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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.

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One comment

  1. Good post. I consider this extremely important: ‘clarifying why things need to be done’ .

    I’ve also tried to formulate something similar here: http://alexandria.tue.nl/extra2/741509.pdf chapter 12.3.4. Quality approach improvement

    I would love to see progress in improving CMMI, maybe the development of an Open and measurement based CMMI. I’ll keep following your blog.



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