Friday, October 11, 2013

Hey, Guy, Don’t follow the CMMI!

Hey CMMI Appraiser, we’ve seen enough good results from our Agile techniques that we are planning to transition most of our engineering (about 300 developers) from the Waterfall methodology to Agile. Are there rules in the CMMI that we can follow to help us make the switch? Specifics, please. ~ Guy G.

Hey, Guy,

Stop right there. I can’t name a better tool to help you with a full scale organizational transformation than the CMMI, but before you take another step, I must warn you: Don’t follow the CMMI!

Don’t follow the CMMI as though it were a rule book about compliance, because it’s not. Think of the CMMI as a set of questions that you ask yourself about the work you do (in this case, rolling out agile). This is an important distinction. The CMMI is a set of questions about process improvement, performance improvement, and helping you be a great company.  It's NOT a set of rules.

So, here’s what you DON’T try to do. Don’t try to replicate the CMMI in a Waterfall-type of methodology. Instead, take a look at your agile methodology, and ask yourself a series of questions about Scrum or Extreme Programming (or both – whatever you are ALREADY doing).

The CMMI has practices designed to help you get better at what you do, the way you do it, incrementally and iteratively. Within the framework of the CMMI, you are constantly asking questions about your work, such as:

  • What’s the plan for rolling this out across the enterprise?
  • Which methods are we supporting?
  • What’s the plan for getting everyone up to speed?
  • Which projects use which methods, and why?

We call these “CMMI questions.” CMMI questions can (and should) be applied to your agile values, methods and techniques, establishing an Agile Resiliency Architecture, which enables you to manage large scale organizational change without disrupting the business.

Back to your question, Guy, you asked for specifics, so let's talk techniques. Your agile techniques are the specific actions that need to be strengthened as you roll out agile, companywide.

Focusing on techniques, the CMMI questions to ask are things like, “How are we going to estimate?” Your answer may be that one project is going to use Planning Poker, while another project is going to use Fibonacci Sequence, while a third project is going to use something different. That’s fine. You’ll base your decision on the way you ALREADY do things.

See, the CMMI is all about providing guidance for managing your company’s uniqueness. In your case, it helps you manage the specific actions as you roll out your agile techniques. The Model guides you to keep asking questions, such as:

  • What’s the plan for the techniques?
  • Which techniques will we be able to support with tools?
  • How are we going to be able to support all of the tools, techniques and methods people are going to need?
  • How are we going to teach people to use all of these things?

These are just of few specific CMMI questions that were designed to give you guidance, Guy. There are many, many more questions and practices within the CMMI – and not one rule.

For those interested in learning more about using the CMMI as a guide to manage large scale organization change, Broadsword is hosting another FREE, LIVE Webinar on Friday, October 25, 2013 at 1PM ET. Click here to join us for “Agile Resiliency: Scaling Agile so that it Thrives & Survives.”

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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