Thursday, May 17, 2012

Do we need a tune-up before our CMMI appraisal?

Dear CMMI Appraiser – I own an IT company in Michigan that uses Agile business intelligence solutions to provide insights and predictive analytics to State and local government agencies. We want to get our CMMI Maturity Level 2 rating this year, but our CFO doesn’t want to waste time and money on a SCAMPI B assessment, since the result won’t count. My concern is about the repercussions if we are unprepared and fail the SCAMPI A. How important is the tune-up? ~ Somali A. 

Dear Somali,

Whoa!  Doesn't count?  An Appraisal is all about learning about your company - and when it comes to that a SCAMPI "B" counts for a lot.  But based on your question, you may not as far down the road as you think you are. You are correct that the SCAMPI B assessment does not result in a rating  – but it is not a "tune-up."  Tuning up your existing processes is something you do continuously before and after you go through the SCAMPI B or SCAMPI A process. Like giving your car a tune-up at the 5,000 mile mark, tuning up your processes prepares your company to keep its quality and performance improvements rolling in the right direction. But on its own it doesn’t assure that your journey will be successful.

So, before you even get started, there are some key questions to ask yourself:

What could we learn about ourselves from a SCAMPI C (Gap Analysis)? The SCAMPI C is one way to find out how well your company learns about itself.  How aligned (or misaligned) are behaviors with the CMMI framework? It may be a long road ahead, but it's well worth the journey - and you want to understand the baseline before you start.

How could we benefit from training? Multiple training courses are available to assist you in your journey to becoming a great company. Since this is apparently your first experience with the CMMI, start with the introduction to CMMI training course, followed by training on how to become expert process engineers. Broadsword offers courses and workshops that teach you how to execute our AgileCMMI methodology, and how to design and develop the processes you will need to become a great company.  While you're at it, consider some methodology training like Scrum, Measurement, and Process Quality.

What is really involved in the "tune-up?" After the SCAMPI C, and often concurrently with the training, you'll need to develop a plan that identifies all the opportunities to improve that you will need to execute with company.  This plan could be months, or even years, in duration and includes everything you need to do in the context of the methods and working teams you will be using, as well as all of the releases and iterations that must take place between now and when you reach your desired state - perhaps as tested by your SCAMPI B Appraisal.

The SCAMPI B is a semi-formal appraisal that serves as a tool to give you the information you need to completely understand your current state in relation to the CMMI.  It gives you the information you need to help you determine whether you should move forward with a formal SCAMPI A.

Some companies consider skipping the SCAMPI B in order to save money.  This may seem prudent, given that it is not specifically required, but keep in mind that this discussion is not about money, but about Risk Management.  It would be expensive (and demoralizing for your team) to have an unsuccessful SCAMPI A.  My own personal rule-of-thumb is, if the SCAMPI B is better than 75% "in the green," that's a pretty good indicator to start thinking about when you want to conduct your SCAMPI A appraisal.  Of course, it depends......

And if you are successful with your SCAMPI A  … WOO-HOO! You’re done, right?

Uhhh, not so fast.  But you do have an awesome start!  Achieving a CMMI Maturity Level doesn’t make you a great company. It just means you are sufficiently equipped with the infrastructure and tools you need to become a great company.

As we say in the aviation world . . . you'll have a "license to learn."  It's time to remind your CFO that this ain’t no paper chase. Making structural changes in your company – and making the commitment to long-term improvement as an organization – that’s your real adventure.

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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