professional competence.  In the case of a customer, it may be a critical element of that customer's opinion of your organization because the customer expects at least competent knowledge about standards.   The lack of such knowledge might prevent your relationship with a customer from growing to where they wish to do business with you.  That is, if they ultimately expect adherence and you do not seem to have substantive knowledge of the standards, they may take their business elsewhere.

In the case of question about standards from management, knowledge of what standards actually say and expect can help avoid potentially dysfunctional implementations.  Amid other development concerns and pressures, worrying about standards implementation may be at the end of a long list of other things until the urgency of their implementation begins to outweigh other concerns.  Such urgency may push folks less familiar with what standards require into unfortunate edicts about what will be done, when, and how.  If standards knowledge can be disseminated throughout an organization before "someone says so," a reasonable approach to their implementation is more likely to occur and still meet management implementation deadlines.

Because someone says so

Finally, people often “have to” care about standards because someone (management or a customer) has mandated that they do.  This can either come directly through requiring formal compliance to them or indirectly through incorporating aspects of them into existing local practices or procedures.  Increasingly, adherence to standards is becoming a part of doing business, especially internationally where quality and process related standards are often more frequently employed than in the United States.  In such a case, both prior reasons come into play as noted above: a reasonable implementation makes adherence go smoother and substantive knowledge about standards makes a reasonable implementation more likely.

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