Saturday, July 23, 2011

What the heck happened to Focus and Non-Focus projects in SCAMPI v1.3?

Jeff, I’m a CMMI Appraiser in New Jersey, a relatively new CMMI Appraiser, actually, so I appreciate the information you have been sharing in this blog about the meaning behind the changes to the SCAMPI model.  I would like to add a question.  When they simplified the terminology by removing the terms ‘focus project’ and ‘non-focus project’ in V1.3, what impact does that have on CMMI Appraisers like me?  ~Plato B.

Wow!  Two questions in a row from fellow Lead Appraisers.  Sure, I'd be happy to answer this one.  The impact of this particular terminology change is significant, and affects all CMMI Appraisers, from new to experienced.  Before explaining how, let’s take a moment to define the terms "focus project" and "non-focus project."

As you know, for each maturity level of the CMMI, there are process areas associated with that level.  To assess these process areas, projects were selected to be focused upon (‘focus projects’).   ‘Non-focus projects,’ or extra projects, were also selected as a way to get extra information to help gather more data and to verify the institutionalization of the process.

For example, let’s say a company had 100 projects.  A subset of 25 projects might have been selected to be appraised: twenty focus projects and five non-focus projects.  Because focus projects had to satisfy 100% of the applicable goals in the CMMI model for that level, and because they had to show evidence for all of the associated practices, we would do a deep dive on all 20 focus projects.

Non-focus projects didn’t require a deep dive that included all of the process areas.  With the five non-focus projects, we would pick and choose what process areas we wanted to look at.  In one, we might have looked at how good they were at planning and estimating.  In another, we might have looked at how strong they were at Verification.  Basically we were selecting process areas throughout the organization, and were looking for examples to verify that, yes, in all of these other projects, the projects were consistently meeting the intent of CMMI.

So what changed when the SEI removed the terms from this version of the SCAMPI method?

The simple answer is the sampling methodology changed.  The sampling strategy is beyond the scope of this post (I have blogged about this subject recently), but the big difference regarding focus and non-focus projects is that they no longer exist, and instead we are now required to create a data collection plan based on an algorithm provided by the SEI.  The plan will take an “inside out” view, requiring us to identify the source of evidence for various process areas by identifying which project we are going to look at for that particular piece of data. It’s more complex than that, but you get the picture.  

The new sampling methodology creates an additional planning effort, making preparation for the appraisal more difficult.   It will also be more difficult for companies to cherry-pick the projects that are going to be appraised, broadening the selection of available projects and increasing the credibility of the appraisal and of the CMMI in general.  All good stuff!

We understand why the SEI did this – in fact, we strongly support it.  The new sampling methodology makes appraisals more consistent and helps deter companies who are interested in gaming the system.  But let’s not kid ourselves about the impact of the change.  By simplifying the terminology, the SEI has radically modified the sampling strategy.  The preparation for the appraisal will require more effort and experience, which will increase the amount of time and effort it takes to conduct an appraisal.
Welcome to the ever-changing life of a CMMI Appraiser, Plato.  No one said the path would be easy!

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, Candidate SCAMPI Appraiser Observer, author, and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations.  Jeff has taught thousands of students and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students.

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