Iso 56000 Series standards

The concept of "standardisation" and "innovation" may appear contradictory at first glance, and can cometimes rise passionated reactions. It is also worth noting that it can be challenging for innovation managers to obtain clear and understandable information on the scope and limitations of ISO 56000 Series of standards. As a very invovled member of ISO TC 279, which is responsible for drafting the standards, and having been involved in the international work from the early stages, we are well placed to answer the most frequently asked questions.

Standards in relation to innovation management

The ISO 56000 series of standards concerns the field of innovation management. They were developed by the international standards committee ISO TC 279 and are applicable to all organisations worldwide.

Standardisation is an area that is still not well understood in the innovation ecosystem and is sometimes viewed with a great deal of prejudice. However, to think that standardisation is tantamount to pigeonholing organisations is as wrong as believing that innovation is the product of one person’s genius.

The most well-known standard to date is ISO 9001, which describes the “Quality Management System”. This has led to confusion between “standardisation” and “quality”. It is true that some companies have been overwhelmed by documentation and procedures as a result of unskilful implementation of this standard. This has made some innovation managers reluctant to take a positive view of the word “standardisation”.

However, by focusing on the tip of the iceberg, we overlook the fact that ISO 9001 was first published in 1987. Since then, it has helped to transform businesses, with a sharp increase in the reliability of products and services and a significant improvement in customer satisfaction in all sectors and all over the world.

ISO 9001 has professionalised the field of quality, just as the ISO 56000 Series standards will professionalise the field of innovation management.

You may be wondering ...

Johan Claire, CEO of Innovation Way, also has the privilege and challenging responsibility of chairing the international standardisation committee ISO TC 279 – Innovation Management. On a daily basis, in the field, he encounters the doubts and misunderstandings associated with this work. Here, he shares his experience and answers the most frequently asked questions. It should be noted that this content is written by Johan Claire in his capacity as head of Innovation Way. It is intended to be fair and objective, but in no way commits Afnor and the CN INNOV, or ISO and the ISO TC 279 committee.

The Afnor website defines a standard as follows: Launched on the initiative of market players, a voluntary standard is a reference framework that aims to provide guidelines, technical or qualitative prescriptions for products, services or practices in the general interest. It is the result of consensual co-production between professionals and users who are involved in its development. Any organisation may or may not refer to it.

Let’s take these elements one by one.

  • A standard is launched at the initiative of the market.

The drafting and publication of a standard is subject to a vote by the standards committee concerned, which is itself made up of members representing the sector of activity. Thus, if a market does not support to draft a standard, the draft will not obtain the necessary votes and will therefore not see the light of day.

  • A voluntary standard is a reference framework that aims to provide guidelines, technical or quality requirements for products, services or practices in the general interest.

Standards are voluntary because their application is not mandatory. Standards provide a frame of reference, i.e. they set a benchmark to which everyone can refer or compare themselves. They may concern products, services or practices serving the general interest. This means that their aim is not to serve a particular company, but to improve overall performance for the benefit of all.

  • A standard is the result of consensual co-production between the professionals and users involved in its development.

The key word here is “consensual”. The notion of consensus is at the heart of the drafting process for all standards. Drafting a standard generally takes 2 to 4 years. During this period, a standardisation committee meets regularly to draft the content of the document. During this process, the document is regularly submitted to all members for comment. Each member can then request the addition, deletion or modification of a word, sentence, paragraph, etc., so that when the document is published, all committee members can accept the result. This does not necessarily mean that everyone is perfectly satisfied, but that there is no longer any opposition to the document, that there is a consensus on its content. This principle is fundamental to the standardisation process, and it may explain why the wording of certain standards can sometimes seem convoluted. If you are thinking of a simpler wording, chances are that someone proposed it during the drafting stage, but another participant was opposed to it for one reason or another and a more consensual wording had to be found.

  • Any organisation may or may not refer to it.

Once again, this points to the voluntary nature of implementation.

A standard is not a regulation or a law.

There are a few standards whose application is made mandatory by law, but they are very much in the minority. These are generally technical standards whose application is made mandatory, generally for safety reasons.

Apart from these exceptions, they are known as “voluntary standards”, because they are always voluntary. This means that companies and other organisations are free to choose whether or not to apply them.

However, this “freedom” may be relative when the market widely adopts a standard. For instance, take the case of ISO 9001: no company is legally obliged to implement it. Nevertheless, when, in the golden age of this standard, big players asked their subcontractors to provide proof of ISO 9001 certification in order to be listed as potential suppliers, the choice was relative… It was possible for subcontractors to forego certification, but doing so risked losing customers.

A standard will only become established in a market if it creates significant value for the entire value chain.

ISO defines a management system as the way in which an organization manages the interrelated parts of its business in order to achieve its objectives.

This sentence is typically the result of a drafting process involving a large number of experts working in consensus. It is perfectly accurate, but not necessarily easy to understand on first reading!

Since we have more editorial freedom here, let’s try to be more explicit. Standards can relate to products, services or practices. “Management system standards” focus on organisational practices.

Each management system standard proposes an overall organisational framework to be implemented. It should be noted that the term “organisation” is prefered to “company” in standardisation because management system standards are applicable not only to companies but also to associations, public organisations, etc.

There are a number of management system standards covering different topics. The best known are ISO 9001 – Quality Management System, ISO 14001 – Environmental Management System and ISO 45001 – Occupational Health and Safety Management System. ISO 56002 and ISO 56001 are standards for innovation management systems.

Management system standards have several characteristics: 

  • They are generally written to be applicable to all organisations, regardless of their type, size or sector of activity.
  • They are based on a common structure, historically known as “HLS” (High Level Structure), renamed “HS” (Harmonised Structure) a few years ago.
  • They are designed to ensure the “integration of management systems”. In other words, they are complementary and can be linked together. In larger companies, for example, we sometimes find reference managers for different management systems (quality manager, safety manager, environmental manager, innovation manager, etc.) and an “integrated management system manager” who ensures the consistency of the whole system.

The HS (Harmonised Structure), formerly known as the HLS (High Level Structure), is a common basis for all management system standards. It provides a framework structure and common definitions to increase consistency between management system standards and simplify their use. The common basis makes it easier for the user to compare documents and ensure the implementation of several management system standards in parallel within the same organisation. The details of this common structure are freely available in a document called “Annex SL”.

This common structure is important for the consistency of the different standards and can facilitate the start of work when drafting a standard, as experts are not starting from a blank page. However, in the context of the development of the ISO 56002 & ISO 56001 standards, dedicated to the innovation management system, the use of this basis was perceived as a major constraint by some of the experts. The field of innovation management has its own specificities and it was not always easy to work with an imposed base. Nevertheless, the working group was able to reach a consensus and used it.

Consensus is a fundamental principle of standardisation. Writing a standard means writing a frame of reference applicable to all organisations serving the general interest.

Standards are written by standards committees that are representative of the sector or area being standardised. A committee can therefore include organisations of all sizes, which may be related (e.g. customers/suppliers or competitors) or completely independent. Certain actors may have particular interests and seek to influence certain content of the document, particularly to gain a competitive advantage. This is part of the context and may also have the advantage of ensuring a high level of commitment from the experts.

However, when attempting to produce a standard that is applicable to all, it is important to limit the potential power struggles that may arise from these particular relationships and objectives. Thus, within a standards committee, all participants have equal weight and the search for consensus is at the heart of all actions. In other words, the aim is always to end with a result that is acceptable to all, not simply one that is validated by a majority.

Formal oppositions are therefore always analysed, but, in the meantime, the search for consensus does not give the power to block a proposal that satisfies a large majority.

Diplomacy is therefore an essential quality when drafting a standard!

With a few exceptions, standards are voluntary, and of all the standards, management system standards are special.

Standards can to be categorised into “requirements standards” and “guidance standards”.

A guidance standard should be considered as a guide or a collection of good practices. It gives advice and therefore contains sentences such as “the organisation could or should…”. Guidance standards are intended to help improve the performance of organisations that implement them, but they do not provide a mechanism for certification.

They cannot lead to certification by an external body. ISO 56002 – Innovation management system – Guidance is a guidance standard. Any organisation proposing ISO 56002 certification or claiming to be certified ISO 56002 would therefore be committing a misleading abuse.

Recommendation standards are generally longer than requirements standards. They contain more detailed descriptions.

In contrast, requirement standards generally contain less text than recommendation standards. The wording is generally shorter and does not go into too much detail because each element specified represents a requirement for which the organisation must be able to demonstrate correct application during an audit.

The purpose of a requirements standard is to enable certification of those who implement it. They therefore consist of a list of requirements with phrases such as “the organisation shall…”. It is then possible to request an audit of the management system by an external auditor in order to obtain a certificate of conformity. ISO 56001 – Innovation Management System – Requirements, published in September 2024, is a requirements standard that can lead to certification.

ISO (International Organization for Standardization) is an international network of the world’s leading standardizers. ISO develops and publishes International Standards by coordinating the work of experts.

ISO is organised into Technical Committees (TCs). Each Technical Committee is identified by a number and deals with a particular subject.  

An ISO technical committee brings together experts who are members of a national mirror committee and who have been appointed by their national standards bodies (NSBs), for example: Afnor in France, JISC in Japan, INACAL in Peru, etc.

ISO TC 279 is the international technical standardisation committee dedicated to Innovation Management. This committee is responsible for developing the 56000 series of standards. It brings together more than 300 experts from over 75 countries.

AFNOR association and its subsidiaries form an international group at the service of the general interest and sustainable development. The group is organised into 4 business lines:

  • Afnor Normalisation supports and guides professionals in drawing up national and international voluntary standards
  • Afnor Editions offers professional and technical information and monitoring solutions
  • Afnor Compétences offers a complete range of training, coaching and consultancy solutions
  • Afnor Certification provides certification and assessment services and engineering.

Afnor Normalisation is the French standards body. It is this structure that is registered with ISO. As ISO is organised into Technical Committees, Afnor is structured into several “Commissions Nationales” (CN). When France participates in an international committee, AFNOR sets up a French committee responsible for monitoring and providing input to the international work. This is called a “mirror committee”. CN INNOV is therefore the French mirror committee of ISO TC 279, working on the theme of Innovation Management.

The French mirror committee is organised into several working groups. Its purpose is to define and defend French positions in international work, particularly within ISO TC 279, and to develop complementary guides and standards that take account of specific French characteristics. It also carries out communications activities to raise awareness of innovation management standards.

The list of members is public and accessible on the CN INNOV page.

All standards are numbered. The number of a standard is linked to a specific classification. For example, the 9000 series is related to quality management, the 14000 series to environmental management and the 56000 series to innovation management.

Please note that there is no link between the number of the committee and the number of the series it develops. For example, the standards in the ISO 56000 series are developed by the ISO TC 279 committee.

The ISO 56000 series consists of several documents:

  • ISO 56000 focuses on the terminology associated with innovation management and is used in all other documents in the family.
  • ISO 56001 is dedicated to “innovation management systems” and is a requirements standard.
  • ISO 56002 is also dedicated to “innovation management systems”, but in the form of a guidance standard.
  • ISO standards 56003, 56004, 56005, 56006, 56007, 56008 and 56010 focus on specific components of the innovation management system or provide illustrations.

ISO 56001 and ISO 56002 are both dedicated to “Innovation Management Systems”. They are both management system standards and are applicable to all organisations (companies, public organisations, etc.).

The difference between the two is that ISO 56002 is a guidance standard, whereas ISO 56001 is a requirement standard. ISO 56002 is more descriptive and detailed. It is therefore particularly suitable for organisations that want to understand the innovation management system in order to make internal progress without seeking certification.

ISO 56001 is a requirements standard that can be used as a basis for an external audit. It is less descriptive, more condensed and more generic. It is therefore particularly suitable for organisations wishing to obtain a certificate of compliance to recognise the quality of their innovation management system.

The publication of an ISO standard is the result of several years of work by an international technical committee, with consensus at the heart of the process.

Imagine having to write a definition of innovation that is simple, adaptable to all types of innovation, understandable and suitable for all sectors and all regions of the world.

Now imagine that you have to write this definition with 10 of your colleagues and/or teachers and add the constraint that they all have to agree with the result by consensus. This should give you an idea of the difficulty of standardisation.

The ISO 56000 series of standards are written on this principle, but by bringing together several dozen experts from several dozen countries. It therefore takes time to reach a consensus, and this search for compromise often results in a sentence that no one would have written in the first place.

In addition, the standard is intended to be a frame of reference. It is not intended to impose a single way of doing things. Let’s take the management of innovative projects as an example. There are different project management methods that can be used in innovation: Design Thinking, Agile methods, Stage Gate, Lean Startup, etc. Each approach has its pros and cons. Each of these approaches has its interests and limitations, and none of them is the solution in all contexts and for all projects. Therefore, the standard cannot recommend or require one approach over another. Furthermore, other methods may emerge in the future, or may only be used in certain countries or contexts. The committee therefore proposed a more generic process and recommended in ISO 56002 that an approach be put in place to identify opportunities, generate concepts, validate them, develop solutions and deploy them. This keeps us at a more generic level by proposing an approach that is compatible with the various methodologies, without the term “design thinking” appearing in the standard.

Some terms are purely related to standardisation. For example, management system standards that are based on the HS (Harmonised Structure) refers to “organisations” rather than companies, because the standards shall be applicable not only to companies but also to public organisations, NGOs, research centres, federations and so on. Organisation is therefore the accepted term to embrace all types of structure.

Finally, the language of this work is English. So if you look at a standard oin another langage there might have had additional difficulties that result from translation.

In short, it must be recognised that it takes a certain amount of time and training to be able to read a standard smoothly… A colleague from French mirror committee used to say that getting involved in standardisation is like developing a new neural network… She’s probably right!

Let’s face it, these titles are a bit long and it’s simpler to just say “ISO 56002”!

Here’s what each element of these titles means:

  • The abbreviation ISO means that it is an international standard developed by an international committee coordinated by ISO.
  • The abbreviation EN, which can be added in front, means that the standard has been adopted by CEN, which is the equivalent of ISO, but at European level. The standard is therefore accepted at European level.
  • FR / DIN or other initial letters can also be added, it indicates the country that has accepted the standard and that provides you with the document (in this example France or Germany).

The first publications from ISO TC 279, and in particular ISO 56002 – Innovation Management System, has been published internationally in 2019.

So it’s been a while, but it’s not surprising that you’re only hearing about it now for a number of reasons.

First of all, there are many communities of innovation actors, and in general they have not waited for standardisation to collaborate and share best practices. For a long time, some of these communities paid little attention to standardisation, often because of a lack of understanding of what a standard was. It was only when the first standards were published and their content was used by a number of companies, universities and consulting companies that the subject began to spread into those networks.

Additionally, the first standards published were guidance standards that could not lead to certification and were therefore seen as just another tool among many others.

It should also be noted that ISO 56002 was published at the beginning of the COVID crisis. It was not really the most opportune moment to talk about a profound and structured change aimed at improving the development of sustainable innovation capacity. The urgency was survival and the search for spontaneous innovation was much more fostered.

From 2022 onwards, the subject of innovation management systems began to really take off (first requests from companies, first offers of support, integration into university training programmes, etc.).

Since the beginning of 2024, there has been a clear acceleration in the spread of these concepts, with the publication of ISO 56001 announced for the end of 2024. This standard, which is a requirements standard and therefore allows certification, has clearly attracted the attention of the entire community. The terminology “Innovation Management System” and the associated concepts are thus gaining ground, gradually leading to a new way of looking at innovation, no longer as the result of projects, but as the result of the construction of innovation capacities enabled by the implementation of multiple activities and processes in companies and other organisations.

Standards are tools that can help you structure the implementation or improvement of your innovation management system. But building a system is not an end in itself. The aim of building this system is to develop your organisation’s capacity to innovate.

Developing the capacity to innovate means being able to take on and complete more projects, in a wider range of areas and on a more regular basis. Diversifying projects can mean being able to innovate in terms of products, services, business models, etc., but also being able to carry out incremental or disruptive innovation projects, or innovating to create value for customers, teams or society in general.

Setting up an innovation management system aims to develop your ability to develop innovation in a systematic, organised and structured way. 

But again, innovation is not an end in itself! The objective of innovation, as considered in the ISO 56000 series of standards, is to create value. This value can take many forms. It can be financial, commercial, environmental, social, it can be in the form of increased adaptability or in the form of knowledge creation…

The purpose of any organisation, whether it’s a company, a public organisation, a university, an NGO, etc., is to create value, and every organisation has a responsibility for the development and evolution of society and the world. So every organisation is involved in innovation and today has to ensure that it does more and does it better. Every organisation therefore needs an innovation management system.

However, in the specific case of startups, there is a nuance to be made. Not all startups have an interest in setting up an innovation management system, simply because not all startups aim to innovate on a regular and diversified basis. A startup faces the challenge of making its first project a success. And, to be successful with a single project, a complete system is not necessary. So, if the startup’s primary goal is to succeed with a single project and be bought out, it is unlikely to be interested in building a complete system. On the other hand, if the startup’s aim is to survive, it will need to repeat the feat of innovation and will probably not be able to rely forever on the genius and total dedication of its founder. In this case, it will be in the startup’s interest to structure and formalise a full innovation management system.

There are several roles in a standards committee.

The first role is “expert”. An expert participates in the development of standards. They may choose to participate in several working groups working on different draft standards. Experts may be involved only in national mirror committees or at international level.

There are also project leader and convener roles. There are important nuances between these 2 roles, but to be brief, these 2 roles are responsible for leading the working groups, ensuring that the work is carried out properly and that consensus is reached.

Each committee also has a committee manager. Usually working on behalf of the national standards body, the Committee Manager provides day-to-day management and administrative services for the work of a technical committee.

Finally, each committee has a chairman who is responsible for the overall management of the committee (participation, organisation, strategy, etc.).

Standardisation work is open to all stakeholders in the field. Regardless of age, education or experience, a committee draws on all kinds of expertise and vision.

Of course, some tasks require more experience and expertise than others.

As for remuneration, no… it cannot be said to be financially rewarding. It may depends on the country you are from but there is usually no remuneration for taking part in the work and the costs of attending working meetings may also be borne by the participants, whatever their role on the Committee.

In addition, unless specifically subsidised (which may be the case for certain committees), registration with a standards committee can cost money, depending on the type and size of your organisation.

So you don’t join a standards committee to earn money, you join to learn, to share your knowledge and to make a real contribution to changing the world by writing standards that can have a global impact!

If you would like to get involved in the work of ISO TC 279, please contact the Committee Manager, whose contact details can be found on the ISO TC 279 website.

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