Saturday, June 11, 2011

It's A Standard, That's Why.

Organizations write codes to protect people. Organizations write standards to ensure quality. Codes have the strength of law. Standards do not.

I’ve attended a number of construction meetings over the years where I wished that standards had more bite. I wished I could point at my printouts and demand people follow the rules.

Now, I’m not so sure. When I’m training my staff I try to convey not only the standards applicable to the topic but the logic behind those standards. Bodies create standards to serve specific purposes and solve specific problems. When a standard does not serve that purpose, we should set it aside. There is a time to not follow a standard.

That statement alone has gotten me more than my fair share of bad looks. But, standards do not arise in a vacuum. There is always context.

At UF, our Telecommunications Standard once required three cable drops at every outlet location. The standard was written down and delivered to every contractor that did work on UF campus. A number of smart people put their heads together to come up with that number. Their work should be respected.

When challenged on that requirement, we have a number of options. Those that don’t truly understand the standard or feel like discussing it rely on the document itself. The requirement itself cannot be challenged because it is a component of a University standards document. Everyone should respect the document. After all, a standard is a standard.

Unfortunately, work is rarely that simple. Most work, when done according to standard, costs more. Project managers are always under pressure to cut costs. And a cabling consultant rarely gets the last word in any project. Notes are lost. Requested changes somehow don’t make it to the next set of drawings.

But, when we understand the reasoning behind a standard, we can change the adversarial nature of a planning meeting into one of mutual understanding.

We need three cables for network, phone, and one spare.

What about an outlet for a network HVAC connection located above the ceiling. Can we only install two cables for that outlet?

Sure. Or, maybe not.

At this point a cabling consultant can discuss the topic with the project manager from a common point of reference. Maybe the project manager is making a reasonable request. If so, a consultant should feel confident enough to step away from the standard. If the request is unreasonable, the cabling consultant should be ready to explain why the request is being rejected. The project manager is not there to destroy the telecommunications plan – the manager needs the plan to work. They are operating under other constraints. The IT consultant should always bear this in mind.

As a consulting professional, we need to be able to explain the logic behind any standard we are trying to enforce. In a meeting with project managers, owners, and tenants, it is always in our best interests to convince others that standards exist for their benefit.

As a contractor I always tried to convince customers to place two cables at each outlet location. I would explain the reasons why. Sometimes I was successful and sometimes I wasn’t. In those instances where I installed fewer than the standard number of cables, I was often called back.

Each time I was called back to install additional cables for these customers, there was no malice. Each customer knew that I was looking out for their best interests and more work followed.

I’m sure I’ve said it in earlier blog posts, but we have a responsibility to treat others as the professionals we often claim to be. Stomping our feet and pointing to a piece of paper to justify our requirements does a disservice to our role in the industry.

Our credentials do not grant us any magical insight and the information we have means nothing if we do not share it.