Saturday, February 10, 2007

We need to get to "Level 2" fast! How long will it take us?

Dear Appraiser,

My boss just told me we need to get CMMI Level 2 certified ASAP. We don't have any processes now. How long does it take?

Excellent question! I get this one more than any other, so let's take a minute to set the stage. First, there is no "certification" (at least not now ... stay tuned though) as such. The SEI has avoided that term for what appears to be legal reasons. Certification implies so much, and they seem keen on not assuming the risks that go along with it. More appropriate language might be that you are "performing at Maturity Level Two" or that you have "achieved Maturity Level Two."

Second, you've indicated that "we don't have any processes now." Are you sure? If you're successfuly building software or systems, and you plan, design, code, test, and deploy them then you must have a process. It may not be written down, and it may not be "world-class" but it's still a process. One can't open a door without a process (1: get up, 2: walk towards door, 3: reach left hand out; .... et al). What is it?

Note: Beware the "consultant" that tells you that you don't have a process. He's or she is selling. That said, you're process may not be "appropriate" for CMMI.

Third, how long it takes depends on a number of factors. Of your existing processes, how many of them are close to being "code compliant" with the CMMI Model? How well aligned are your processes with the CMMI (1:1 aligment is not important though). How large is your organization? How committed is your management team? Is there a budget for this effort? Are there resources assigned that have authority?

There are many other factors to consider as well. The best advice I can give is to go back to basics and start with the sponsor. Make sure you have ROCK SOLID support for your effort from as high a level in the organization as possible. You'll need it when the going gets tough. And it will!

I've seen all kinds of different examples of duration. One client I worked with had already been working towards CMMI for two years when I was called, so they obviously were closer than the one that just called me and literally didn't know how to start. The first client wanted to conduct a Maturity Level Three appraisal right out of the gate. Talking them down from that ledge was a real challenge. Because of the risk involved I convinced them to do a Level Two appraisal first, and if successful, we would do a Level Three a couple of months. This worked for them and they were eventually successful at both.

I've heard the phrase "18-24 months" thrown around in various SEI classes but I wouldn't put much faith in those numbers - could be less, could be more. It just depends.

A good way to start might be to contact an authorized lead appraiser in your area (list is available on the SEI's site) and have him/her come in for a consultation and informal assessment. That will give you a baseline to work with, a "taste" of what an appraisal is like, and a gap analysis. The rest, as they say, is up to you.!

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