Archive for October, 2010

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Putting People First

October 21, 2010

Throughout my career, I have always noticed that happy people are more productive. The team that has fun together, who do practical jokes and laugh on a regular basis appear to regularly outperform the team that does not.

Obviously, the team whose members spent a lot of time complaining and moaning cannot expect to perform highly, but also, if the team-members don’t enjoy each other, don’t talk together, they cannot be performing to their best levels either.

The conclusion must be that our primary focus should be to see how we can make team members and employees happier in order to ensure that they are more productive and producing higher quality products. Frequently, when making a decision to improve the work practices or processes, the people aspect gets forgotten. It appears that the organization, from the management level, decrees that new practices, tools, templates must be implemented, because they read an article or spoke to a consultant. The result is that someone, sitting in an “ivory tower” determines how people should work, what forms they need to fill in, who should sign what, etc.

The resulting product is a bureaucratic nightmare. The people doing the “real” work are upset, their experience and knowledge is ignored, in favour of paperwork and reports. The result is that they are less productive, reduced quality, higher costs for testing, maintenance and repair; the improvement programme fails, management is unhappy as well.

Yet, understanding models and techniques for improvement should in fact improve the satisfaction of the people doing the work: they should benefit from the new approach, not suffer from it.

Putting in place an improvement programme has to focus on the needs of the business, but also on the needs and knowledge of the team members who are effected by it. The amount of formality to put into place should be exactly what is necessary and sufficient, no more, no less – and that amount varies from business to business, from organization to organization, even from team to team. The first step is to identify what is necessary and sufficient, which is a not an easy task.

However, a few things are reasonably easy to understand if you want team members to be happy in their work. Some of the things they need are self-evident. I m listing here what I believe to be the seven most obvious needs:

1. Clear Objectives

Giving people clear objectives as to what they are expected to perform and why it is important is the first step in ensuring that they are productive. This includes clear communications from management in the form of policies that explain the management expectations in terms of outcomes and products.

On the short-term,clear objectives should be defined in the form of documented, clear and understandable requirements and plans that carefully lay out what each team member needs to do, and what are the consequences of not doing it as expected in terms of impact on others and potential delays.

2. Skills and Aptitudes

Ensuring that the people who are required to perform a task, produce something or deliver a service, have the skills they need in order to perform what is expected from them. This should mean that people are trained (educated, coached, have the knowledge) to do what they are being requested to do. If someone does not feel able to complete the task at hand reasonably, free and open communication should allow that person to request assistance or training as necessary.

Management should encourage people to admit when they do not have the skills necessary rather than give the feeling that they will be punished or down-graded when they admit a flaw.

3. Tools and Resources

Resources include the people, the time, the money as well as the hardware and software tools required to do a job. Asking someone to cut down a tree without giving them an appropriate axe or saw is ridiculous – the same is true of office workers.

Again, team members should feel that they have the possibility of identifying and requesting what they are lacking when necessary.

4. Appropriate authority and responsibility

Team members need to have the control of their activities. This means that they should be given the authority to do what it takes to achieve their purpose. Appropriate responsibility means that they have the responsibility to perform the work, considering that they have been provided with the objectives, means and authority.

5. Sense of Belonging

The human being is a social animal. We need families, teams. In order to be able to work efficiently, a team should be given a shared vision, a sense of belonging and participating. This can be performed in a number of manners, but it does require extensive 2-way communication from the beginning, in which the team membrs get to participate in the planning activities and understanding what the outcome of their work really represent.

6. Support in their tasks

Rather than risk being blamed for having forgotten something, people need a simple support and independant review during which the efficiency of the practices implemented can be reviewed and recommendations on corrections and improvements can be suggested.

7. Someone who listens

People who have been doing a job know what works, what doesn’t. When a new practice is suggested or implemented, it is necessary to listen to the people who are actually using the prcie, doing he work believe is good or improvable within it.

After being listened to, it is nice to know that one has also been heard: changes and issues have been identified, the standards and practices updated accordingly, or an explanation has been provided.

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Introduction to CMMI “update”

October 6, 2010

The new version of the SEI “Introduction to CMMI for Development” has been shown. The updates are largely superficial: graphics have been tidied up, meaning that someone has spent a lot of time recreating the graphics that were in the previous version of the course. Exercises have been shuffled about and a new case study has been included to help explain the concepts. The case study is about a high-end financially successful world-leader business trying to break through in the cheap mass-market…

Otherwise, the course will still require to plow through some 500 slides showing every practice of every process area and leaving precious little time to explain the structure or the principles of the model or how to use it – to correct the pressures of time related to the additional slides, elements such as equivalent staging have been removed (“equivalent staging” is the relationship between the rating method of both staged and the continuous representations, which is becoming more important in the new SCAMPI approach and has helped a majority of my students understand the benefits of using a combined approach – note that the combination of the two representations is still recommended, it’s just that we don’t explain why).

The development team has been primariy US-centric, meaning that there is a renewed emphasis on having US-centric examples and vocabulary. Hopefully some of the more obvious mistakes will be corrected before it is released (the sentences that make no sense, the explanation that you need to satisfy generic goals and practices done before explaining what they are, the slide that says that the process is the glue that holds together the process and others).

Lessons learnt in creation of the “Introduction to CMMI for Services” were lost or ignored by the developers of this course, which is a shame.

Of course, we cannot be too upset at the developers of this course because, they stressed that they had very little time and no funds to do this update, were volunteers, the team only ever met twice, etc. In other words, the SEI is claiming that this was the best they could do because they have not respected any of the level 2 generic practices. This is a level 1 organization explaining how to teach process improvement, and using the fact that they are level 1 as an excuse for not having done a good job.

All instructors are required to use all the material and perform all the exercises in the course. Anyone wanting to participate in an appraisal is required to attend this course.

This has definitely been the low-point of the v.1.3 release announcements this week.

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SCAMPI V1.3

October 5, 2010

The Standard CMMI Based Appraisal Method for Process Improvement (SCAMPI) version 1.3 is planned to be published in January 2011. There are some good things in the new approach which clarify and tighten the rules. Please note that the method is out for review and is not yet released. Changes will continue in the coming months, these comments and reviews are based on an intermediate release.

First of all, the selection of the projects or teams to be included in the appraisal is based on an understanding of the products and services provided by the organization in scope. The lead appraiser is required to understand the variations that exist, in terms of technology, location, customer, etc. Then, the projects to participate are selected to statistically represent the whole organization. This is performed through a methodology that is probably easier to apply than to explain; particularly for the moment, as the official explanation requires clarification of terms such as “basic unit”, “sampling factor” and “subgroups”. But it really is not as complicated as it sounds. For a diverse organization, this new approach will require that a larger number of projects participate in an appraisal, which would lead to more honest ratings for the unit. If the number of projects and teams to be reviewed exceeds the constraints of time and cost for the appraisal, the scope will have to be reduced. Now, the question is how will this be demonstrated on the PARS and official reports of the appraisal so as to avoid the advertising of an organization being Maturity Level x, when in fact only a reduced scope was considered.

As a consequence of this, the concepts of focus and non-focus projects have been removed from the method.

The requirement for “direct” and “indirect” artefacts no longer exists. Instead, there is a requirement for the lead appraiser to ensure that there is enough evidence, both written (artefacts) and “oral” (affirmations), to demonstrate that the practice is correctly implemented. I would assume that we still need to demonstrate that the practice is performed, used and understood.

Another change is the fact that lead appraiser’s experience may no longer count in calculating the experience of the team. The team members, excluding lead, will have to demonstrate an average of 6 years experience and a total of 25 years, at least. This may be a serious issue for some of the younger organizations, particularily when working in countries such as Romania or Ukraine. There is a waiver option for young organizations, but the SLA will have to make a specific request to the SEI each time, in time.

On the downside, the new licencing structure means that each Class A appraisal will require a $1000.00 charge, which will put up the cost of appraisals at a difficult time for most businesses.

Change requests can be send to “cmmi-comment{at}sei.cmu.edu” with “SCAMPI v1.3” referenced in the subject.

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