Policy and Standard(s)

In the real world, we define standards of performance in order to meet a predetermined goal according to established criteria…

Last updated on January 26th, 2022 at 05:12 am

The purpose of policy is to articulate a strategic statement of requirements, usually in business language, that sets and/or communicates strategic direction of how the business requirements shall be met.  This “strategic statement of requirements” serves to require an end state – a result, an outcome, rather than to mandate specific methods (which is the “how”); and allows implementors great latitude for creativity and flexibility in meeting the requirements. (Implementors become more that mere order-takers.)

“Policy” is the province of “policy-makers;” that is, senior executives and business managers, and is the instrument by which they articulate their (high-level, yet fundamental) requirements to accomplish mission or Business Requirements.

The policy is the over-riding instrument that contains the “policy statement,” which is a concise description as a principle or rule to guide decisions and achieve rational outcome(s).  The policy statement is one or two sentences in length.  (E.g., “It is the policy of the ABC Company provide a workplace free of discrimination.”)

Policies should not contain requirements outside of the policy statement, and should not contain the additional detail properly assigned to procedures and guidance instruments.

Why not?

We need to separate the desired result or outcome from the standard of performance, because if we do not clearly separate the two, what we get (the result) may very will become the standard of performance.  That is, whatever result is achieve has “met the standard of performance.”

This works well only if a party wants whatever they do to be, by definition, correct.  But in the real world, this is actually failure.

In the real world, we define standards of performance in order to meet a predetermined goal according to established criteria; and we specifically separate the two so as to ensure that we do not confuse them.

In addition, there are lots of ways to achieve a result.    But the best way is to engage the creativity and imagination of those charged with implementing policy.  So by allowing creativity, constrained only by an objective standard of performance, the number of “correct” solutions is limited only by imagination.

One size rarely fits all, and in diverse organizations, the ways to achieve the result required by policy needs to support that diversity.

Getting There…

The result or outcome is the thing that is achieved; the end state.  Although we can certainly determine whether or not we have achieved the result, we can only do so after-the-fact.  We have no objective metrics to determine before the fact that achieving the result is a foregone conclusion; guaranteed; or when it will be achieved.  Without objective metrics, everything is opinion (including probability), such as whether or not we will achieve the result in future.

Also, achievement of the result says nothing about how we’re going to get to that result.

The Standard [Of Performance]

The metrics, and the “how” are the province of “standard(s) of performance,” which contain performance requirements.

Performance requirements do not directly provide deliverable value; but they do provide supplemental benefit to defining and understanding the quantitative performance of getting to a result.  A standard [of performance] is an established norm or [set of] requirement(s).  Its purpose is define the performance criteria required to implement the policy [statement].  As such, a “standard of performance” is a specific requirement used to establish performance metrics of the “how.”

Standards of performance are published in “Standards” documents, which are usually formal documents that establishes uniform (i.e., required) engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes and practices.  Solutions are selected or developed to meet the requirements of the standard.  The idea is that if we perform to the standard, then we achieve the desired results.


“Policy” is a high-level statement of results (outcome).  The Standard [of Performance] specifies the requirements that define those results; that is, the Standard defines what is required (i.e., in terms of performance) to achieve the desired outcome.  As such, a Standard contains the high-level objective requirements that specify how the policy shall be implemented.

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