Wednesday, April 27, 2011

On so-called CMMI Consultants and what to watch out for

I recently taught a CMMI class where I heard so many horror stories from people about their CMMI "consultants" that I feel compelled to take virtual pen to virtual paper to publish my thoughts on the subject.

Now, there are some excellent consultants who specialize in the CMMI out there.  But there are also many (too many) who can barely spell it and are taking advantage of your inexperience to sell you services.

The adoption of CMMI, for whatever reason, carries with it many complex emotions.  Some management teams feel strongly that they want to improve organizational performance, and sometimes they covet a "level."  They commit a lot of political capital and funding to making it happen.  Process leaders are tasked with reaching a CMMI goal and they often feel their job depends upon success.  Many people just don't understand how to interpret the CMMI, and feel helpless when it comes to satisfying their management team and projects, who are often resisting because of their aversion to change (and sometimes just stupid process ideas, or the "next great process thing" to come along).

Turning to a qualified consultant can help alleviate the pain, remove roadblocks, and set you on the right path. It can be tempting to bring on a consultant to solve it all for you.  But beware - a person promising to relieve you of the baggage by promising to "get you there" may not have the skills you need - so tread carefully.

Anyone can claim to be a CMMI consultant.  But only a small amount of people in the world have the requisite skills, training, experience, and certifications that qualify them for the task - and an even smaller group of them have a proven track record.

Here are some things to be aware of:

CMMI is about CHANGE.  And change is hard.  If your consultant doesn't demonstrate an understanding of the complexity of culture change, and have the consulting skills to help your organization set goals, communicate, solve problems, and help you transform in a positive way, then they don't have the skills to do the job.

CMMI is about leadership.  If your consultant isn't experienced at bringing leadership into the process, isn't skilled with executive interaction, and doesn't know how to speak with and motivate your management in a professional and substantive way, then they don't have the skills to help you.

CMMI is about improvement.  And improvement succeeds by applying incremental and iterative techniques to steadily improve performance over time.  If your consultant doesn't come with a structured methodology that leads you through this process, they probably don't have what it takes to do the job.

CMMI is about behavior.  It's not about forms, documents, and templates.  If your consultant focuses on making you fill out forms and templates for everything, and wants you to produce hundreds of the deliverables, you should be asking yourself why this is useful - and decide if your consultant's approach makes sense for you.

CMMI is about choice.  It's not about making everyone do the same thing.  Every consultant comes with biases and past experience, but the good ones are open minded and focus on leading you to the right conclusions - not telling you what you should do.  Trust me, they don't KNOW what you should do, because it depends on what you ARE doing.  They don't work at your company and can't know what works until they spend some time with you.  A lot of time.

These things are above and beyond the ACTUAL CMMI KNOWLEDGE, which is routinely and astoundingly inadequate among many people who claim to be CMMI "consultants."  Last week I witnessed one of these gems describe the CMMI to their client, but he presented everything from the 10-year-old SW-CMM!  I redlined his presentation and handed it back to him . . . and his client.

Having a focus on "making a level" is an understandable, but misguided idea that should be avoided and is often recommended by these people.

A deep holistic understanding of the entire model, how it works, and useful ideas on how to use it to improve your company is simply the price of admission to work in the CMMI business.  But it's only part of the picture.

And you do want more than the "price of admission" don't you?

Rant over.

1 comment:

Shawn said...

Hey Jeff – you hit the nail on the head here – topic by topic, point by point.

Process improvement guided by a consultant’s teamwork and consensus-building skills is also vital. I believe a consultant should develop a rapport with the engineers and process practitioners; these are the people to motivate. At this level, the consultant can spend time ‘digging in’ and meaningfully tailoring processes for a particular organization. This is where mentorship comes in, guiding practitioners (and the organization) through challenges and culture change. A consultant who I’ve met only wanted to meet with senior management – skipping / ignoring the heart of the organization (a very top-down approach)!