Friday, January 27, 2012

Can CMMI+Scrum Break the Vicious Cycle?

CMMI Appraiser,

Thank you for answering the questions from my Scrum team. To be honest, I don't know what's gotten into them!  I made the call to send them to your upcoming CMMI training in Albuquerque because, as I told them, we have been spinning our wheels.  Boy!  They didn't like that!  The more I ask them for information, the more secrecy I encounter. And the more secrecy I get, the less willing I am to trust. Can your CMMI training break this vicious cycle? ~ Dave Arling


You are right – it’s a vicious cycle - and a recursive one at that!  Yes, address trust among teams in my CMMI training classes.  But, the sad truth is that software engineering has been a low-trust, high demand environment for decades. It is an "antique" problem!

Before we talk about breaking it, let’s look into its history.

I believe it all started because managers wanted more guarantee and control, not because they were control freaks, but because they were getting burned. Projects would be late, or over-budget, and they’d have upset customers, unhappy bosses, late nights, and unhappy wives or husbands. So managers instituted more and more oversight. The concepts of phases, milestones and gates in software engineering are the result of one company or another having problems that they were trying to solve. The managers said, “I’m never going let that  happen to ME again! No sir!  This is going to be a part of every release now. I’ll have a gate at every phase. I’ll make sure that at every step of the way they are doing what I asked them to do. I'll make them PAY!!!!!"

Were they wrong to feel this way? Given their experience at the time, probably not. They were suffering just as much as anyone else.  In this low-trust environment, managers felt they could not trust their employees to do the right thing. But perhaps they overreacted, because eventually employees resented the extra controls and oversight. It became the norm in our business.  Engineers and project managers started withholding information even more!  They stopped reporting risks and issues and were not communicating them to managers. Managers were surprised more and more often with unexpected, yet easily anticipated, problems.  In other words, it got worse!

Dave, you aren't alone.  As a CMMI Appraiser, I hear this all the time from managers: “If I knew about this six months ago when this problem happened, I could have fixed it, but now it’s too late.”

So they point the finger at the Project Manager or engineer who did not involve the Manager, because they did not want the Manger breathing down their necks.

The vicious cycle evolved over time. Managers wanted more and more control. Now we have an environment where engineers don’t tell management what they need to know to run the business. So management institutes more oversight. And engineers become more secretive.

Wow, I'm getting a headache!

Finally, in the '90s a group that eventually became the agile community threw their hands up and said, “This is useless to us. We can’t write good software this way. We’re going to create a high trust environment, with a framework around it, and remove the yolk from around our necks.” They’ve created a lot of awareness around this idea, so much so that now a lot of companies are starting to adopt it.  Today the concept is known as "agile" and it manifests itself in the deployment of one of it's more specific techniques such as Scrum, XP, or Spiral.

But the problem is, just like any revolution, it may have gone TOO far to the other side. The pendulum of Scrum and other agile communities has, at times, swung to the opposite extreme. Now, too many teams insist on zero command and control. You sometimes have to remind the team that they are at WORK, have a job, and are being paid by the company!  They tell their managers they "you just don't understand what we're doing."  You have to tolerate their hostility and insulting remarks.  (Are you reading this Leslie and Arthur?).  Now that I write this I realize how much that sounds like my kids telling me I'll never understand what they're going through.  Of course, I was never their age!

The oppressed have become the oppressors.  The Freedom Fighters have become the .... oh you get it.

But hear this, Dave. I’m not calling for a management counter-revolution. Not at all.  I’m advocating that we all meet in the middle.

I'm suggesting that the iteraters connect with the waterfallers to write great software! That’s the beauty of CMMI+Scrum.  I'm advocating that we do what makes sense.

Rodney King even gets it - why can't we?

Check back later and I’ll share exactly how your team’s participation in the CMMI+Scrum training can help break the vicious cycle.

Like this blog? Forward to your nearest engineering or software exec!

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

Visit for more information about running a successful CMMI program.

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