Sunday, November 17, 2013

How do we police our engineers for adherence to the CMMI?

Hey CMMI Appraiser, we are currently being audited / assessed as a CMMI Level 3 company and are driving toward a CMMI certification. What’s the best way to police our people to make sure they are following the CMMI-based process? ~ Ben T.

Hey Ben  - whoa…police?  First you need to understand what the CMMI really is. Adopting the CMMI is not about being audited. It’s not about getting a certificate. The CMMI is meant to be an ongoing journey to learn about the way your company works, and to learn new techniques that can put you on the path to being a great company, using CMMI as one of your tools.

Yes, there are practices within the CMMI that can help you make sure your team is doing what you need them to do. But we don’t want to treat this as a policing exercise. The CMMI isn’t meant to be punitive. It won’t work if you try to get everyone to line up and do things the same way every time, and punish them when they fail.

So rather than think about policing your team, I recommend that you look to the CMMI for guidance on objectively evaluating your teams’ adherence to the values that are important to your company. The ninth Generic Practice (GP2.9) helps us do that by encouraging us to ask questions, like the following:

“Are people living up to the values? Are they doing the things that we need them to do? Are they using the techniques that we’re asking them to use? Are they adhering to the methods that we’re asking them to adopt?”

If they are not, we need to know why. But treat this as coaching and mentoring opportunity. Remember, this is less about an audit, and more about mentoring. By turning into Process Police, we run the risk of creating a lot of unnecessary overhead, and we don’t want that. Instead, we want to understand.

Go to your team with specifics. Engage them in a dialogue. Have conversations like, “We asked you to do this. You are not doing this. Why is that?  What might be a better way?”

I’ll say it again. The CMMI isn’t punitive. It is explorative. By properly applying the CMMI’s guidelines, you’ll be in better position to understand what happened – with the team as well as with yourself as their manager.

“What do you mean?” I hear some managers complain. “It’s their fault if they aren’t adhering, not mine!”

Oh, really?  Keep in mind, this is coming from someone who has been an executive in IT and engineering organizations, and who, today, runs a business dedicated to helping companies with performance improvement and the CMMI. I’ve worked with many, many clients over the years to help them improve process, and I can tell you this: A lot of times, management gets it wrong.

We’re human. We make mistakes. Sometimes we task our teams to do something, and it turns out, it was the wrong thing!

It’s no secret that engineers, software developers and project managers are pretty smart people. They will figure out how to get around your instructions if they don’t think what you’re asking them to do is useful.

So this is a good learning opportunity for everyone involved. As management, we don’t want to force our folks to do things they don’t want to do. Instead, we want to guide them to do the right thing.

That’s why we want to know WHY things aren’t working. We want to know WHY our engineers aren’t following certain processes. Whether it’s because we gave the wrong direction, or the team is not following the right direction, we want to make it better.

So be careful when you talk about driving toward a certification, quality audit or CMMI maturity level rating. You may be asking your team to do things that aren’t the right things. You may be asking them to adopt methods that don’t make sense, or to use techniques that add a lot of overhead. That’s why they are resisting.

The wonderful thing about the CMMI is that it is all about training and mentoring. As management, you get to use it to understand what’s going on in the field and why people have not adopted what they’re being asked to work on.

Then you get to fix it. And the CMMI can guide you on that, too.

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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