Introduction to IPMA-USA Standards

The IPMA-USA Director of Standards works with the PM community to develop project management standards that help to improve project performance and business results. Wikipedia defines a standard as “an established norm or requirement. It is usually a formal document that establishes uniform engineering or technical criteria, methods, processes and practices.”

So how are standards developed? Who decides what qualifies as a standard? Why are standards needed? These are just a few of the questions you may be asking yourself. Let’s start with the last question first.

Why are standards needed?
Without standards we would not have the ability to conduct business. When you purchase a gallon of milk and pay $3.48 for that gallon, you do so with the assurance that you are receiving a fixed quantity. Without that assurance, there would be chaos, and business would cease to operate as we know it today.

Who decides what qualifies as a standard?
In most if not all cases, it is agreed upon by a group of experts and adopted by individuals, groups, industries, countries, etc. In the United States, physical standards are set and managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST in Washington DC. A sister organization to NIST is ANSI, the American National Standards Institute ( It is the voice of the U.S. standards and conformity assessment system. ANSI belongs to ISO, the International Standards Organization (

ISO is the world's largest developer and publisher of International Standards. ISO is a network of the national standards institutes of 157 countries, one member per country, with a Central Secretariat in Geneva, Switzerland, that coordinates the system. ISO is a non-governmental organization that forms a bridge between the public and private sectors. On the one hand, many of its member institutes are part of the governmental structure of their countries, or are mandated by their government. On the other hand, other members have their roots uniquely in the private sector, having been set up by national partnerships of industry associations. Therefore, ISO enables a consensus to be reached on solutions that meet both the requirements of business and the broader needs of society.

How are standards developed?
Experts in the field come together and work to form a consensus as to the definition of a standard. For physical standards it usually is fairly straightforward and non-ambiguous. For process standards, the task can be ambiguous and complex. The reason is people. Everyone has an opinion and those opinions can be strong.

Sometimes it can be a simple matter of understanding what is being said or communicated. For international standards this can be very difficult. But with patience and work, it can be done.

So what does all this have to do with project management?
Project Managers are tasked with the responsibility of overseeing and managing projects for companies and organizations. Quite often there are very large dollars associated with these projects. Companies and organizations want to make sure their dollars are well spent. They would like to have the assurance that the project managers they use are competent to deliver.

There are many ways this competence can be determined or measured. Standards are a “yardstick” by which organizations and the project management community can measure the competence of project managers.

Recently, work was completed by ISO to adopt ISO 21.500, an international standard for project management. IPMA (International Project Management Association has been a liaison organization of the committee to develop the standard.

For more information on our Standards efforts, explore this section of our website.