Policy? What policy?

August 15, 2010

Getting started in a process improvement effort is always a challenge. The two most common mistakes that lead to failures are:

1. management trying to make this too simple (“just go and do it correctly”) and

2. engineers trying to make this too complicated (“let’s document everything that needs to be done so that there are no questions”).

In fact, the starting point that we should see if we want to have any real improvement should be management demonstrating that they understand their own role and needs in the improvement programme. The objective of an improvement programme should never be certification or evaluation at CMMI Maturity Level something. On the contrary, the objective should be something useful which can be readily communicated to both the engineering staff and the customers: we want to reduce the number of defects delivered, we want to reduce the cost of quality, we want to reduce the time to market, we want to reduce the overtime… These are all clear business objectives that would justify an investment in an improvement programme.

On the other hand, “implementing CMMI level 3” will rapidly be identified for what it really is: feel-good by bureaucracy.

Any change / improvement programme is a change of corporate culture that needs to be managed, it has to be inspired and led by management. As long as management do not demonstrate and explain what they hope to achieve, they cannot expect results. The policy is the formal enactment of the desire to change the corporate culture and should be a clear explanation, from a management point of view, we to what are the real objectives. Writing a policy is not a simple task and should be performed carefully. A few recommendations on what needs to be done are shared hereunder.

1. The upper management team needs to take time to reflect on the future of the organization. What are they trying to achieve, where do they hope to be in a few years time and how do they believe both their marketplace and their place in that market will change. How will they be perceived and what will make their customers come to them rather than go elsewhere? In order to achieve this evolution, a number of things will have to change within the corporate culture, in the way people work. This is the basis for the policy statement.

2. Document the key features of the previous exercise: what is the purpose of the organization, how does it need to evolve in order to achieve this purpose. As a consequence, what are the expected attitudes, tasks and products that management is expecting from their staff. This should be expressed in real terms. If the management objective is to “improve quality”, there need to be clear definitions of what is quality, what is the baseline and how the improvement is going to be monitored and demonstrated.

3. Identify the key measurements, metrics and analyses that will allow the management team to visualize the change of the culture and ensure that the organization is evolving in the right direction. Identify how these measurements will be used to improve the work practices within the organization and how to ensure that they will not be used to punish people who are not being given the means to do their work. In other words, people whoa re not being given the training, the tools, the time, the budget to perform to expectations should not fear to report their own lack of success, but understand that their reporting will be used to identify the causes of failure and seek to redress them, not to punish or reward the individuals within the system.

4. Identify the reward system that is related to the respect of this policy. Generally, I would recommend a simple explanation that the policy is integral part of the job definition of all people effected by it, and, therefore, it is to be considered in the normal staff (yearly) review.

5. Identify the key roles and responsibilities that will be required to assist in improving the culture of the organization: what is the responsibility of senior management, project leaders, QA staff, engineers, measurement specialists…?

The policy document needs to be produced in a manner that can be read and understood. It should be structured in such a way that there is a clear relationship between the various sections, so that there is a clear understanding that what someone is being asked to do is not just bureaucracy, but the basis for the future development of the organization. The policy needs to be widely communicated to ensure that people understand the contents and are clearly aware of what management expects them to be doing and producing. If the policy is not clearly communicated and known, it cannot be considered as an organizational policy: it is just a document.

One is entitled to expect the policy to evolve over time, however this is not something that should change as frequently as the tools and practices that are used to implement it.

Finally, the policy should be considered as “constitutional law” of the organization and therefore needs to originate and be owned and controlled by senior management. If the “policy” is produced by staff (e.g. the change management staff), management will not feel compelled to respect it themselves, in which case, the staff will rapidly understand that this is just a communication of wishes, but not a real policy – the real policies are the ones that talk about expenses and holidays…


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: