Friday, September 28, 2012

So your boss asked you to look into CMMI and Agile - but you’re not sure he gets it. How do you brief him?

Hey, software and engineering professionals –

Regular followers of Ask the CMMI Appraiser know that this CMMI Appraiser gets a wide range of questions about engineering strategy, performance innovation and process improvement. But we also get questions about executive leadership – sometimes from people who don’t want to go “on record” asking the question, for fear of making their boss look bad.

For example, after one of my CMMI training classes recently, a software developer from a large Michigan-based automotive company (you’ve heard of them) approached me somewhat timidly. She confided in me that she had orders from her boss to get "certified at CMMI ML3" while also transitioning them to be "an agile shop."

She was concerned that her boss didn’t know what he was asking her to do. She said, “Now that I’ve taken the Introduction to CMMI training, I understand that adopting the CMMI is about taking on a large-scale business transformation initiative. What can I do to help my boss understand how big it is?”

I responded the same way I’d respond to anyone who said their boss told them to “go get certified” at CMMI ML3, become agile, or any other major culture change. I said he was showing signs that he needed some help - a little remedial training, if you will.  We call it a CMMI Executive Briefing.

What are the signs that your boss may need an Executive Briefing? Here are a few:
  • You walk out of a meeting with your boss, and you suspect he doesn’t know what he’s just asked for;
  • The leaders asking the question don’t understand that CMMI and Agile are game-changers, which means changing the way people behave, not the forms they fill out; 
  • The boss asks for a CMMI certification or CMMI appraisal or some other "achievement,"– without saying why or how he thinks it will help; 
  • You’ve been assigned a task that is impossible to complete, given the time and the money they’ve allocated toward accomplishing it; 
  • They ask you to change all of your projects over to agile this week; 
  • They tell you to “get a level.”
The source of confusion for executives is understandable. The CMMI does indeed have “levels” associated with it, which in retrospect may have been a mistake because it’s too easy for companies to say, “Three is more than two so Level 3 is better than Level 2,” which does a great disservice to the organization.

What your boss really should be saying is, “I want to completely change the way people behave in our company,” which is the same as asking for a massive re-engineering of the organization. Getting “CMMI certified” has zero to do with that outcome.

The important thing to remember is that adopting the CMMI is all about solving business problems. It’s not about documents, forms, certificates or ratings. It’s about adopting a model that's about how great organizations perform. Transitioning to "agile" is not much different. It's also about solving business problems, changing behaviors, and not about documents or ratings.

So that’s why we recommend the Executive Briefing. We want to help executives understand the size and complexity of what they’ve asked for. The Executive Briefing gives them the tools they need to help their teams be successful in adopting the CMMI and Agile together.

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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