Archive for the ‘CMMI’ 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.


Out of the recession, at last?

January 19, 2014
Number of appraisals per calendar year

Number of appraisals per calendar year

We may not be completely out of the tunnel yet, but things are looking up. After many years of recession and “credit crunch”, it seems that companies are beginning to invest in the future and in their improvement programmes again. This is not an absolute indicator, and the trend might still change, but after a few years of reduction, 2013 was the second year in which the number of reported CMMI appraisals (SCAMPI) increased. While the 2012 increase was small enough to be considered a flat line, 2013 shows an acceleration in the rate of increase.

This is only a small indicator, but it does show that organizations are starting to take things seriously again and realize that it is time to start up their improvement programmes to survive future downturns.

I am optimistic.


Intelligent Evolution

January 14, 2014

Facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in enterprise software development

This entry is an abstract of an article published in InfoQ – You can read the full version of this article through this link


I have been working for nearly twenty years in changing organizations. Over this time, I have come to the conclusion that some 80% of all improvement and change programmes fail. Failure means that they did not achieve the expected results, the investment in the change programme was greater than the value achieved, “improvements” were seen as mostly bureaucratic, or changes were abandoned soon after the implementation. In this short paper, I would like to point out some recommendations as to how things can be done more efficiently.


An organization, a company, a corporation, a society needs to be considered as a living creature. An organism whose prime objective has become the need to survive and grow, ensure the perennity of its genes. Like other living species, the corporation rapidly starts to place its own needs above anything else. As such, we see them eating smaller companies, killing off competition and deviating from their original purpose in the pursuit of gain.

I have often compared “institutionalized” practices to practices which have been written into the DNA of the company. The CMMI defines “institutionalization” as the “ingrained way of doing business that an organization follows routinely as part of its corporate culture”. Basically, this means that this is something so obvious, people just do it, without questioning. Your DNA is repeated in every cell of your body and defines a lot about you. You, as a person, are a cell in the organism which employs you. Just as you discard and grow cells continuously without changing who you are, the company needs to be able to change individual members of staff without losing its corporate culture.

Most organizations who fail their change or improvement programme do so because they ignore the fact that this is a cultural change and not just a technical activity. Management does not see themselves involved, just giving orders for others to change. Their objectives may be mistaken (trying to satisfy a standard or model) or based on a misunderstanding of cause and effect (for instance by believing that if they do everything CMMI says, than they will manage their performance rather than recognizing that it is organizations who manage their organizational performance who satisfy the expectations of CMMI maturity level 5).

The focus of the organization needs to be on quality, nothing else matters. Every product and service can be found cheaper somewhere else, however the quality you deliver to your customers is particular and specific. Quality is now compared to global competition, meaning that you need to provide world-class quality if you are going to establish a relationship of trust with your customers and prospects. This means that in all things, you need to find a way to exceed your customers’ expectations.

Revolutions Fail

Someone at management level has had an idea, they have been to a conference, read a book, met a consultant and suddenly, they believe they have found the response to all their needs. They are going to implement CMMI, TickITplus, ITIL, Agile, Six-Sigma, ISO15504 and all their problems will be solved, all the projects will be delivered on time and in budget, customer satisfaction will be as high as it can go and all will be well.

The first step is to accept that whatever they have done until then is wrong, so they hire a consultant to tell them how to work; the consultant creates a lot of paperwork, implements processes and tools, explains to them that this worked in a different organization, with different needs and culture, so therefore it should work for you. Rapidly, the employees with experience are demotivated, they leave the company; the new practices fail, are bureaucratic or just inefficient and are abandoned. A “QA” group is created as the process police, to enforce compliance with the new standards and practices, quality goes down, staff are taking longer and producing lower quality. Management publishes that the standard or model they chose is useless.

The French revolution was based on reasonable principles, but led to years of pointless terror, as thousands of innocent people were murdered based on any accusations. This is the case of most revolutions: the following years are just as oppressive as the overthrown dictator.

There is another solution.

Intelligent Evolution

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definitions of the word evolution are all based around the concept of movement, development, change from simple to complicated through a succession of stages; they even go as far as saying that evolution is a process. The same dictionary defines “intelligence” as based on reason, understanding, knowledge and communication.

And this is how we are need to look at achieving results when trying to change an organization: we need to take our time, act step by step, with a strong emphasis on understanding and communication.

If you want to change the way people do things, you are naturally going to have to understand why people do the things they do. The human being is a complex creature, some would say half animal, half god: we have instincts and fears, a desire to control everything while submitting to a partner or a manager. As the only animal which is (apparently) conscious of its own existence and uniqueness (our ego or id), we are profoundly social animals. We want to be unique and different, yet we conform to social norms.

When trying to change the way people work, we need to consider how to get them to change the way they think rather than just telling them to do things in a particular way. This means, we need to be able to reach their complete mental process: reasonable and emotional, intellectual and active – and we need to understand the intersections and interactions of these elements.

Reason + Thought = Acceptance

The combination of rationality and intellect is probably the area we are most willing to advertise and believe to be our own dominant trait. It focuses on a logical interpretation of the known facts. This is the part of us that understands and accepts the need for change. The demonstration of the value of a change, the statistics based on similar organizations and the evident return on investment should be enough to demonstrate the need to change, just as the fact that I am breathless after coming upstairs and the view of my stomach in the mirror makes me accept that I need to exercise more.

And yet, we don’t do it.

Reason + Action = Ability

This combination covers the ability to do what is needed. It includes knowledge, skills, understanding and access to the necessary equipment and practices. We can show you what you should be doing, explain how to perform it. We can educate and train you to achieve the results, provide everything you need to be successful. I have a gym near my home, I have a bicycle and I have the time to exercise.

And yet, we don’t do it.

Emotion + Thought = Aspiration

Viktor Frankl explains, in his theories about logotherapy, how people are willing to put up with amazing levels of suffering, if only they understand the purpose or the objectives. For effective change to happen, there is a need for the people involved to have a shared vision of what the end will look like, what the image of completion for which we are aiming is. This must be inspiring and encouraging, and it must be shared by the people involved: when asking about the vision, we should hear that “our vision is…” rather than “management’s vision” or “they”. This is something we all believe and want to achieve. Personally, I would like to be able to run a marathon.

And yet, we don’t do it.

Emotion + Action = Attitude

The reason so many change efforts fail is because the last quadrant is not being considered: people’s attitude. This is deeply ingrained and is what provokes your reaction more than anything else. This is also the cultural aspect of the organization, but also of the teams and the individuals. If we want to change anything, we need to change the attitude. I was recently in an organization which advertises its sustainability and quality but focuses internally only on delivering projects on time. The amount of bureaucracy they had put in place to manage the projects, meant that the project managers did not really have the necessary time to do the work. When I suggested a few simple changes, measurements which could be put in place in order to reduce costs and increase efficiency, the reaction from management was largely a statement that “they will never accept that” and “it is too difficult”. This is the culture, the attitude which leads to failure. Interestingly, the engineering staff wanted to do the things which management decided they would not accept, they were stopped by the negative attitude.

Moving On

Changing the attitude or the culture is something very difficult and delicate. It requires careful management and continuous encouragement. Some techniques need to be implemented at different levels in order to ensure sustainable improvement.

Shared Vision

Management needs to establish and communicate a vision of what the organization is going to be in the future. That vision needs to be communicated in such a way that the team members buy-in and commit to the vision; they need to consider it as “our shared vision”, rather than management’s dream. That vision must be sufficiently challenging to motivate those who want to make a difference.

Established Expectations

Expectations, in business and result terms need to be clearly communicated across the organization. People need to know and understand what they are being asked to deliver and why this is critical to the realization of the shared vision. The expectation is not that more defects are found in reviews and tests, but that less defects are missed; the expectation is not documentation, it is traceable communication; the expectation is not to perform tasks, it is to deliver results.


Most organizations I visit focus on training people to use tools, to perform tasks, however there is a lack of education – helping people to understand the purpose of the activities they are being asked to perform and guiding them in thinking for themselves, judging and improving continuously at every level. Ideally, staff members should feel that they are being encouraged to challenge management’s solutions with better approaches to achieve the shared vision.

Constructive Analysis

Measurement is the most powerful tool at the disposal of any management team. However the measurements are not useful without appropriate analysis. The focus needs to be on understanding which measurements identify problems in the development or delivery system. The purpose is not to identify the person who is under-performing, but the roadblocks in the whole system: where are you wasting time and money? What is frustrating the people doing the work? Where are the earliest points at which errors can be identified and removed efficiently?

Risk Management

An often forgotten management technique, which consists in identifying how much effort, time and money should be consecrated to a problem which might never happen? Everyone within an organization occupies a unique position and can therefore see things that are not visible to anyone else. They are able to identify risks which cannot be identified by their management. People who identify risks and report them are demonstrating an interest in the success of the organization, not criticizing management.

Reward Mechanism

A reward mechanism should support the people who are trying to move the organization forward. There is an old maxim that the person who manages a project well is seen as “lucky to have an easy project which ran smoothly”, while the one who messes up and struggles to deliver anything gets rewarded for their efforts. Understanding who should be used as an example and rewarded is one of the more difficult management tasks. Rewards should not be financial, they rarely have any lasting impact. Most efficient people are happy to be rewarded instead by being given time to attend training, or an all-expenses paid trip to a professional conference – this also means that their reward will keep on giving.


Change is possible and needs to be encouraged. It is not done by throwing out babies and bath-water, it is done by building on the skills and experience which already exist in the organization. They need to be based on progressive transformation and clear communication at every level.


The Q:PIT Newsletter

October 7, 2013

The latest newsletter, written at the SEPG conference (North America) can be found here:


Can China survive censorship

July 10, 2013

I am just coming back from China – I am back if you can read this – and am confused and frustrated at the amount of censorship in the country. Obviously Facebook and Twitter are banned, but it appears that so is my blog and the website “” which I sponsor. Neither one of those sites has any significant criticism of the glorious communist party of China, their fearless leaders or the magnificent red army, but someone in China appears to have decided that talking about quality was subversive and anti-revolutionary and must be kept from ordinary, computer-literate people.

Most Chinese companies are more interested in keeping costs down and getting many certificates rather than actually producing quality products or services. The lack of understanding of what the rest of the world is doing encourages the feeling that all is well and they are leading the world. When I mentioned that I was working the largest manufacturer in the world in a particular industry, they were amazed to hear that this was not a Chinese company.

China has built their economic success by being cheap. They can make things cheaper than the rest of the world and, because of this, have taken over the lion’s share of world manufacturing. Management continues to believe that estimating the time it takes to do the work well is not important, because delays are covered by unpaid overtime – and there are enough people in China to replace anyone who complains. Skilled workers, experienced workers are not seen as something important because, once they have been trained, they will leave and work for the competition. Training is not encouraged as it is an expense, not an investment.

But, we are reaching the point when Chinese workers want the same luxuries and salaries as the West and this is pushing up prices. And this may lead to the downfall of the Chinese economy sooner than expected. Blocking communication and knowledge does not help people be creative or productive. Arrogance does not promote success. Some other country, cheaper than China, is going to emerge soon – this might be Botswana, Azerbaijan or some other emerging economy. Of course, the Chinese still have the advantage of a vast number of disposable people; and they benefit from the skills which the West has exported, outsourced, lost and forgotten.

I have been approached by a government-sponsored organization whose role is to get 500 companies in the town of Wuhan to pass CMMI maturity level appraisals. They speak of quality but are only interested in getting companies to pass the maturity level and are providing substantial financial incentives to get the result. When I explained that this would not improve quality, but encourage cheating and creating fictional artefacts just for the appraisal, they were not interested: the government told them to get organizations to pass maturity levels, and that is the end of the story. This appears to be fairly typical: they believe that if they can wave a certificate, everyone will know that they are producing quality and keep coming back for more.

China needs to understand the value of the human and encourage free communication; otherwise, as they inevitably raise their prices, the West will find they can get cheaper or better quality elsewhere.


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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