At a high level, standards organizations operate in similar ways. A standard is produced and implementations follow. Taking a cue from software engineering, WHATWG added active maintenance to the mix by producing Living Standards. The idea being that just like unmaintained software, unmaintained standards lead to security issues and shaky foundations.
The W3C worked on test suites, but never drove it to the point of test-driven development or ensuring the test suites fully covered the standards. The WHATWG community produced some tests, e.g., for the HTML parser and the canvas API, but there was never a concerted effort. The idea being that as long as you have a detailed enough standard, interoperable implementations will follow.
Those with a background in quality assurance, and those who might have read Mark Pilgrim’s Why specs matter, probably know this to be false, yet it has taken a long time for tests to be considered an essential part of the standardization process. We’re getting there in terms of acceptance, which is great as crucial parts of the web platform, such as CSS, HTML, HTTP, and smaller things like MIME types and URLs, all have the same kind of long-standing interoperability issues.
These interoperability issues are detrimental to all constituencies:
Therefore I’d like everyone to take this far more seriously than they have been. Always ask about the testing story for a standard. If it doesn’t have one, consider that a red flag. If you’re working on a standard, figure out how you can test it (hint: web-platform-tests). If you work on a standard that can be implemented by lots of different software, ensure the test suite is generic enough to accommodate that (shared JSON resources with software-specific wrappers have been a favorite of mine).
Effectively, this is another cue standards needs to take from modern software development practices. Serious software will require tests to accompany changes, standards should too. Ensuring standards, tests, and implementations are developed in tandem results in a virtuous cycle of interoperability goodness.