Thursday, October 17, 2013

Can CMMI save us from the Black Hole of Lessons Learned?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, we’re a growing Virginia-based software firm, serving federal, state and local government agencies. We’re thinking about adopting the CMMI add more consistency to what we’re doing. For example, all of our teams currently do retrospectives, but some are good at applying lessons learned to future projects, and some aren’t. Can CMMI help here? ~ Allan P.

Dear Allan,

That’s great that you are thinking of ways to be agile for continuous improvement using the CMMI. One of the most useful secrets of the CMMI its ability to help you to get better at what you are ALREADY doing. Since you are already doing retrospectives, there is just one more thing you need to do to be on the way to being a great company. Just ask the following question:

How will the project down the hall benefit from the lessons we’ve learned?

I mean this literally: ask. Out loud. Word-for-word. Because if you don’t ask, you won’t know. And if you don’t know, chances are, all of that valuable data has already been lost in the Black Hole of Lessons Learned.

Most companies collect some kind of lessons learned. From what I’ve seen, however, they collect them on a network drive that nobody ever looks at. You’ve probably had this experience. Unless you build an architecture and a system around collecting and implementing lessons learned, you may as well not bother storing them. It’s a complete waste of your time.

That’s why I have a real beef with the attitude of some Scrum Puristas who walk around proudly pounding themselves on the chest, saying, “We’re awesome at continuous improvement because we have retrospectives.”

So what? How does that help the project down the hall? How does that help the project in the other building? How does that help the project across town?

It’s great that a Scrum Team can do retrospectives and use that information to get better and better. It's certainly a step up from a more traditional project.  I am certainly in favor of keeping it in the method, and it’s a cool thing to be proud of. But I don’t think it’s so impressive when this information is self-contained within a four- or five-person team. They may as well be throwing it into a Black Hole.

As you know, collecting lessons learned – reviewing how things went and how to make them better – are highly useful behaviors for your company. They need to be institutionalized in a way that helps to make the whole company great, and not just the Scrum team that is going to disband without sharing anything they’ve learned.

That's where the CMMI can help you. The Model guides you to build an architecture and a system around collecting and implementing lessons learned, so that they don’t fall into the Black Hole.

For more information about strengthening agile methods with the CMMI, be sure to catch our keynote presentation at SEPGNA 2013 on "Agile Resiliency: How CMMI Will Make Agile Thrive and Survive."

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

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, ScrumMaster, author, and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff pioneered agileCMMI, the leading methodology for incremental and iterative process improvement. He 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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