Tuesday, November 5, 2013

How can we get our agile teams to comply with the CMMI?

Dear CMMI Appraiser, we are a CMMI Level 3 rated company that is getting some pushback from our agile team as we try to scale agile methods across the organization. They have all received our policy binders, but it’s unclear that anyone has even looked at them. How can we get our agile teams to comply with the CMMI? ~ Marcos

Marcos, let’s talk about those binders. They sound important to you. Are you using them to run the company?

If you are like many organizations, your honest answer is, “No."  So let me ask another question: Do YOU even look at them?

Chances are, again, your answer is no. I know this is happening because I conduct appraisals of a lot of companies that want to show me their binders as objective evidence, to prove that they are CMMI Level 2 or CMMI Level 3. But all this proves to me is that they have a culture that led to the creation of a massive policy binder that everybody in the company is forced to sign the day that they walk in, and nobody reads.

If YOU aren’t looking at the binder, how can you expect anyone else to look at it?

Turns out, there’s a very good reason no one will look at the binder.  The binder doesn’t work as a tool to run your company!

But the problem isn’t the binder. The problem is the type of behavior you drive if you try to be COMPLIANT with the CMMI.

To illustrate my point, let’s pick a Practice out of the CMMI. Say you wanted your agile team to be compliant with Generic Practice 2.1. The first GP guides us to set organizational expectations for all practitioners for performing the processes.

If you read this as an instruction to follow, or a rule to comply with, what would you do? Well, you’ve proven what you’d do. You’d create a binder.

The wording of the Practice, and your desire to be compliant with the Practice, are driving misguided behavior.

So what’s the proper wording? What’s the proper approach to the CMMI that will lead to the results you want?

In working with organizations large and small, I’ve found that the best way to scale agile across the entire organization is NOT to force teams to try to be compliant with the CMMI, but to ask what I call “CMMI questions” about their agile methods.

For example, take a look at that Generic Practice 2.1 again, “establish an organizational policy.”

How to would you put this Practice to work? By turning it into a question, like this:

“Are we setting clear expectations across the enterprise about which agile values, methods and techniques will be adopted and employed?”

You may discover – as many companies do – that you aren’t setting clear expectations. But if you know what agile values, methods and techniques you want to use, it’s really easy to fix that.  Processes are about behaviors and real people, not documents. People want and need to know what’s expected of them – and the CMMI is a great tool that helps you do that.

So don’t try to be compliant with the CMMI. The CMMI is not a set of instructions that tells you what to do, and you obey. The CMMI a set of questions that you can use to drive performance improvement and software process improvement.  And it's a framework that helps you do the things that great companies do, like successfully scaling agile and getting great results.

Your agile team will be much more likely to understand your vision, Marcos, and the CMMI will be much more valuable and useful to you, when you talk about using the Model as a framework to help you think about things like how you are running your company, how you are delivering products, and how happy your customers are.

That kind of dialogue just doesn’t fit in a binder.

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 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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