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Why are you doing this?

June 9, 2013

I am regularly approached by organizations who want to be appraised at CMMI Maturity Level x. When asked why, they give me a variety of responses, which basically come down to the fact that they would like a certificate to hang in the lobby. It may be that a customer or prospect has requested this, or it may be that someone on the board of directors read an article. When challenged and questioned on the level of investment, the disruptive aspect of an appraisal, management’s responsibility for the results, they often show that they have no understanding of what they are trying to do.

Another traditional subject covered is that “we are looking at achieving maturity level 3, we do not need to go higher (it is too expensive)” and the question “is this little bit enough to satisfy the maturity level?”

We must ask ourselves how much money I am willing to spend on getting a piece of paper in the lobby. It might open the door to being able to respond to a request for proposal from a potential customer, but that paper will not noticeably improve quality, time-to-market, productivity, reliability, ability to meet deadlines, customer satisfaction, employee retention, or make sure repeat business from satisfied customers. Just like a university diploma does not make you intelligent.

The aim of an improvement programme, of a change programme (using CMMI or any other technique) is to improve organizational performance, and not to implement fancy processes. If what you are doing does not help you to manage your organizational performance, you are wasting time and energy and not really improving anything. It is the difference between studying what may be useful in your career and studying to pass the test and forget everything the next day.

CMMI, ISO, Six-Sigma, Lean and the others are not necessary to improve organizational performance: they are tools and if they are used intelligently, they may help guide you, but implementing them without thinking will only lead to expensive long-term failure. Within CMMI, there is a process area called “Organizational Performance Management” (or OPM). OPM is listed at the highest level (maturity level 5), because this is the goal, the rest of the model, practices, goals, process areas, etc. are only some of the steps which are required to be able to manage your organizational performance effectively and efficiently.

Managing performance requires understanding performance. That can only be done when you have stabilized the performance of your teams, projects, services and are delivering products in a predictable way. In order to do that, you need to understand the level of predictability of your most important work practices (or processes), which means they need to be regularly monitored and analysed. You can only do that if you are sharing the practices in teams and projects enough to get statistically significant data. And of course, you only want to share the practices and processes which are bringing real benefit to your business, your staff, your products and services.

And so, we look  at what you need to do, from the beginning, we can travel through your capability maturity (maturity is how well you know your own strengths and weaknesses, how well you understand what are the limits of your potential, this comes with time, experience, successes and failures).

The first step we must consider is what you are trying to achieve. If I talk about your productivity, what do you understand? Are you trying to produce the highest number of widgets, reduce the time to market, offer zero-defect products, or be the cheapest service provider in the world? This is necessarily the first step in your improvement programme: decide, define, document and distribute your vision for the organization; there is little point in trying to be recognized as the best in the world, if your staff is cutting corners to keep down costs. Your goals are well communicated, and you are putting metrics in place which support them. From the start, you need to understand that people act according to how they are measured. I am always amazed at the number of companies which tell me that “quality” is their primary motivation, but then only measure delays and budgets: you are in fact communicating that quality means fast and cheap.

After this, you need to allow the professionals to do their jobs as they believe is most appropriate to meet these goals. The results, practices and methods are analysed and compared so that we can figure which are the tools, practices and processes worth sharing across the organization. Once they are shared, we can start to measure the predictability of the results and refine them which will finally allow us to manage our organizational performance.

The starting point is not to identify steps and document this as the standard process which must be obeyed at all costs. The starting point is not to just talk about quality, but measure only delays and budgets. The starting point is not to find the minimum required to satisfy some theory; the starting point is to inspire your teams to reach the end-point.

The end point is organizational performance management.

In CMMI terms: maturity level 5 is the only destination possible, the rest are dead-ends.

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3 comments

  1. Hello Peter,

    I hope, many others are reading your blog as I do: As a source of inspiration by asking the central questions. These questions seem to be a little taboo. They are usually not asked in front of customers and prospects. What I would be insterested in is a dialogue within the community of change professionals about successful intervention techniques to make potential sponsors start rethiniking their approach. Do you know any approach that made people wanting the “certificate on the wall” engage in sustainable business improvement for the sake of improving business performance?

    Best Regards,
    Torsten


    • Hello Torsten

      Thank you for those comments. I am hoping to try to wake up the world of process improvement and will continue to express what I believe even if (especially if) controversial or “a little taboo”. I have been working for many years on trying to educate my customers rather than just train them to pass the line. Sometimes I have had success (see “The Sweet Smell of Success” published in this blog Nov.9 2012) when management is willing to listen and understand that there is more to life than passing tests. It is a lot more difficult in large or multinational organizations where the management of the site is being measured by passing a maturity level and saving money, so they are not willing to make the investment; senior management may have started for the right reasons, but does not know how to communicate, motivate or lead in the improvement programme. As a consequence, the lower level, site or departmental management is frequently focused on doing as little as possible to satisfy the metric.

      We need to reform the training of process improvement professionals, we need to establish a better understanding of the need for business results within the organization and we need to change appraisal methods to demonstrate value of results rather than conformance to practices. We are not there yet, but more and more people appear to believe it is time for things to change. I hope for a real debate among professionals too and, one day, we will get it.

      Peter.


  2. […] which made you start on your improvement or change process, the original blog entry can be found here. It refers to two Prezi presentations: one is for presentation purposes, and you have to know what […]



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