Everyone in develop teams know how it goes. For every development process, management system or even a simple screw, there is a standard that defines how the process should flow, how the management system must be organised, and how much the screw should weigh or what it should look like.
And if you read that standard, you usually wonder who on earth formulated it. It’s clunkily written, painfully dry and difficult to understand. Sometimes you may even doubt whether the author or authors even have a clue about the subject at hand.
I have the pleasure – and I mean that – of being among those groups, and so for me it’s easier to understand what goes into making standards that are ’somewhat’ more challenging in practice. But my experience is limited to IEC standards, and so this text solely applies to them.
In this blog post I’ll try to provide some brief insight into how such a standard is created:
It starts with the knowledge that an aspect, process or system requires an explanation that will aid in more uniform conduct or more comprehensibility to make processes easier to understand. This is presented in IEC as a ‘New Work Item Proposal’. This stipulates whether the standard will be an International Standard (IS), a Technical Specification (TS), a Public Available Specification (PAS) or a Technical Report (TR) and, of course, the subject of the standard. All the National Committees (NC) determine this.
Once this hurdle has been passed and there are sufficient experts available, work begins on the Committee Draft (CD). And herein lies the crux of why standards are configured the way they are. The experts – usually an international group – devise and discuss suggestions, scrap some or all of them, argue, talk, restructure, and so on. Everything is analysed to see whether it can be misinterpreted. It may also happen that two or more parties can’t reach a consensus and have to make compromises.
This means that the results are not always so clear-cut. If all the experts are at least somewhat satisfied, the Committee Draft for Vote (CDV) is presented to the NCs. And now the experts in these NCs can state their opinions and comment accordingly, or completely reject the drafts if there are technical errors.
In the event of a rejection, there is the opportunity to improve the draft until a new suggestion can be submitted as a CDV. If the draft is accepted, the comments are integrated and a Final Draft International Standard (FDIS) (also known as FTS, FPAS or FTR) is sent back to the NCs for a vote.
Should everything go smoothly, the new International Standard (IS) is published – or sent back for editing.
You can tell that a great number of people are involved in creating a standard, making it all the more difficult to find a shared, tenable opinion. Yet the advantage of these standards is that they can be edited in the future. After all, improvements are always good.
Personally, I don’t think every standard is perfect, but I admire everyone who works on standard committees and tries to achieve the best possible result for the respective industry. At the end of the day, the main goal – and I’m speaking for the automotive and medical technology industries for which I’m a consultant at Lorit Consultancy – is to make the world a little bit safer.
Oh, and one more thing: Working on standards is voluntary, and is not paid by the IEC 😉
Gerrit Steinöcker – Functional Safety Consultant