On prioritizing issues: people matter

by Rick Jelliffe

Imagine, if you will, that you are part of the delegation from a small country, lets call it Freedonia, to some standards organization, lets call it INSANE (Inter-National Standards Associations 'N Experts), and you are thinking about how to get the best result on a meeting on a new XML format of an agricultural nature, perhaps concerning bovine methane: lets call it DOOF (Daisy Open Orifice Format).

Now know you don't have enough slots to present all your issues. So, Keanu, what do you do?

If I were placed in such a hypothetical situation, here is what I might suggest, secure in the knowledge that mine was not the only opinion or approach.

First, I would say that there should be some sense of the priority and urgency of issues from the discussions by technical committees at the hypothetical national standards body, lets call it Standards Freedonia. That will give the basic shape of any ranking.

Second, I would say that you would need to consider gaming aspects. You would figure out which of your issues are also probably the high priority issues by other National Bodies, and adjust their rank down. You don't want to waste your slot on an issue that will clearly be brought up five minutes later. As part of this, you would also think about which of your issues can piggybacked on other issues that you expect another National Body to bring up.

But the third factor, I think, is the most interesting. It is the people factor.

Lets divide users of the DOOF standard into three classes:

1) Implementers of DOOF office suites. These number in their hundreds. They typically are very smart, and often working with large code bases. They will not so much be interested in basic functional details, but the arcana that is difficult to get from reverse engineering. Their key requirement is completeness.

2) Developers of DOOF file back-end systems. These number in their tens or hundreds of thousands. They are not necessarily the brightest bulb in the drawer, but are clearly the most handsome and charming. They need good documentation on the basics, and are less interested in the arcana unless their incoming documents happened to have significant use of arcana. Their key requirement is clarity.

3) Users of DOOF suite applications. This is a class that can be easily forgotten, but it may number in the millions or even hundreds of hypothetical millions. These are not necessarily technical savvy people at all, and they tend to be underrepresented at the standards level, especially because of the predominance of INSANE experts and, in a full moon, various influxes of suits. But some parts of the DOOF standard may in fact be directly targeted at them: you might think of a hypothetical formula language for doing calculations, to pick an example at random. Without being patronizing, "just folks" use these to make important decisions. Companies use them for planning and product calculation. Builders use them for calculating parts and material. Err, I mean, on the farm. Perhaps a wind farm. Their key requirements are correctness and usability.

This third category has requirements which deserve to be taken with the utmost seriousness: the largest group, the most unrepresented group, and in a sense the most vulnerable group. The first group is well-organized and capable, but a niche group and you may not have many of such people in Freedonia, not even hypothetically. The second is not so well-organized, but larger numerically and their needs are worthy of consideration too. But numerically they pale by comparison with the just folks.

Based on these thoughts, you might look among your DOOF issues for one that has a high priority from Standards Freedonia, is not one you expect to be raised early by other INSANE national bodies, and which helps ordinary people most. I am sure other people would have other useful strategies too and ways of divvying up the population. For example, your fellow INSANE member from Snowdunderia might want to put the needs for capturing methane for heating as one of their priorities, measured in Bovine Thermal Units or BTUCOW, but be waiting for someone else to bring up an opportunity to pounce.