Monday, March 4, 2013

What do you do when you can’t get people to embrace a new process?

Dear CMMI Appraiser, since our merger last year, my role has been to help the new organization embrace process improvement companywide. I have experience with the CMMI (we achieved a CMMI Level 3 rating in 2011), so I assumed this would be a smooth transition. Unfortunately, people here have been resisting the new process we've designed. What can you recommend? ~ Sandy M.

Sandy, you aren’t alone with this challenge. As the adoption of CMMI has grown over the years, many executives have told me they were eager to bring their successful engineering strategies and tools to their new companies, only to meet with resistance. Though they use different words when asking for help, what I often hear them saying is: “How do I get people to eat an elephant in one bite?”

The answer is self-evident: You don’t.

What this CMMI Appraiser often recommends instead is an iterative and incremental approach we call agileCMMI. The agileCMMI approach uses agile techniques such as incremental delivery, continuous build and collaboration, strengthened with the architectural structure of the CMMI. It feels more familiar to engineering and software professionals because it applies the same techniques to deploy process that they use when writing software. As you might expect, familiarity is a good way to get people to embrace the new process.

But beyond mere familiarity, the agileCMMI method helps organizations embrace processes successfully because it is an incremental method that helps you deploy small components of the process in releases over time.  This is a proven approach to helping people learn new behaviors.

Consider this scenario. Imagine that, using agileCMMI, you release two or three sub-processes, and test them out. Then, once the company has embraced those small, easy to digest, useful sub-processes, you give them another set of small, digestible, useful things. And they start to learn.

Just as with any strategic initiative, you'll want to make sure you are giving them appropriate pieces at the appropriate times. The reason this works is that this is HOW we learn. As human beings, we learn by digesting information in very small pieces in a logical sequence.

Now, why do so many process implementations fail?  Typically you will see that the company tried to throw a heavy binder or a big website at all their employees and said, “This is going to be your new process.” In other words, they were trying to get folks to eat an elephant in one bite.

With agileCMMI, you can go about this differently. You can help your team understand fairly quickly that you are not trying to force them to do anything. Instead, you are giving them very small components to start working with. You are feeding them those small bites over time until they have their complete process suite, their process improvement architecture, their methodology, and everything they need will be implemented. Sometimes this will take months.

During that time, they will continue to receive things in small, right-sized pieces, so that they can understand them, can put them in context. Then they can start to embrace them and use them successfully.

That's what agileCMMI is all about, and that's why I would recommend it in your particular case. It's HOW people learn.

If you are interested in learning more about leading your team to embrace process improvement with agileCMMI, I encourage you to participate in one of our upcoming presentations:

March 6, 2013, in Fairfax, Virginia @ DC SPIN – "Agile Resiliency: How CMMI Enables Agile to Thrive and Survive"

March 13, 2013, online – CMMI: Everything You Need to Know! (FREE Webinar)

March 19, 2013, in Bedford, Massachusetts @ Boston SPIN – "Agile Resiliency: How CMMI Can Make Agile Thrive and Survive"

April 26, 2013, in Detroit, Michigan @ PMI Great Lakes 2013 Symposium – “Agile Resiliency” and "Process Innovation at the Speed of Life"

May 8, 2013, in Fairfax, Virginia, in partnership with CC Pace – "Agile CMMI Learning Day"

We hope to see you at one (or more) of these events!

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 engineering strategy, performance innovation , software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

To download eBooks about CMMI, visit Jeff’s Author Page on Amazon.

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