Monday, October 24, 2011

This Halloween, don't turn into a company full of CMMI Zombies!

Dear Appraiser, I am leading the effort to get the CMMI certification, but my team is reluctant.  They say they don’t want us to stifle their creativity and become robotic, like automatons.  What advice would you give management for how we can make this initiative more compatible with our team culture?  ~ Mr. R.

Mr. R,

I applaud your concern for your team's culture.  But it sounds like your team is a bit confused about what the CMMI is and is not.

What the CMMI is: the CMMI is an excellent tool to improve software and engineering product development.  It’s extremely useful in lighter, agile environments, as well as in larger, structured environments.

What the CMMI is not: the CMMI is not a death march that zaps your team’s energy and turns them into zombies. 

Don't turn yourself into a company full of CMMI Zombies!

As an executive leading this type of CMMI effort, you are right to give serious thought to the behaviors of people who are using these tools, techniques and methods.  After all, it’s easy for us to sit in a conference room with our team and dictate to them: “You have to be CMMI Level 3.  You have to have measures.  You have to have documentation.  You have to have all these things.”

But you are clearly a different type of manager, Mr. R.  You are willing to listen to your team, and guide them.  In that case, the first thing you should do is help them understand that the CMMI is not about certification.

Not about CMMI Certification?  What the heck?

It’s true.  Because the phrase, “CMMI certification” is commonly used by many people and it creates a lot of confusion.  We can thank our friends in the DoD for creating an environment where it looks and feels like a certification.  They put requirements in their RFPs and contracts that say, “You must be CMMI Maturity Level 2 or 3.”  But this is a problematic interpretation by the government (or even commercial customers) of what the SEI is trying to accomplish with the CMMI.

So what are we trying to do?  We’re trying to help you be better at what you do!  This is something we all want for ourselves, to be in a continuously improving environment, your team included.  However, as executives, when we put a “certification” mindset around this noble intention, we sometimes drive the wrong kind of behaviors. 

Instead of a death-march to certification, I suggest that you to focus your team on the fact that the CMMI is about the transformation of the culture of your company.  It’s about changing the way we behave, so that we build products that are better than other companies that are building similar, but inferior, products.

You can’t transform a culture by creating documents.  You can’t transform a culture by giving away certificates.  And you sure can’t transform a culture by turning everyone into zombies. 

But you can transform a culture by understanding that the CMMI is a model for how GREAT companies perform.

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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