Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Is it OK to stop at CMMI Level 3?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, our company writes embedded software used by commercial and government clients. We’ve successfully completed our SCAMPI A appraisal and achieved our goal of being CMMI Level 3, but I’m nervous. At the end of the findings presentation my boss blurted out "Level Four in six months!" Is it OK to stop here? I’m not ready to start pursuing CMMI Level 4. ~ Andrea A., Engineering Executive

Hey, Andrea, congratulations on successfully completing the SCAMPI A appraisal and achieving your CMMI Level 3 rating! If you are thinking ML4 is the inevitable next step, it’s no wonder if you feel anxious. (Hint: it might not be.)

Here’s my advice:

RELAX! Appreciate what you’ve achieved. Understand that you are now on the path to being the kind of company you’ve always wanted to be.

Often when I give this advice early on in my introduction to CMMI training classes, I get a lot of blank stares.  So, what have you achieved?  Looking beyond the tactical objective of achieving a CMMI Maturity Level 3, what you’ve achieved, strategically, is a new way of doing your work.

Starting to feel better yet?

Now, this is a big assumption, BUT, assuming your Lead Appraiser was a good CMMI consultant, he or she helped you learn to ask questions about your company and work that were tailored to your organization's situation. So you learned to ask challenging questions about the way you do your work, and how to apply the CMMI as one of the tools that can drive behavior change and performance improvement. In the end, you got your ML3 rating.

Woo-hoo!  Party time!

But your CMMI Appraiser should also help you realize that you were building something as you went along. Did that happen in your case? All the while you were gathering evidence, did you take the broader perspective and understand that you were actually working toward something of far greater value than achieving your Maturity Level? You were developing a new engineering system for the company.

Surprised? I hope not. Hopefully, your LA kept you focused on building an architecture that is multifaceted and organizational in nature, involving a process infrastructure, a performance infrastructure, a financial infrastructure – all the company’s business systems.

That’s what I meant by asking you to appreciate what you’ve got here. You’ve really got two things for helping the company improve performance:

  1. On the one hand, you designed an architecture (the performance improvement model).
  2. On the other hand, you built the infrastructure (the physical instantiation of that model).

That’s how it is when we at Broadsword work with clients. We help them build an infrastructure that is the physical instantiation of the architecture we’ve helped them develop.  (Check out some of their testimonials about what that was like.)

The infrastructure includes the people that have been organized, the process assets that have been created, the measures instituted, and the specific way everything is communicated. The infrastructure is a physical thing that has been built – a product of people, processes and technologies. It’s YOUR infrastructure, developed by you, and based on an architectural model.

Now, you indicated that your goal in adopting the CMMI was to achieve a Level.  That's common enough.  Many companies build the infrastructure in part because they are trying to achieve a CMMI Level.  That was their tactical objective. But if you were working with an experienced Lead Appraiser, what they really helped you build, strategically, is an architecture with which to run your business.

So that’s what you have now! The company made a significant investment in performance improvement infrastructure. And you built an architecture with which to run your business.  Now you are asking: is it OK to stop there?

No, it’s not OK to stop. To be clear, I am NOT saying go get an ML4 – there may be little value in that for your company at this time. Instead, your goal should be to integrate your engineering system with your other business systems.

I’ll talk more about that in a future post. Meantime, stay calm, apply what you've been learning, and start writing better software.

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 www.broadswordsolutions.com 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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