Sunday, May 13, 2012

Does the CMMI require that we produce 400 documents?

Dear CMMI Appraiser, we’re a Michigan-based developer of musical equipment and devices for the hearing impaired. Our new CEO has announced that he wants “continuous improvement,” so we’ve engaged a CMMI Lead Appraiser who said that the “continuous improvement” means we need to produce documents – tons of them! Is it true that the CMMI requires over 400 documents on the average CMMI appraisal? ~ Arnold L.

Dear Arnold,

Your CMMI appraiser is clearly singing from a different sheet of CMMI music than the rest of us. There is no requirement in the CMMI that you produce 400 documents. Continuous improvement is all about changing behavior – not creating documents. How does that sound?

I must say, I find it fascinating that the misperception continues, even among CMMI appraisers today, that the CMMI is this heavy, command and control, document centric cauldron of hard, dreary work and pure nonsense.

CMMI has none of that. It doesn’t tell you how to do anything. It doesn’t “require” anything. The CMMI says, “Here’s what great companies do.” That’s all it essentially says.

Let me break it down a little more. Here’s what the CMMI is and does:
  • The CMMI is a tool to help solve business problems.
  • The CMMI helps you change and improve requirements churn and volatility, so that you can spend less time and money on requirements.
  • The CMMI helps you be on time and on budget.
  • The CMMI helps you motivate your staff and make them better at what they do.
  • The CMMI helps you understand risk by categorizing and listing them.
  • The CMMI helps you avoid having too many meetings, unhappy customers and unpredictable projects.
And the CMMI can do this whether you choose agile, waterfall, and any other set of methods.

No, there is no requirement in the CMMI that you have 400 documents in your project. That’s an average number that came out of the early adopters of CMMI who were - you guessed it - ALREADY doing that!. The average project in the CMMI Level 3 appraisal may produce 400 documents, but you should be able to do it with  about 70. The only “requirement” is that you exercise proactive thought about what you want to be and achieve.

“What do we want this company to be?” is a great question. It resonates with the very timbre of the company, and fires the imagination. This is where everything starts.

On the other hand, when you have a Lead Appraiser taking the position that you just need to "pass the appraisal," or “be CMMI Level 3” without any thought or aspirations for greatness, then that’s how you end up with 400-500 documents. We call that process debt. You incur all of this debt that people have to carry around with them, big stacks of paper, just to prove to your appraiser that you are performing at a certain level.  I missed the memo where this provides any value.

Remember what I said earlier. Adopting the CMMI is 100% about solving business problems. It’s not about documents. It’s not about pleasing your Lead Appraiser or even passing your appraisal. It is a model that's about how great companies perform.  IF you choose to have an appraisal, then these are the things you should be looking for in a Lead Appraiser.

That should be music to your ears.

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 progr

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