Sunday, May 6, 2012

Can we import risk management from CMMI into our Scrum Teams?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser,

It’s Daniel, from the CMMI certified engineering firm in Dayton Ohio again. Thanks for answering my questions. I get that CMMI can improve our Scrum Team’s Daily Standup meetings, but are you saying we can import aspects of the CMMI that don’t exist in Scrum, like risk management, to understand what’s being done? ~Daniel

Daniel, now you’re getting it! Here’s a better way to say it: when we combine CMMI and Scrum, we pick aspects of Scrum that we strengthen with the CMMI, based on the needs of your company. The goal is to make both frameworks stronger.

To stick with the Daily Standup example … every morning, for 15-20 minutes, the team stands together to discuss issues that are important to them. But there is no guidance around things that get talked about, and how things are going. As a result, the impact of the meeting, in terms of insight for management, is pretty weak. The format generally goes as follows:

“Here’s what I am doing.”
“Here’s what I plan to do.”
“Here are the kinds of problems I’m having.”

That’s fine, but it leads an opportunity for many things not being done – like paying attention to the risk.

This is common everywhere. If you asked your Scrum team, “How do you understand to risk?” they would say, “We do that in the Daily Standup. If somebody has a risk they bring it up.”

This won’t cut it for executives who need solid information about risk to make business decisions. The CMMI offers categories of risks that are important to us (like technical risk, financial risk, and business risk) and provides for brainstorming within these categories, recording them and sharing them with the appropriate stakeholder.

Does that mean ditch Scrum? No! Keep Scrum, and add that type of analysis in Daily stand-up maybe once or twice a week.

I’ll give you an example. Here at Broadsword we have clients who discuss risk once a week in their Daily Standup. They use the guided risk management within the CMMI to make their risk discussions more meaningful. And guess what? Management understands where they are with functional requirements. Sounds like a dream, right?

The trick to making this work is not to ditch Scrum or change how Scrum works, but to take the individual Scrum ceremonies involved (things like the Daily Standup or sprint retrospectives) and make them stronger.

We would never try to force a Scrum team to do BPUF, for example, or have status meetings simply because management wants information. That’s how it works in a waterfall world, but not in Scrum. Take the Daily Standup and leverage it back to improve the information that is being gathered. Use the guidance that the CMMI gives to the constructs of Scrum, instead of trying to change the construct.

What I hope you’ve gained from this conversation, Daniel, is that CMMI is fully compatible with Scrum, and can be used to improve agile methods, making your investment in agile both powerful and productive.  If I've left anything unanswered for you, please keep the questions coming!

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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