Friday, May 4, 2012

To be "CMMI compliant", do we need to validate our processes?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser – I appreciate your recent post about pilot testing. We are a CMMI-certified Ohio engineering firm doing our first renewal of our CMMI appraisal. For the past three years, we have not done pilot testing, but now we are wondering if we need to validate processes to be CMMI compliant? ~ Carla C.

Hey, Carla – great question! Let me pass it along to Laura Adkins, a Senior CMMI Consultant with Broadsword, who does amazing work with companies who are trying to evaluate the usefulness of pilot testing. ~ The CMMI Appraiser 

Thanks, CMMI Appraiser!

Carla, Broadsword works with a lot of companies that are renewing their CMMI Maturity Level. Some of them are renewing without having fully adopted the true spirit of the CMMI the first time around. Like you, they want to know if the CMMI mandates that they validate their processes.

The short answer is: no. The CMMI doesn’t mandate anything. The CMMI is a set of guidelines designed to help companies follow the best practices of companies that have come before them. Strictly speaking, there are no such things as “CMMI certification” or “CMMI compliance” or "CMMI mandates." There is no CMMI watchdog that will bite you if you fail to validate your processes. 
This is not to say validation is unimportant. On the contrary, validation is extremely important. Processes need to be validated because processes are products, and should be treated as products. Like products, processes have intended users, are developed to meet user needs, released based on criteria and there are measurements. Like products, processes must be validated. In this scenario, the validation is pilot testing.

We refer to a definition within the CMMI on validation. CMMI-DEV, V1.3 defines validation as follows: “Confirmation that the product or service, as provided (or as it will be provided), will fulfill its intended use. In other words, validation ensures that you built the right thing.”

This definition talks about confirming that a product or service will fulfill its intended use. We’re doing that with processes. We are trying to ensure that we have developed a process that is applicable to the organization in the way that we have intended it. That’s why processes should be validated.

There are Specific Practices (SPs) within the CMMI that govern the validation process area.

SP1.1 talks about selecting products for validation. In our case, we are going to look at our processes and what was developed. So you would have process diagrams or swim lanes and process descriptions. You’d have work instructions and templates. All of these things are products that could be selected for validation. And the validation method that we are going to select is pilot testing.

SP 1.2. Next the CMMI guides us to establish a validation environment. In our case, what we’re talking about for pilot testing is an environment in which we select real projects that are underway in the company to validate our processes. That means, we need to select real products, real process users, and the tools you might need to accomplish this.

There are additional Specific Practices in the CMMI that provide guidance on validation, and I will share those in an upcoming post. The important thing to remember, Carla, is that your primary goal should be to understand the true spirit of the CMMI, and why you are adopting it in the first place.

Adopting the CMMI provides a framework that guides you to change your culture to one of continuous improvement. Your reason for adopting the CMMI and renewing your CMMI appraisal should therefore be because you want to be a great company. And the reason great companies test their processes is because they understand that processes are products.

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

Laura Adkins is a Senior CMMI Consultant with Broadsword Solutions Corporation. She has years of real world experience using pilot testing strategies and tactics to help her clients achieve their goals. Laura also uses the CMMI, in partnership with her clients, to set-up, monitor, and sustain process improvement programs.

Visit for more information about running a successful CMMI program.

1 comment:

Sridhar J said...

Pilots are probably the most important thing to achieve buy-in. From my experience, another aspect that can really help is to put engineering staff, project managers and other "line" personnel on the teams designing the processes.

SEPG can help coordinate and direct the effort, review the drafts and provide guidance - having the people who are going to implement the process on the definition team will ensure processes are not "heavy and bureaucratic" and disconnected from reality.

These people can be the champions and part of the pilot projects - they will provide feedback in fine-tuning the defined processes.