Good practices to save time in the drafting of CEN standards 

This page presents recommendations to implement successfully the three-year timeframe in CEN.

1 BACKGROUND – THE THREE-YEAR TIMEFRAME

Everyone is conscious of the challenges involved in implementing successfully the three-year timeframe in CEN:

  • Drafting a standard is a collaborative project, with generally limited contractual or links of authority between those involved;
  • Often, there is not enough work performed between meetings, leading to a mindset known as the "Waiting for the next meeting syndrome". Experts, whilst very committed to the work, are extremely busy. For their pains, they are "rewarded" by spending one or two days locked up in a meeting room, which is often the only way for them be able to devote sufficient time to the project.
  • Due to the values inherent in the standardization process, including the consideration of all opinions and achieving consensus, the process is easily slowed down. Even in the best of cases, dealing with a range of views and inputs takes time.
  • Finally, since most drafting phases are sequential, when one is delayed it is seldom possible to recover time on another.

Nonetheless, the majority of standards are adopted in three years in CEN. This proves that we can save time in drafting standards.

This document presents some suggestions and practices gathered from experience, concerning more particularly the role and responsibilities of the CEN/TC secretary.

These recommendations are presented by considering three possible areas of action:

  • Management of the TC: This proactive and well advised core team consists of a Chairperson and Secretary and for working groups, the convenor.
  • Promotion and awareness: Ownership of the project by the group and tools to help them.
  • Strategy: The parties requiring the project are at the heart of the process and repeatedly state their need.

2 MANAGEMENT OF THE TC

2.1 The right person in the driver's seat

Take the time to select the right person to be convenor of a working group or project leader:

  • launch a call for candidates,
  • select a recognized person who is skilled and competent,
  • ensure validation by the TC,
  • ensure that the new convenor has adequate professional standardization support (PSS) from his/her own NSB or another who is willing to provide it.

A comfortable and too obvious choice that imposes itself during a session may not always be the best path to success. Do not be afraid to seek informal advice from your counterparts in other NSBs. Contact your BT member when you feel pressured to make what you believe is a bad decision.

2.2 Progress in the face of sustained opposition

Should dissent or obstruction occur, focus on the specific difficulties in the draft standard:

  • could they be incorporated into an annex?
  • could these aspects be separated and put in another document? This could be a second part of the Standard, which would be published later, allowing what can be resolved to progress. Should opposition persist, this second part could nonetheless still be published, as a technical specification (TS).

The above is not applicable to all cases, notably standards resulting from a risk analysis. This is also difficult to apply to standards giving requirements specifying thresholds with associated test methods.

2.3 Forcing the issue

When a group has reached an impasse, discussions are leading nowhere and responsiveness or participation are declining, the Chairperson can take the initiative and make a proposal for the project which:

  • makes sense and the project goes forward,
  • or the reactions of the group indicate otherwise.

In either case, something happens!
There may actually be insufficient interest in or support for the project, in which case it should probably be withdrawn, either by the CEN-CENELEC Management Centre's (CCMC) monitoring of the timeframe or, better still, by the TC itself.

2.4 Each problem should be tackled at the right level

Sending repeated e-mails to the project leader or to the CCMC programme manager does not solve everything:

  • before taking action, the TC management team should assess the nature of the difficulty, which could be political, technical, relational or management-related;
  • if it is relational, contact the persons concerned by phone rather than e-mail;
  • if it is management-related, contact your BT member;
  • in each case, you will need:
    - to know the persons involved;
    - to create time and opportunity for the management of the TC to happen.

Many problems can arise from poor communication which can be prevented by:

  • contacting the prominent participants in the TC between meetings to anticipate forthcoming discussions/problems;
  • making contact by phone, remembering that « a call can save a project »;
  • maintaining a network of contacts and knowing your experts;
  • never underestimating the importance of informal discussions, of coffee breaks and dinners;
  • arriving the day before a meeting to allow time for some networking in order to anticipate problems;
  • asking persons involved in the TC to help you understand the situation and to help you having your advice understood by others;
  • knowing your counterparts in other NSBs.

2.5 And also …

A Chairman's Advisory Group (CAG) can help the TC to function in an organized and simple way. Care should be taken, however, not to give the impression that the CAG is an "elite" group.
Anticipate potential issues with Public Authorities, CEN consultants, etc. The TC itself cannot easily solve difficulties introduced at WG level. The role of the Chairperson is essential in order to identify difficulties, openly expose issues and to prepare for future arbitration.

3 PROMOTION – AWARENESS – TOOLS

3.1 Promotion of alternative deliverables

Participants in Technical Committees and groups often look down on alternative deliverables as not being "true" standards. This is a pity, because a Technical Specification (CEN/TS) can allow a first document to reach the market quickly and simply.
It would always be possible to return to such a document in the future in order to improve it and upgrade its status to that of a "true" standard when time allows. Over time, such intermediate documents can provide the basis for future European or International Standards.

This approach allows the TC management team to be the driver in helping to choose routes to overcome possible lack of consensus or progress. Importantly, it also allows the possibility to propose "honourable" alternatives when faced with the temptation to bypass the rules.

Alternative deliverables may not be "true" standards, but they can be true solutions to a way forward.

3.2 Control of the addition of new work items to the work programme

For some standards, it may not be possible to develop and publish them within 3 years.
In these cases, promote and use the preliminary work item status, thus giving the group time to conduct the initial studies, whilst maintaining high visibility of the activity.
Everything should be done to respect the timeframe, except forgoing the quality of the document!

The work programme should remain realistic at all time, this not being simply a question of volume. There may be cases where a standard is only attainable in the medium term and where an integrated succession of achievable milestones will be instrumental in its achievement. The overall duration of the whole sequence may not be fully predictable at the start but for each stage, the agreed timeframe must be respected.

3.3 The participants own the planning

By using a "Gantt" chart planning while reporting in a meeting, the secretary can allow the participants to feel involved and understand their responsibility with regard to time management. This can be achieved by:

  • identifying upfront all likely future meetings for the whole duration of the project in the Gantt chart;
  • implementing an action table, with names and dates;
  • suggesting the use of electronic tools to the Working Group Convenors, such as electronic platforms on Livelink, virtual meeting rooms and wikis;
  • considering the use of a project management reporting tool and adapting it as necessary; a single project committee is different from a TC with 80 standards!
  • above all, avoid the "Next meeting syndrome": get work done between meetings!

Present time management positively. The customers of standardization attach great value to tightly managed projects with firm and clear schedules. Resist the views of experts that timeliness is just another requirement imposed by the system.
At the very least, the TC secretary should present at the meeting a concise secretariat report containing the action plan.

4 STRATEGY

4.1 The time requirement is the market's requirement

Ensure that the timescale for delivering the standard is related to the requirements of its users. Highlight the expected publication by making reference to the real or desired use of the standard by the market, in answer to the following questions:

  • is the market ready for the Standard?
  • is the Standard already used in reality?
  • will the Standard be used upon publication or later?
  • what is the migration plan from the current state of practice to that described by the standard; is an extended DOW required?

Stress the market's requirements.

4.2 Dealing with tactical delays

Even when a formal decision is taken to develop a standard, there may still be parties who oppose its development as a matter of principle. Having been out-voted by the majority when the project was established, they might be tempted to object to or delay the project. In these cases, the need for the standard has to be emphasized regularly and firmly by the intended users. This will force those having a problem with the standard to disclose their concerns clearly, thereby avoiding slippage. However, the principle of consensus has to be respected (which does not imply unanimity).
In this scenario, it is essential that the role of the Chairperson goes further than pure diplomacy (without displaying partiality) in order to deal with serious disagreements. If necessary, the project can be fundamentally redefined, as long as it is done transparently or as a new project.

2013-07-29