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Appraising for Improvement

November 25, 2012

With CMMI, we use an appraisal approach called SCAMPI, which stands for Standard Cmmi Appraisal Method for Process Improvement – these two last words seem to cause some level of confusion as many appear to believe that the appraisal method is for model conformity rather than process improvement.

When analysing the work practices and processes in an organisation, I tend to look at whether the business needs and objectives are respected and whether the staff members are demonstrating a level of maturity in seeking to satisfy them. I am not looking for a bureaucratic compulsion to document everything and I am not seeking proof that every subpractice of the model has been done according to the letter of the model. Regularly, I come across people who refer to the CMMI book as “the Bible” which never fails to upset me: if you believe in the Bible (or any other religious text), then it is without flaw; if you do not believe, then it is just a bunch of old fairy tales – in both cases most people have an opinion without having ever read it for themselves. All these attitudes are wrong when considering a model like CMMI: it is not just fairy tales, it is not infallible, it requires reading and understanding.

I used the word maturity. I mean this in the common sense of the word and not in any secret technical sense: the word means being able, through experience, to understand your own skills, aptitudes and limitations, and – more importantly – continuously seeking to understand how to improve on them. This is a critical concept for using a model like the CMMI correctly – after all one of the two Ms stands for Maturity.

And so, we come to the challenge of the appraisal: what is sufficient, what is not? If an organization has created detailed specifications, management has published a coherent policy, a specialist has been hired, training has been given, tools have been installed for a given practice (say configuration audits), but the practice has only been performed once, two weeks before the appraisal – should this practice be rejected because it is not yet institutionalized? On the other hand, as I have seen frequently, someone has copied the list of practices from the model and put the word “policy” on the top, every practice in the standard is being performed and carefully documented according to CMMI terminology, but without understanding and very obviously working to the concept of the minimum acceptable according to the letter of the model – should they be rewarded for practices which are most likely to be abandoned within days of the appraisal being completed?

When performing an appraisal, I am interested in seeing the business impact of well implemented, understood and controlled practices. Put in place measurements that demonstrate the business value of the practices; add to that an objective evaluation of the quality of the practice. Don’t do what the model or standard asks, but do what brings value to your customers and employees, use the standard to check if there are any good ideas out there which you should think about, not as a set of rules to follow.

For me, a successful appraisal is one that educates the organization and brings them useful results which will help them improve customer and staff satisfaction. Using an appraisal in order to get a rubber stamp or a framed certificate is a waste of time and money. You may get the possibility of bidding on a contract through it, but the continued lack of quality improvement means you will not keep the customer or gain new ones for long. On the other hand, using the appraisal for process improvement – as the SCAMPI name suggests – you might not get the short-term certificate you hoped, but you will improve the quality and reputation of the business in the long term.

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