Setting the right standards

Mystery solved. One of the great misunderstandings is the role of standards – in the sense of British (BS) and international (ISO) standards – and that they are all about products. True, many standards are; but most of those published in recent years and under preparation in the area of the built environment are process-related.

Guidance on many subjects

Procurement, benchmarking, briefing, design management – the list goes on – are all the subject of British (BS), European (EN) or international standards (ISO). A standard recommends appropriate action and factors to be considered when performing a task or undertaking a defined activity. Often, the titles of standards include the words "Guide" and "Code of Practice". They are, as these qualifications imply, meant to provide more than recommendations and will explain why a particular approach is being advised. In some areas, such as procurement of construction and facility-related services (where there are two new British Standards), they fill a gap in guidance not previously covered or found in practice manuals, reports or books.

Best practice leads to standards

The idea of best practice is that it is meant to apply to work performed at the leading-edge of practice. The trouble is that it can be very difficult to find best practices written up in a way that is readily accessible. Most so-called best practices are not codified, so it is hard to share them. A standard overcomes that shortcoming by providing codified knowledge that has been distilled from industry best practices. Moreover, it is presented in a way that is nonproprietorial and consistent in its thinking and recommended actions. The underlying processes are defined, transparent and auditable.

As firms and companies try to find better ways at lower cost, they would do well to see if there are streamlined processes defined in standards before wasting time and money on reinventing the wheel. The old-fashioned view that standards are adminstratively burdensome is simply untrue and an unfortunate legacy of the early days of quality assurance. The aim is to be efficient and effective, safe and reliable.

As the UK body charged with responsibility for national standards, BSI (British Standards Institution) is at the fore internationally of new standards for construction and facilities management including those relating to building information modelling (BIM). A few of its publications are free of charge, whilst all are easily accessible online.

For more information, visit the BSI corporate website

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