Sunday, December 9, 2012

Be Agile, but it's more than just techiques

Dear Readers,

This CMMI Appraiser is often asked, “Can CMMI and Agile work together?”

As you know if you are a regular reader of this blog, my answer is always, yes, they work extremely well together. But recently I’ve found that the question often exposes a lack of understanding of what makes a company Agile.

For example, I just got off the phone with a Quality Assurance Director from a large New York manufacturing firm, who had been tasked with finding a CMMI Appraiser who understands Agile methods. Our conversation went something like this:

“Hey, CMMI Appraiser, we’re doing daily Scrums, you know,  daily stand-ups, so we’re Agile.”

I said, Okay. So you’re doing daily stand-ups. That’s great. That’s a fantastic way to fail-fast and to understand what’s going on. That technique will help you get a lot of great information. But, tell me a little bit about how you are organizing your project.

“Well,” the QA Director said, “we have six-month long sprints, and we have a massive status meeting every Monday. Everybody pulls out their printed status report and they start to list all of their issues, risks, and tasks for the next few month.”

Why are you doing that? I asked.

And he said, “Because we need to be CMMI Level 3.”

I explained that the adoption of Agile techniques doesn't make you Agile. What makes embracing Agile values along the methods and techniques you’re using.

He kept pushing back. “No, no, we’re an Agile shop,” he said. “We don’t use processes, and that’s why our customers are telling us we need to be CMMI Level 3.”

Wait a minute, I said. You don’t use processes? But you use planning poker?  You’re adopting some XP techniques, and you’re measuring value and velocity and  refactoring right?

“Well, yes …”

Those are processes, aren't they?

“No, they are techniques.”

I pointed out that we had arrived at the crux of his misunderstanding. It turns out instantiating a techniques IS a type of a process, albeit perhaps incomplete.

Now, the word “process” has a lot of baggage, and I get that. It makes a lot of people unhappy. We've all been over-processed by the process police.

But it’s critical to understand that Agile teams use processes just as much as any Waterfall organization. And guess what? Those Agile processes ALL can be improved by (and are contained within) the CMMI.

The reason Agile and CMMI work so well together is that CMMI is a framework for improving whatever it is you do. As I explained to my new friend, we use Agile methods to design and deploy the processes and behaviors that a great company needs. That's right - we use Agile to build Agile processes!

The words change. The infrastructures change. But the one constant with adopting the AgileCMMI approach, regardless of constellation, model or method, is the ability to take what you are already doing, and make it better.

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

Don't miss our CMMI Training class coming up in Virginia February 11-14, 2013
Introduction to CMMI-DEV v1.3. Register at

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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