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)



  1. In the 25 years or so that I’ve been involved in CMM/CMMI I’ve yet to see an organisation able to realise the sustained benefits that the models appeared to be able to provide – some for the reasons you give, others because organisations changed as quickly as the seasons and lessons were lost. I agree that the models still have potential, but the key is to get senior executives and managers to believe in sustainable change, not instant gratification which often negates previous improvements.

  2. Peter, thank you for raising the topic!
    I share your concerns and the concerns you report from others. I also completely agree with the comment from Ally. Organisations do not seem to live up to the promises of the model. They still deliver late, over budget and not on quality.

    However, I’m slightly sceptic about the idea of “reviving CMMI” by stripping it down, making it more lean or agile or whatever the current buzzword is. Based on my project experience I strongly believe, the cause of the current situation is not in the practices of the model. It is one of the best diagnosing tool I came across in 20 years of consulting! It tells you quickly and precisely what goes wrong in organisations and where priorities are when you want to fix the problems.

    A key cause of the currently eroding demand lies elsewhere: Sponsors and senior managers do not see results of model application. And, what is more important, they do not see the causality of using any framework (this is not limited to CMMI!) for process improvement having a positive impact on the bottom line. Formalities do not improve the creation of business value. Only changes in the behaviour of the people creating products or providing services does! It simply wasn’t understood what role processes play in the clockwork that changes behaviour.

    Instead of changing the CMMI we have to think in a different direction: CMMI is a framework for experts. What we all need to refresh is our way of positioning processes and their continuous improvement as a means of management to shape and direct employee behaviour.

    The only alternative I see is to declare the age of management and large organisations as over. These organisations will then be replaced by smaller fief-type organisations driven by common values. I don’t think, this is a short term alternative organisational model for most established high tech industries.

  3. […] A blog about Quality, Processes and Improvement « Reviving CMMI […]

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