Lots of work is done in corporate America in the name of standardization. We have to standardize!
Really? Why? Why do we have to?
Here’s the thing: standardizing can be bad. It’s often bad. (It can also be good but usually if it is, its luck)
Where does this insatiable desire to standardize come from? I don’t know (I’ll guess though). I believe it comes from people trying to simplify something complex.
That’s not an objective either.
Sometimes complex things are complex. The best you can do is just manage them. You can’t simplify the currents in the Pacific ocean, so we manage that complexity with systems and engineering (GPS, autopilot, etc.)
There’s another reason people like standards. And that’s because we enjoy their benefits — mostly without even realizing it — every single day.
Think about it: right at this second, you’re surrounded by standards.
Why does your electrical plug fit into that outlet? Standards. Why does your WiFi work everywhere? Standards. Why do staples fit into your stapler? Standards. Why does gas make your car run? Why can I type on any keyboard in north america? Why do I know what shoe size to buy (sort of)?
Standards! (OK, maybe some other reasons too, but standards are a major reason.)
But those standards weren’t developed to … “have standards developed.” Standards cost time and money to make, deploy, and maintain.
Why were they made?
They were developed to accomplish something (usually something = make more money, or reduce waste and effort, which is another way of saying make more money).
At some point lots of people figured out they were all going to use electricity, so they thought hey, if we all want to use a common resource, we should have a common way to interface with it. So there was a clear objective for the “electricity standards.”
Were there other ways to achieve that objective? Maybe, but they chose to develop and implement standards. It worked (and still does).
OK. That’s the good side of standards.
So when are standards bad? When they make you do useless activity, for no benefit. (Useless activity by definition has no benefit)
Useless activity means wasted time which means you (slash, the company) make less money. That’s the opposite of what you (slash, the company) want (unless your business model is to somehow benefit from someone else wasting their time).
Lets take an example of something a company might want to standardize. Think about projects at big companies. Someone may think “We do a lot of projects. We should do every project the same way! Let’s standardize…because…standards!”
So they make a standard and it works great (maybe) really big projects. But then a guy who wants to replace the shelves in a laboratory has to follow the standard, which involves filling out 5 forms and getting the signature of the CEO. The gal who wants to change to a new software suite because it will make 100 people’s lives easier, she gives up, because it’s less work to use the old junk than to go through the pain of upgrading.
What problem are you solving with the standard? Are projects too slow? Are they too expensive? Are they not giving any benefit to the company? Do people not understand what’s going on with projects?
Start with that — the problem.
Come up with ways to solve it.
Maybe a standard helps, maybe it’s a terrible idea. But at least you know the point of putting that standard in place, so when people ask “why are putting this standard in place?” You will have a better answer than “because…standards! Next question please.”