Archive for May, 2013


Employment for Peace

May 28, 2013

I recently got to attend an IT conference in Cluj-Napoca. This is a medium-sized town in the North of Romania. Romania is one of the poorest countries in the European Union and Cluj is far from the capital city. While it is not impossible, access to Cluj is not always easy, at least not as easy as Munich or Amsterdam — or Bucharest. Yet, we had nearly 400 participants at this conference. These were largely young, dynamic, hard-working people, who were passionate enough about their work and the future of their industry to be willing to sit through very varied levels of presentations (as with all conferences).

This got me thinking about how we, in the wealthy West, treat other nations. Romania is seen, as are Poland, Ukraine, Bulgaria and others, as stealing our jobs and undermining our economy. I believe that this is a profoundly unjust attitude. We are obsessed with economic growth, which has led us into the financially disastrous situation in which we find the world today. Financial journalists and politicians are examining GDP numbers continuously to see if, at the end of any given quarter, we are in recession or not. In fact, the economy has been flat for several years and the “recession” (double-dip, triple-dip) is entirely based on whether the numbers have gone down by a fraction of a percentage point on the last day of the quarter. If they have gone up by micrometre on the last day, then all is well and we are in recovery. Of course, this is all nonsense and we are in the grips of a much more disastrous situation, which we are happy to ignore because of our obsession with the bottom line.

There is a rapidly expanding economy, which will grow even faster in the coming years. These “new” economies are not going to maintain their market share by being the cheapest, they are soon going to show they can develop their own products rather than just work to order; they are going to change from cheap to high-quality, like Japan did fifty years ago (when I was a child, the words “made in Japan” meant it would break within a week; Toyota, Sony and the others have changed that significantly).

In a few years, Pakistan will have established itself as a peaceful democratic economy and will look back at history. When they need to decide to whom they should show their allegiance, with whom they should side in case of global differences, they will have to choose between Russia (who invaded them), the Taliban (who oppressed them), Europe and the US (who send guns and soldiers) or China (who invested heavily in building infrastructure, factories, roads, etc). The answer seems relatively obvious.

We live in a global village, there is no reason not to buy something at the other side of the world, particularly when that something is knowledge or computer software, which can be transmitted at the speed of electricity. Investing in the developing countries, former communist countries, or poorer nations in Asia and in Africa, should become a global priority. We do not need to send charity, we need to send jobs.

In a world in which we are more and more dependent on service and knowledge industries and not heavy industries, we could open research and development centres in distant countries, this would require (of course) building some infrastructure, satellite dishes for communication, schools to train up the people — yet the result would probably still be cheaper than using our over-universityized, self-satisfied Western graduates. In addition, we would create a friendly relationship within these areas helping us maintain a respectable level of quality and productivity.

But more importantly, we would provide education. The data show that countries with higher levels of education have lower birth-rates, lower child mortality rates, but also, a higher probability of living in peace. Peace and prosperity appear to be even more directly related to the level of education of women. Within the engineering world, there is no reason for women not to have the same level of education and employment as men — at the conference in Cluj, we had approximately a 40%-60% split!

Reaching out with our service industry, investing in Lybia, in Nigeria, in Pakistan, in Azerbaijan and in all those other countries should be a priority for the wealthy Western world. The economic potential of countries like Romania should not be a surprise and should not be limited to the lucky few. With some intelligent investment, we should be able to give the world a job, a meal and the option to sleep peacefully at night. Given the opportunity, they are ready, willing and able.


Reviving CMMI – the response

May 23, 2013

It seems that my previous post called “Reviving CMMI” generated quite a lot of reactions. Some people seem to understand that I was suggesting to let the old girl die, some encourage the idea, others were horrified at this attempted matricide. A few reacted supportively or critically without giving enough information for me to know what they thought I had said.

So, I decided to clarify my feelings on the subject. I am a process improvement consultant, I have been living off CMMI for many years and would not recommend cutting off the hand that feeds me without careful consideration.

1. CMMI cannot be considered as fit for purpose

This is largely because the owners of the model, the user community and the market do not agree on its purpose. The CMMI Institute (following on in the footsteps of the SEI) places a large emphasis on appraisals and maturity levels, publishing numbers of appraisals, time to reach a level, number of maturity levels per country and per industry – in fact all the measurements and data produced are directly measurements of the appraisal results. But, at the same time, we are presenting CMMI as a tool for process and productivity improvement rather than a certification diploma.

Without a clear understanding of the purpose, it is not possible to design something fit for purpose.

2. As a Tool for Improvement

As a tool for productivity improvement, the model does not contain enough information to facilitate a seriously useful and helpful implementation. There are hidden relationships between process areas and practices which are not easily identified or understood.

Personally, I try to use the model as an efficiency and quality improvement tool; I need to spend an excessive amount of time clarifying the cause and effect relationships within the structure of the model. I also need to explain in detail how to understand the purpose and meaning of things within a business context. The standard training does not explain the evolution from maturity level 2 to 3 and beyond. There is a vague statement that it is not recommended to skip levels, but no clear rationale clarifying what are the risks and consequences. The relationship between specific and generic practices is not sufficiently clear in the model or the training. These are vital facts if you want to use the model for your business.

If the model is to be focused on improving quality and productivity, it needs to include more information on how to apply it successfully.

3. As an Appraisal Model

An ISO audit takes a couple of days, a CMMI appraisal can take a couple of weeks. Why? A number of “certified lead appraisers” do not appear to understand the purpose of the model. There was a recent case of an organization which was required, according to their appraiser, to have a separate policy document for each CMMI process area, clearly stating the name and structure of the PA – this is not the goal of the model, but people with no experience of the “real” world are being authorized to appraise successful organizations; they are frequently focused on respecting the comma of the law without understanding.

The current appraisal method spends a lot of time trying to find evidence of practices, but could be a lot more focused on the impact and results of successful implementation of recognized and accepted best practices.

Moving forward

As I stated, I believe it is time to perform an in-depth lessons-learned analysis to find out what went wrong and how to correct the product, making it into something that will have the impact which was promised.

This must start with an understanding of the purpose of the beast. If we are talking about a tool for process improvement, we need an approach to educating of practitioners and users, which focuses a lot more on the practical side of change management and improvement. We need more information regarding the implementation of the practices. Potentially, this may mean that the core model gets completed with a series of “recipe books” for different industries or contexts.

I would like to see the model completed with clear business related impact and influence statements, clarifying why things need to be done to save those who are implementing the letter of the law from their own stupidity.

I would like to see CMMI separated and organized so as to distinguish the improvement potential from the appraisal requirements. I am not sure if both can survive with the same name, but trust that the SCAMPI appraisal methodology can be adapted to other models and standards and be recognized in its own right. The appraisal methodology needs to focus a lot more on the business and cultural aspects of the model, stopping lead appraisers seeking to burden businesses with bureaucracy because a sub-practice says that is the way it should be.

CMMI should be perceived as a pragmatic approach to assist organizations increasing job satisfaction and customer satisfaction. And we should be able to demonstrate that from the beginning. The appraisal method should focus on measuring the results, not the practices.


Reviving CMMI

May 19, 2013

Recently it seems I am regularly being contacted by (or informed about) people and organizations trying to revive CMMI*. The market appears to be shrinking for the professionals in the process improvement world; at least, the market is not growing as fast as the number of professionals being certified to teach it or use it for official appraisals. Add to that, all the “experts” and other consultants who have set up shop without having official training or recognition and you get into a lose-lose situation.

And so, various groups appear to be talking about making CMMI faster, leaner, easier, cheaper, more secure. They are offering different approaches and ideas, some of them very good. My first concern is that the model is easier and cheaper to implement, it will have to be stripped of a lot of its more advanced requirements, and the benefits thereof. But the model is not being used as efficiently – or as frequently as it should.

One of the most difficult choice people need to make regarding a loved one is the decision that maybe it is time to “pull the plug”, to stop trying to keep alive a dying parent. As a CMMI instructor, appraiser and consultant, it pains to suggest this, but maybe the time has come to pull the plug on CMMI.

About thirty years ago, the US Department of Defense required that all their software suppliers should be “Maturity Level 3”; but they have now stopped because they noticed no significant improvement in the quality or reliability of the products and services they were purchasing! Companies all over the world have been applying CMMI and nothing has not noticeably improved!

I believe that it is an excellent product and, through its various transformations from maturity questionnaire to software-CMM to CMMI v.1.3, the product has generally got stronger. There are a few things I would have done differently, but overall, the product got stronger and better.

However, it is not delivering the expected results and, notwithstanding the strong focus on measurement, there are still no clear statistical data on the benefits.

Yet, it works. I know: I have seen it.

Maybe this is the time to accept that there is a fundamental issue with the model and an in-depth review of what it is supposed to be is necessary. As I see it, there is a big weakness in the tool as it tries to be two different things.

If it is to be a measurement tool, used for appraisals and measuring the aptitude of potential suppliers, then the appraisal methodology needs to be simplified – an ISO audit typically lasts a couple of days; why can’t we do it as efficiently?

On the other hand, if it is to be used as a process or performance improvement tool, then it should be completed and extended with implementation suggestions.

As long as we don’t know what the purpose of the model is, we will be stuck with this hybrid version, neither here nor there, not this or that, trying to be staged and continuous.

Currently, the value of the model for efficiency and continuous quality improvement is undermined by the vast majority of users who are only interested in getting a maturity level. They are doing the minimum required to get the level. As soon as the lead appraiser leaves the organization, they stop doing the tasks that were just recognized. The result is that we see organizations all over the world who have fooled an appraiser into giving them an undeserved rating – thereby demonstrating that apparent high-maturity organizations continue to deliver bad quality, late. The natural conclusion is that the model is a waste of time and money.

At the same time, more consultants and appraisers are continuing to be produced, with little experience in the real world. The pressures of the market, of the people trying to game the results, makes it very difficult for these young consultants to have any sense of solid ethics.

Now, it is time to let go and do a postmortem, identify what went wrong. Then, we can lay the CMMI to rest and create something which works more efficiently – maybe CMMI 2.0?

(*CMMI is the Capability Maturity Model Integration, licensed by the CMMI Institute. It is a process model used to measure the maturity of an organization with regard to their processes and work practices. CMMI is a registered trademark of the Carnegie Mellon University, based in Pittsburgh, PA)


The Challenge of Being Challenged

May 3, 2013

When I was working in a software development team, I created a tax calculation system which allowed taxes to be calculated wherever the buyer and suppliers were located. It worked in local sales and in international sales, calculated whatever taxes were required and produced correct data for reporting in all the countries involved. My colleagues were surprised when I presented them the proposal and asked them to shoot it down in every way possible. They started off – as is often the case – by being polite and say nice, friendly, comforting words. But, that was not what I wanted: I told them I wanted them to destroy my ideas as much as possible.

It seemed logical and practical to me that I would want any possible failure or issue with my concepts and ideas to be identified and corrected before more time and money was invested developing of the product.

Somehow, this is not the general consensus. It would appear that most people, when they ask for feedback are only looking for support, affirmation and encouragement rather than useful feedback. This is the reason that in most engineering organizations, the incredibly useful practice of peer reviews is not being implemented systematically. It is well known (measured and demonstrated) that structured peer reviews are the cheapest and most efficient way to significantly improve the quality of a product or service, yet, when the time comes, it appears that most engineers would rather not have their colleagues find fault with their work.

I recently posted an item on estimating (“slow-stimating“) in which I mention that I would expect any estimate to be systematically challenged by management, sales, engineering and other concerned parties. This should not be done in the traditional way of trying to reduce the cost and the time by cutting random elements from budget or schedule under the (incorrect) idea that the customer will be more happy if we are over optimistic. On the contrary, I urge you to challenge the estimates by trying to find what was forgotten, what was too optimistic, what risks were forgotten, what resource availability was not verified… this will allow you to get a better idea of the real cost of the work to be done; understanding the cost will allow you to create a strategy in which the best usage can be made of available resources. The goal is to understand your risks before you get into the contract rather and guarantee a level of completeness which avoid over-run, failure and penalties as much as possible.

The same is true of management decisions. Surrounding yourself with “yes-men” who will agree and encourage and support whatever decision you make will only allow you to fail more spectacularly. When you fail, all your faithful supporters will remind you that this was your decision and you are the guilty party; they are ready to agree with your successor. Having a team in which everyone agrees with your bad ideas is not proof that you are a leader: they are not following you into battle, they are letting you go into the mine-field first; you are not the leader, you are the sacrifice.

Being challenged is not fun. Putting out your ideas and have someone come and tell you that this is wrong, will never work, is a stupid idea is not something we enjoy. But, if you believe in that the success of your organization, of your company, of your future career is more important than your short-term pride issues, you will look forward to being challenged constructively. The systematic challenge should be built into every decision process, every investment, every development.

You have heard the old statement that only people who do not do anything are never wrong; I will add that if you don’t want to be challenged, you should not do anything – because whatever you do, whatever you say, can be improved, misunderstood, done in a different way. You will be challenged, your ideas will be proved wrong. Do you want to be challenged before you make a fool of yourself or after? Do you want to be challenged in a constructive way, to your face, so that you can improve, or would you rather let people criticize you behind your back?

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