Archive for the ‘Getting Started’ Category


Two posts on Agile and CMMI

September 24, 2014

Two different posts recently on the combination of Agile and CMMI:

1. Can you use CMMI and Agile together efficiently? See for my take on how they complete each other (with evidence of success)

2. Can you use Agile principles for Process improvement? See for the slides on a recent presentation on this topic.



Performance Management 101

March 28, 2014

I have recently started a series of short articles on the generic topic of “Getting Started 101” which talks about the basic principles which need to be in place when starting a programme to improve your organizational productivity, performance or quality. These are posted on my blog at

Two articles have been published so far. The first article is about writing a policy that will encourage change and the right attitude and not just publishing requirements to follow standard practices. It can be found at The second article discusses selecting an effective approach to your project management, and is comparing the approaches recommended by the theories of lean management, agile software development and CMMI-style process based activities; this article is found at

Another article should be coming soon on the topic of measuring quality and performance.


There is no stupid question

January 27, 2014

Questions are frequently more interesting than the answers. The question is eternal, the answer is temporal. The question demonstrates an interest, a thirst for knowledge, for enlightenment; many answers only demonstrate a short-term, incomplete aspect of perceived certainty. The question is always right, the answer is often wrong.

There are stupid aspects of questions. Largely, these include when the questioner already has an answer in mind and is seeking comfort but will not accept an answer which reflects the truth. The most common stupidity is demonstrated by people who do not ask a question when they do not understand, out of fear of appearing stupid.


Posting error

October 10, 2013

I have recently had a number of people commenting about a recent post which gave a 404 page not found error. My apologies for that, an old post was reposted by mistake, and removed as it already existed. For those who are still interested in the post “So Why Are You Doing This?” about how success or failure often depends in the motivation 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 it is about if you show it to someone (it is here), the other one includes words of explanation if you are reading this for the first time and can be found here.

Sorry for the confusion, hope that this corrects things.


Darwinian Management

September 12, 2013

For some time, I have presented and assisted organizations in process improvement activities in a variety of formats.
– I have used CMMI which I believe is a very good change and improvement model;
– I have focused on the need for leadership from the top to make successful changes;
– I have spent a lot of time on the concept of “Forget Process, Focus on People”;
– I have pointed out that evolution works better than revolution;
– I have stressed the idea that this is only a natural way of thinking…

One of the questions that comes up frequently is whether this can be done, without management support. What if management is only interested in short-term benefits, and puts their employees under pressure to produce faster rather than to work more intelligently? Can we still change an organization.

I believe this can be done, but it is not easy. Management, senior and middle, owns the working hours employees put in; if they decide to stop you from doing something, it can be very difficult and challenging to do the opposite. I believe it can be done, but it will not be easy.

For some time, I have pointed out that the concept of “institutionalized processes” are work practices which have entered the DNA of the organization. Since the 19th century, we have created a new living species: the multinational corporation. These are organizations, which, like every other living organism, seek only their own growth and the continuation of their line. They often forget that they were in business to provide a service or a solution, and appear to only focus on killing (bankruptcy) or eating (merger) their competitors. They seek to reproduce (new markets) and grow (expand) at the cost of everything else. Their own well-being (shareholder dividends) are more important than anything else in the world. Like every being, they are made of cells, which are the staff members. These can leave and new cells can be generated (hired) without changing the fundamental structure of the organization. A process which is part of the DNA is one which the employees believe is a natural and normal way of doing things.

Evolution, based on Darwinian principles, says that many random mutations happen within the DNA at every generation. Most of these have no noticeable impact; some have a negative impact and are quickly killed off by the gene-pool; finally, some have a beneficial impact and are found in subsequent generations, developing as they spread and are strengthened through reproduction between “advanced” creatures.

The concept of “Darwinian Management” is the acceptance that employees may try different ways of doing things and learn from the results; if it works, it may become part of the standard approach; if it doesn’t, lessons can be learned.

There are two possible implementations.

In the first case, management understands this and allows experiments to be conducted. This is the idea behind “continuous improvement” and is the recommended approach, it is the one most likely to produce results, but – again – it requires management’s support and leadership.

In the second case, management does not accept this, but believes that they have established everything that needs to be done and the staff just needs to do as they are told. In this case, we can try “improvement by stealth”, in which the staff will try to carry out practices in small teams (or individually) and prove the success – or communicate the lessons learnt.

I will be talking more about this soon at a meeting of the Romanian Association for Better Software, in Cluj. The presentation will be followed by a discussion and debate, during which I hope to be able to refine and complete the concepts of Darwinian Management. For more information on this presentation, see the RABS website.


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.



March 26, 2013

One of my main concerns in most organizations I get to visit is the concept that people are being rushed into producing bad quality products, which can be fixed later. This is compounded by the constant complaint that “we don’t have enough resources”. My glib answer to that complaint is usually to state that “you have enough resources, the problem is that you have too much work”. This is not just a glib comment, it really is based in the concept that there comes a time when you need to be able to say “no” to your customers. A hotel has to stop renting out rooms when all the rooms are gone, a restaurant has to turn away customers when all the tables are taken, a baker has to stop selling when all the bread is gone, yet engineering and service organizations continue to seek to sell more time, when all the work-hours are already taken.

The consequences of the current pressure put on organizations and workers are first of all that people do not have the time to do work correctly. We live in a society where fast and cheap have replaced the notion of quality. We believe that it is a good thing to be able to throw away and buy a new product when something breaks rather than going through the trouble of repairing it; it can be very difficult for most people to find someone who can repair a clock today. For larger engineering work, management appears to never be able to free up people to do the work correctly, but is always able to find them when the customer complains about the bad quality. This is a self-defeating approach to engineering, which increases costs, time to market, stress while reducing customer satisfaction and job satisfaction.

Some of the reasons for this approach to business is the lack of management of the estimating and planning activities. It all starts when a potential customer requests a quote for a job: we have four weeks to respond, no rush, the request remains lying in the wrong person’s in-box for three weeks, then is rushed through without having time to make a proper estimate of the real work required. If the people doing the work have the opportunity and time to make a valid, detailed estimate of the amount of effort required and the probable duration of the project, management will frequently feel entitled to cut the estimate by 10% in order to ensure that the contract is signed, sales will feel they need to cut another 20% because “engineers always over-estimate everything”.

When the work is finally attributed, team members are required to work on three, four, five or more different projects at the same time, based on the understanding that if you start early, you will finish earlier. However, the legend of multitasking is a long living fallacy. If you want to multitask, you need to take on tasks that occupy completely different sections of your mind, like listening to music while you work, or chewing gum while walking. The evidence is there to prove that if you do four similar (intellectual) tasks – like project management – one after the other, you will finish all four in less time than if you try to do them at the same time, continuously jumping from one to the other.

Naturally, telling people that they should take all the time they need to do a good job can lead to a whole new set of commercial issues — but, that is the solution we need to consider if we want to solve a whole series of quality related issues. This is not a fact just in your industry, it is the foundation of a growing movement in all areas to redefine the quality as a key component in our lives and our happiness, while speed only leads to stress and all kinds of new issues (look up the “Slow Movement”).

One of the key solutions in solving this conundrum is found in the estimating and planning activities, activities which are often downgraded in favour of more “productive” activities. If you want to reach your destination at the right time and you don’t want the stress of rushing to get there, you need to leave on time, with a good understanding of how long it will take to get there. The same is true for any work: if you understand where you are going, what you need to do in order to get there and start on time, you will reach it successfully.

And so, we encourage “slow-stimating”, or taking the time to estimate and plan correctly before doing the work. There is no real success coming out of rushing the estimating and planning activity, there is no improvement when the estimates are cut down to make them unrealistic.

You need to encourage the people who are doing the work to estimate what needs to be done, how the tasks are inter-related and what is the effort required before trying to put together a plan. Then, I encourage management to challenge these estimates, not so as to increase pressure and reduce delays, but quite the contrary: challenge them to identify what they have missed, what are the risks, the dependencies, what could possibly go wrong… What you really want to identify at the start of a task is how long this might take (the upper limit) rather than trying to identify how long this could take (the lower limit). Once that has been identified, we can then start implementing a strategy to see how the amount of work can be organized to see what can be done in parallel, how we can start mitigating the risks from the beginning, whether we can perform more efficiently with an original investment in training, tooling, process improvement…

Check the estimates:

  • Did they build a reasonably detailed work breakdown structure (WBS) in which the tasks are identified with an appropriate amount of detail, including the necessary preparation, planning, verification and validation, corrective actions, etc?
  • Are the estimates based on wishful thinking or can you identify and approve the data, the measurements, the experience which proves that they are realistic? Many project managers believe at the start that “this time things will work correctly” even though experience proves it never goes as smoothly as you plan…
  • Has an appropriate effort been focused on identifying, analysing, understanding and planning for risks? Things will go wrong, usually someone already knows what will/might go wrong and you need to make sure that people have been consulted.
  • Have the staffing and skills been considered in a realistic manner? Do you truly believe that you are likely to have those people available as and when they are needed or are they going to be busy on other projects? I am frequently astonished at organizations who bid or start work without considering that their staff will not be available over various festive and holiday seasons…

In conclusion, I would like to see projects started up on a realistic basis, with an understanding of what is likely to happen. Pressuring people to do more work faster, does not help quality or productivity. The only ones who benefit from the classical approach of selling more for less are the salespeople who are being rewarded based on signatures brought in and not on products delivered (and stress counselors).

%d bloggers like this: