Sunday, August 31, 2014

SPaMCast Question #4: Does the value of CMMI get lost as a "top-down" directive?

[NOTE: Over the past few weeks, the CMMI Appraiser has been sharing excerpts from a recent conversation with Tom Cagley on SPaMCast about whether agile is resilient – i.e., whether it will be able to spring back into shape after being bound or compressed by the pressures of development and support – and how frameworks like the CMMI can be used to make agile more resilient. Listen to the full interview at SPaMCast 296.] 

Jeff, if you go back far enough, once upon a time, CMMI was being driven bottom-up and was struggling to some extent, the same way we're seeing today with agile.  But when CMMI became a "top-down" initiative, did companies lose sight of its value? ~ Tom Cagley, SPaMCast 

Tom, you and I are both very passionate about CMMI and see CMMI as an important tool for improving processes, and not an end-all be-all tool that solves every single problem. Unfortunately, there are still people who see CMMI as a means to a "CMMI certificate" or to achieve a CMMI rating, which they assume WILL solve every problem.  Rather than receiving the value that the framework is intended to provide – higher quality, faster delivery and predictable, repeatable results  – they treat it more like a stamp of approval, 

So you are correct; the value of CMMI has been lost within some organizations that push its adoption form the top-down.  For proof, just walk around Washington D.C. and talk to any of the six or seven thousand companies that are providing IT services to the government. You’ll find that many of them interpret CMMI as a certificate to be had.

This is primarily a Washington D.C. behavior. Around the country we see some different behaviors, but in Washington the typical approach to something like CMMI – and this also applies to ISO and PMBOK and most of the other process models – is for company leaders to say, “We've got this RFP. We’ve got to get it. We can't do business with the government. We need this certificate.”

When the directive comes down from the C-suite to their managers and staff, it often sounds something like this: "You all shall be CMMI Level 3 by the end of the year!" Or whatever artificial deadline they put on their people. They don’t realize it, but essentially they are saying, "You must be a great company by the end of the year" – which is the true purpose of adopting the CMMI.

But what company can do that? It’s just not logical. So engineers are left to try to figure out how to "pass the CMMI certification" and get their so-called “CMMI certificate.” There's only one place that leads to: A death spiral.

Fortunately, we're not there yet. CMMI is still very strong. It's being used throughout the world in a very productive way in many places. And even in Washington D.C. there are many companies that are enlightened and understand what CMMI is and how to use it as a tool for transforming their culture and changing behaviors to put themselves on the path to being a great company.

But I believe there are still many companies trying to force CMMI from the top-down without understanding the real value of the Model. The same will happen to agile, and the value will be lost, unless we commit to making agile resilient.

For those who would like to know more about making agile resilient, we are hosting a Webinar on September 11, 2014: "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, 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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