Friday, September 14, 2012

What's the different between a non-compliance and an observation?

Hey Appraiser,

We have internal auditors in our company, and they're always ranting on and on about "non-complaince" and "observations."  I don't get it, what's the difference?  ~Vib

Dear Vib,

You'll likely get different answers to this question since these words have different meanings depending on which process model or audit method you are employing.  Since this is a CMMI and agile blog, I'll use that as my baseline.  But if you are adopting ISO15504, 9001, or ITIL, these have their own meanings.

When I conduct SCAMPI Appraisals the findings fall into 3 categories - Strengths, Weaknesses, and Observations.  I typically don't use the "compliance" or "audit" words as I find them counter to the meaning and purpose of CMMI.  CMMI is not a standard we are "compliant" with, and a SCAMPI appraisal is not an "audit."

I suppose you could think about a weakness in a SCAMPI appraisal as something that is "non-compliant," but it is more complicated than that.  We consider the performance of the projects/individuals (the Specific Practices) and the characteristics and performance of the organization and process itself (the so-called Generic Practices), as well as the information from the community (through interviews with the extended organization).  It's entirely possible for a project to be fully-compliant with a specific practice, but we find a weakness within a Process Area due to a deficiency that is indicated by an interview with the extended community.  So are they compliant?  Non-compliant?  That just gives me a headache.

In reality there is a continuum of strength and weakness, and the information we gather in appraisals helps us identify where on that continuum the organization is performing.  

An Observation can be either an illumination of great strength, or a recommendation for improvement in performance (or in the process) that is not a weakness.  It is arrived at through the interpretation of the data by the appraisal team after a complex set of interactions that are both data-intensive and interpersonal.

Hope this helps!

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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.

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