Interesting book review in the Wall Street Journal (18 January 2012) on Standards: Recipes for Reality by Lawrence Busch.
Standards are a fundamental principle of enterprise architecture, and they can mean many things to different people–they can imply what is normal or expected and even what is considered ethical.
Reading and thinking about this book review helped me to summarize in my own mind, the numerous benefits of standards:
– Predictability–You get whatever the standard says you get.
– Quality–By removing the deviation and defects, you produce a consistently higher quality.
– Speed–Taking the decision-making out of the routine production of standardized parts (i.e. we don’t have to “reinvent the wheel each time”), helps us to move the production process along that much faster.
– Economy–Standardizing facilitates mass production and economies of scale lowering the cost of goods produced and sold.
– Interoperability–Creating standards enables parts from different suppliers to inter-operate and work seamlessly and this has allowed for greater trade and globalization.
– Differentiation–Through the standardization of the routine elements, we are able to focus on differentiating other value-add areas for the consumer to appeal to various tastes, styles, and genuine improvements.
While the benefits of standards are many, there are some concerns or risks:
– Boring–This is the fear of the Ford Model-T that came in only one color, black–if we standardize too much, then we understate the importance of differentiation and as they say “variety is the spice of life.”
– Stagnation–If we over-standardize, then we run the risk of stifling innovation and creativity, because everything has to be just “one way.”
– Rigidity–By standardizing and requiring things like 3rd-party certification, we risk becoming so rigid in what we do and produce that we may become inflexible in addressing specific needs or meeting new requirements.
The key then when applying standards is to maximize the benefits and minimize the risks.
This requires maintaining a state of vigilance as to what consumers are looking for and the corollary of what is not important to them or what they are not keen on changing. Moreover, it necessitates using consumer feedback to continuously research and develop improvements to products and services. Finally, it is important to always be open to introducing changes when you are reasonably confident that the benefits will outweigh the costs of moving away from the accepted standard(s).
While it’s important to work off of a standard, it is critical not to become inflexible to change.
(Source Photo: here)