ASTM: Practicing TOP Management for 100 Years
Some organizations get it, and some just don't. ASTM International (previously known as American Society for Testing and Materials) is among the organizations that practice TOP Management as part of their DNA. ASTM supports the development and archiving of high-quality, market-relevant standards -- beginning with a standard for railway steel in 1901. They understand how technology fits into both what they do (for example, the creation of new standards around new technologies) - and how they do it. You may recall that Earl Lawrence of EAA mentioned that the process of how Light Sport Aircraft standards came into being seemed to him to be an example of TOP Management. ASTM's Dan Schultz was the staff manager for the LSA standards development process. I had the opportunity to talk with Dan a couple of weeks ago and I came a way with a new understanding of how TOP Management can be as much a part of the organization as is it a part of its peoples' skills. What does ASTM do? You know those standards you see quoted on airplane parts, Federal regulations, and baby strollers? Things like "meets ASTM standard...." I now have a better understanding of where standards come from and how they are used by industry and government. Key is that standards are not handed down from on high. Not at all. Standards, at least those developed via ASTM's process, are a community effort created explicitly via a "balanced" process where all stakeholders are heard and decisions are made by a fair and transparent ballot process. In the case of the Light Sport Aircraft process, ASTM facilitated the creation of 30 standards in 30 months. That statistic, 30 standards, 30 months (recall this is a voluntary process) and the resulting creation of an industry around this new form of recreational aircraft lead me to stamp the process with the TOP Management sticker of approval. The task itself focused on technical issues of aircraft design and manufacturing, organizational issues of certification, and the realities of the people involved in terms of weight and risk assessment. The process also involved TOP Management: on-line support of pre-meeting work, identification of stakeholders, and balloting; the ASTM organizational process of consensus and balance; and the ability to draw out perspectives from all stakeholders. Dan's management of this process (and all the varied committees he supports) suggested a high level of personal systems savvy. I asked Dan how he came to see the need for technology, organization, and people dimensions to be combined as part of his facilitation process. His background was engineering, yet given the quick overview he gave me of standards facilitation it was clear he has the people skills you'd expect from a psychologist. His answer took me a bit by surprise. Systems savvy: That's what ASTM is all about. He put the heavy lifting on the organization.
Walking into the mid-90s [growth of the Internet] with 90 years of experience, the organization knew exactly what it had to do.... In order to maintain commercial advantage, the standards development of tomorrow has to develop the most technically competent standard in shortest amount of time or industry won’t select you.He said ASTM formally sketched out the digital path – cradle to grave standards development given new technologies. They made sure that their products, standards, could be created quickly and in a form that the customer wanted, and easily accessible. They made sure that their process was improved by use of electronic collaboration - they haven't replaced face-to-face collaboration, but rather steamlined those face-to-face meetings by their new pre and post-meeting processes. I generally talk about TOP Management being practiced by a person -- and clearly Dan Schultz is a TOP Manager (managing technology, organizations, and people in an integrated way) -- but the ASTM example highlights the value of embedding TOP Management into the organization itself. My colleagues and I have also talked about embedded TOP Management strategies into technologies, but I'll save that discussion for another time.