Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is adopting the CMMI more of a science or an art?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser – settle a bet between me and a fellow Michigan software engineering executive. Is adopting the CMMI more of a science or an art? I say science, because of its rigor and discipline, and he says art, because, he says, the Model can be interpreted differently for each company that adopts it. Who’s right? ~ Isaac F.


Isaac, it’s both. Taking the journey to become a great company by adopting the CMMI is both an art and a science. So you both win.

Most people think art and science are polar opposites. Whereas art is expressive, emotive, decorative, or conceptual, science is logical, ordered, practical and functional. How could they possibly overlap?

To illustrate this dynamic, let me share a personal passion of mine.

This CMMI Appraiser started his career journey as a classical musician. I hold degrees in both Music and Computer Science. Today, in addition to running an Agile process innovation firm, Broadsword, I am a Certified Lead Appraiser, CMMI Instructor, ScrumMaster and author of “agileCMMI,” Broadsword’s leading methodology for incremental and iterative process improvement.  And I also play music semi-professionally.

Here’s my secret: I see most things as a musical orchestration. When I wrote software, it was like playing the computer – composing a piece and playing it on a complex instrument.

Today, when I walk into a company, I see an orchestra and a composition that is in need of arrangement and rehearsal. I see my job as a behind-the-scenes conductor or coach to the orchestra, a sectional coach, if you will, who goes around making sure all of the different sections (brass section, string section, etc.) are working together. Then I tap my baton on the stand and say, “Time to play,” and you hear beautiful music come out the other side.

Sounds like art … but there’s a whole lot of science that goes into a CMMI-based process improvement program before you can synthesize something new.

Charlie "Bird" Parker, my favorite jazz musician, did that. Charlie was known for his genius in playing fast and technically accurate.  For Bird (and for me) music is about engineering the craft. You learn the theory, history and all of the academics, which includes theory, drilling and finger exercises. After you master that, only then you can be creative.

A perfect example of an organization that does this is CutTime Productions ( Led by Detroit Symphony Orchestra bassist Rick Robinson, CutTime Productions is an artistic venture committed to connecting curious but inexperienced music lovers with the beauty and power of classical music in new and innovative ways. Broadsword recently became a supporter of CutTime, helping them cover the startup costs of traveling the country and introducing their music and methods nationally.

CutTime has the ability to apply science and discipline, and layer creativity on top of it. In that sense, CutTime Productions does for classical music what Charlie Parker did for Jazz, and what Broadsword does for software engineering. We are all after the same wonderful, paradoxical goal:

Applying science and art on the path to greatness.

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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