Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What's the #1 Problem we will face with CMMI?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, what's the #1 problem most companies face when adopting the CMMI for their Process Improvement program? ~ Software Engineering Executive, client

Today’s episode of CMMI-TV was filmed in the studio. CMMI-TV is a place where we can add value to the engineering and software development community by offering advice on engineering strategy, performance innovation and software process improvement. Below is a video clip with my answer to a frequently asked question, followed by a synopsis of my response. Enjoy!


Clients sometimes ask, “What is the #1 thing we have to be worried about, in terms of failing in our project to use processes using the CMMI?”

The #1 thing you have to worry about is a failure of imagination.


It is a failure of imagination to take literally what’s in the CMMI Book.

For example: it is a failure of imagination to read that you must “establish a work breakdown structure,” and “establish an organizational policy,” and take those statements literally.


A work breakdown structure is a list of tasks, a list of resources, a list of things that need to be done and the sequence that they need to be done in.

A lot of projects will suffer a failure of imagination, and will put together a massive MS Word Project work plan, with a list of all the tasks, and everything sequenced with predecessors and resources and timelines and all the things associated with a traditional work breakdown structure. And they will never use it.

Why? Maybe they are an agile shop, and are doing things in an iterative and incremental way that don’t require or encourage the use of such a tool.


A work breakdown structure is nothing more than a set of tasks, a set of sequences and a set of resources.

Have some imagination!  Why not take a Scrum shop and have a product backlog, a sprint backlog and user stories that are sequenced in some way? The content of those things equals the content of the work breakdown structure.

The imaginative way to use the CMMI is not to emulate what’s in the examples within the CMMI.

The imaginative way to use the CMMI is to take what you are already doing and use the guidance that’s in the CMMI book to make what you are doing better.

If you want to think of ways to make managing your product backlog better, take a look into the Project Planning and Project Monitoring and Controlling sections of the CMMI book, and interpret what’s in that book to fit into your particular context.


Policy is something that tells people what it is that they are supposed to do.

Often, I will walk into a client organization and they will say, “Hey, let me show you our policies!” and they pull a big binder off the shelf, and it’s filled with 22 chapters, each one of the chapters is marked with the name of the Process Area of the CMMI. And there is a bunch of text around these things and how they have to do them if they want to work there. And then, at the very end of the document, there are a bunch of signatures of the managers of the organization.

The problem is, if you talk to people in the organization, they have no idea that that kind of book even exists.

Well, a binder signed by everybody sitting on a dusty shelf doesn’t necessarily set the expectations for the organization.


Policies are nothing more than a set of expectations.

Have some imagination!  Imaginative ways to have an organizational policy might include having town hall meetings and team meetings, and talking about the expectations as part of your daily stand-ups. Or maybe having posters around the organization that say, “You must wear your badges,” or “You must do these things in order to work at this establishment.”

There are many different ways to go about setting expectations in the organization, other than what’s literally in the CMMI book that says, “Have a Policy.”

So as you are working through the improvement effort of the organization, make sure that you are doing things in an imaginative way, that make sense for your organization, and not just doing exactly what it says in the book.

ABOUT CMMI-TV: CMMI-TV is a place where we can add value to the engineering and software development community by offering advice on engineering strategy, performance innovation and software process improvement. If you find this useful, please 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 www.broadswordsolutions.com for more information about running a successful CMMI program.

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