Thursday, May 15, 2014

“Go agile?” Huh?

Mr. CMMI Appraiser – as a mid-sized engineering firm in Northern Virginia with a small Agile team, we are primarily using CMMI for our projects.  Our largest government customer recently told us they want to “go Agile,” and that they need us to staff up to serve them. When a federal agency says they want to “go Agile” how do we respond? We’re just trying to build great products, same as always. ~ Dean C.

Hey, Dean, we are hearing this note of concern quite a bit lately. It seems that many companies are being told the same thing from government and large corporate clients ranging from the Department of Defense to Medicare and Medicaid to Ford and Chrysler. Like you, many of them are saying, “What does that mean? Do they want to fail fast? Do they want daily standups? Do they want to start working in sprints?”

What I’ve found is that clients themselves often don’t often know what they mean, or how to articulate it. That’s why their requests can be quite puzzling.

One thing we can be sure of: Customers want to be reassured that we have a plan for scaling Agile in a way that can help them get improved results. I’ve done a lot of work over the years with companies that have embraced the CMMI and Scrum in an effort to get better and meet customer demands, and I believe I can point you in the right direction.

In my opinion, the clearest way to think about Scrum and CMMI is in terms of process improvement, not running teams or projects. That keeps us focused. After all, there is only one project that we really care about, and that’s the one called, “Making our company great.”

So it’s a good thing you are already using CMMI and Agile approaches. You can scale Agile by strengthening it through the application of the lessons of the CMMI. And conversely, scaling Agile will help you improve your approach to CMMI. The CMMI framework and the Agile philosophy work beautifully together to make each other better.

This is an idea I’m really passionate about. I believe all organizations can benefit from rethinking the CMMI and Scrum and how they work. It boils down to three simple concepts:

1) The CMMI is a behavioral model, not a process. It was intended to help make things better, a guide to continuous improvement. It describes how great companies perform.

2) As such, the CMMI doesn’t tell you HOW to get better. In fact, the CMMI doesn’t tell you how to do anything. It says, “Here’s what great companies have told us that they do.” Your job is to apply these lessons to what you are doing in your context. Tricky? Yes, but well worth it.

3) The truth about CMMI and Scrum is that they are both designed to help you pursue the same business goals. Both are tools to help solve business problems. They help us improve requirements churn and volatility, for example. They help us meet schedule and budget, and they help us perform the work that we do every day. That’s why we say CMMI and Agile are not overhead - they're "underhead."

So, yes, you can scale Agile and “staff up” to meet your customers’ needs to “go Agile.” That’s really all they want to hear at this point. Tell them, “Sure, we can do that, but here are all the ways we are going to work, and here are all the ways the software will deliver. We have standards, and ways to improve on that method.”

For more information about the details behind those answers, I invite you to register for the Agile Development Conference West. The conference will be on June 1-6 in at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas. I will be speaking on "Agile Resiliency: How CMMI Will Make Agile Thrive and Survive." 

Hope to see you there!

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.

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