Pace layering is a concept that I first saw in Brand's book "How Buildings Learn." The concept is that there are different layers of organization and structure that evolve at different paces. In a building I might have:
- My desktop, where contents are re-organized hourly or even more often
- The equipment layout, which changes every few weeks
- The cubicle walls and furniture, whose layout changes a few times per year.
- The internal walls, which only change every few years or longer.
- The building envelope and infrastructure core (plumbing, etc.) that change every decade or two.
- The multi-structural components (like electrical outlets) that very rarely change their design.
These layers are in a constructive learning tension. I am limited by the interior walls. They constrain the available cubicle and furniture placements. They also support the workflow, privacy, and operations. I may complain that I want a wall or door moved. If it is important enough, this may happen, but it will be at a different pace than my furniture layout changes.
This same situation is present in standards. The building example has standards at several layers. The cubicle maker has standard heights, shapes, and possible layouts. These are moderately ephemeral, changing as models change. They are somewhat multi-vendor, but that is not well coordinated. The electrical outlets are extremely stable and very restrictive, with uniform implementation by every vendor of electrical outlets.
You need to think about the pace levels of your problem space when working on standards. Putting a standard at the wrong pace level is a serious problem. So it is important to consider the stability of the problem space, the process and speed of standardization, and other pace related characteristics. You need to ruthlessly separate items that are at different pace levels. The standards process for something that changes rapidly (like furniture layouts) must be very different than that for something that changes slowly (like building walls). Mixing the two may be tempting from an organizational perspective, but it is a bad idea.
Creating this separation will lead to some difficult and emotional conflicts. Excluding something "important" because it is at a different pace level creates difficulties. The use of terms like levels helps, because the excluded work is at least recognized. But telling the advocates to go find another home can still be very difficult. There will also be strong process conflicts. The rapid, informal, error tolerant process appropriate for furniture layout is much easier than the slow rigorous process needed for changing the building envelope. People working on the envelope will be tempted to take shortcuts that are not appropriate, especially if they also are working on furniture layout problems.
The rapid pace may be envious of the "power" that the slow paced standards have. There is a temptation to seize the power that the envelope standards have to control and limit the available furniture layouts. But furniture layouts should not be subject to the kind of strict controls that are appropriate for a building envelope.
There is no simple easy answer. But proper consideration of pace levels is critical when defining the scope of new standards efforts.
(Why am I thinking of this now? The current HITSP effort needs to think about pace leveling, and I was just reminded of Brand's book because I found it while cleaning up my office area.)