Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How do we test our process without adding even more process?

Dear CMMI Appraiser, is there a way to test our new process without adding even more new process? It seems we are at risk of getting bogged down by layering process of top of process. ~ Samuel B.

Dear Samuel, great question! We are often answering this question for our clients – whether we’re doing a CMMI appraisal, CMMI consulting or CMMI training – which shows that there is a lot of confusion about what process actually is. Allow me share your question with Laura Adkins, a Senior CMMI Consultant with Broadsword, who does amazing work with companies who are piloting processes that are strengthened by the CMMI, throughout North America. Take it away, Laura! ~ The CMMI Appraiser

Thank you, CMMI Appraiser!


As the CMMI Appraiser likes to say, engineering IS process. Process is nothing more than a name for how we perform our tasks. There should be no heavy rule book hanging over our heads that gives us overhead and makes us do extra work. We like to say that, done properly, process is “underhead,” not overhead.

To answer your question, yes, there is a way to pilot your new process efficiently and effectively. We recommend three actions to perform when testing projects that are using a new process: Mentor, Monitor and Measure. To help make them memorable, we call them “The Three M’s”.

M is for Mentoring

Mentors are a valuable aspect of piloting your projects because they are responsible for teaching others, so that the new behaviors they’ve learned can be tested. We recommend that you use criteria to select mentors, including the following:

  • Availability: The people you select as mentors must be able to commit the necessary time (perhaps 2-3 hours per week, depending on how many projects are in the pilot) to do the mentoring.
  • Knowledge: Mentors need to be knowledgeable enough of the process to be able to educate others to use it. Not everyone is a teacher.
  • Proactivity: Mentors need to meet weekly with pilot projects, and they have to be proactive about approaching them and setting up meetings, then regularly meeting with them and following through.

M is for Monitoring

In addition to meeting weekly with the participants in the pilot project, the mentor should then report the status of the pilot to your SEPG or EPG so that the engineering process group is current on how the pilot is progressing. They will also be making sure that PPQA evaluations are planned at the end of pilot projects to see how they did.

M is for Measuring

We all know measuring is important with process and performance improvement initiatives – otherwise it is impossible to know if you’ve improved. But what measures should you look at when piloting projects? Each of the newly developed processes that you are looking at should have had measures defined. Your goal during the pilot is to collect those measures. You want to make sure that the measures you’ve defined make sense, and that people are able to understand what they are and capture them. You also will collect process related experiences when you have your retrospective, which is another form of measuring. Finally, you will analyze your PPQA findings when the project does finish.

As you go forward, Samuel, remember that you are building a product, and that product is the process you use to do your work. Furthermore, that product has work products and training and tools and techniques associated with it, just like any software product does. And the product needs to be tested.

At Broadsword, we use our branded agileCMMI approach, which allows organizations to build things, pilot them, learn as they go, get feedback, determine what changes to make and make them. Because agileCMMI calls for performing incremental actions and building upon everything that has come before, work is done in short iterations. Organizations go through an incremental and iterative process over time, until they have a complete, high performing engineering process.

The reason I share this is to reinforce our statement that process is nothing more than the way you do your work. You can call it “process,” “engineering,” or even “fixing egg salad sandwiches,” but the one constant with adopting the agileCMMI approach, or any other approach to piloting, regardless of constellation or model, is the ability to take what you are already doing, and make it better.

Performing the three M’s will help you do that.

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

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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