if this one seems brilliantly simple… it’s because it is. businesses should be standardized with 1 major, crucial, unspeakably important caveat to it: unless it doesn’t make sense.

i say that because many times you will come across something that you can’t put in a box, and if you try wrapping it up in cardboard you’re going to fail. standardize only where standardization makes sense, and unlike cardboard itself, be flexible!

i completely understand that while i enjoy running around by the seat of my pants (life is more exciting that way!) being “reckless” like that in the business world is probably not the best idea. standardizing processes, technologies, documentation, etc. all help—in the long run—to reduce costs, to reduce effort spent, and (hopefully) to increase quality. however, as i mentioned, it’s critical to keep an open mind to everything. business changes. the work you do will change. therefore your standards are also going to have to change along with it. if someone comes to you saying, “i think there’s a better way we can do this..” the following are not acceptable answers:

  • that’s not part of the process
  • we’re trying to reach (ISO/CMMI/whatever) level [#], and this would put us a step back
  • we’ve never done things that way before
  • we’re focusing on other areas right now

these answers are all garbage because nothing, not even CMMI levels, are as important than the work you do for your clients. absolutely anything that you can do to complete the work for your clients (be it internal or external clients) better than you could do it before is worth focusing on. and if it’s not part of the process—make it.

use standards for your technology. hey—use open standards for your technologies. dare i say nothing is a better selling point that, “our products will run on whatever platform you want us to build it on”. there’s a new generation of young professionals coming and they won’t be accepting this concept of “all microsoft, all the time.” you’re going to start seeing more linux platforms, more macintosh platforms, and especially web platforms in the office. it’s important to keep an eye out on the future, and there’s no better way than building on technologies that are as agile as your business.

standardize your email signatures. this one drives me up the wall for sure. if you’re a company of 5 people, or 500,000—it doesn’t matter. your email signatures should be uniform. they should all have the same common elements, color, and format. to build a good team, you need to have unity. something as small as an email signature seems rather trivial, but you’d be surprised to see how much that changes the appearance of your enterprise. and it’s not about stripping employees of their individuality—it’s about building a solid team. as a former assistant coach in hockey, i’ve seen first-hand that teams with better unity will perform better than those with superior talent.

standardize your operations from top to bottom. and always remember to keep in mind the most important rule—make it a standard to improve your standards.