Friday, October 17, 2014

We blew our CMMI Appraisal – can you give us a break this time around?

Dear CMMI Appraiser, last year we failed our CMMI Appraisal. Given our negative experience with CMMI, can you help us get our CMMI certification in 2015 quickly at a discount? ~ from a phone inquiry

Dear Readers,

Every now and then, someone calls me with such a bizarre request, I have to take a deep breath before answering. I try to figure out what I can say to get them turned in the right direction before it’s too late, and they wreck their business.

It happened again recently. A call came in from a software engineering company looking to get a discount from us. Their reason? They said they cut corners, rushed through it,  got busy and "failed" their CMMI appraisal. Now they want to try again, as fast as possibe … at a discount.

It was a stark example of Einstein’s definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

The caller’s name was Bill. I said, “Bill, in my opinion, if you don’t change your approach, there is nothing you can possibly do to make this year’s CMMI experience any different from last year. You will just fail any cost."

“Why do you say that?” he asked.

“Because you said you are looking for a CMMI certificate, but the real value of the CMMI is not certification,” I said. “In fact, CMMI certification, the way you are thinking about it, doesn’t even exist.”

[NOTE – because I didn’t want to add to his confusion, I did not tell Bill about the new certification called the Certified CMMI Associate TM, from the CMMI Institute. The CMMI Associate certification helps individuals committed to excellence in process improvement identify themselves for professional career growth and advancement]

“What are you talking about?” he said. “I Googled CMMI certification and got thousands of pages!"

I said I was glad he found us, but tried to show him that there was risk in focusing on external rewards like getting a so-called CMMI certification, a Maturity Level or a Capability Level Rating. Pursuing these things as a primary goal is a misguided interpretation of what actually needed to be done.

“Does it matter how I get a Maturity Rating?” he asked. “Our clients won’t care.”

“I disagree,” I said, “your clients want you to be better at what you do. But if you focus only on CMMI certification, you end up losing all of the value of the CMMI. You end up chasing the paper, not the improvements, and there will be no benefit for you or your clients.  The benefit is the entire reason they are asking you to do this!”

He said, “Look, we don’t want to make this any harder than it needs to be.” Ugh.  Being great is SUPPOSED to be hard!  That's why more companies don't do it!

I asked him to consider that it’s actually easier to do it right than it is to chase the paper! And you also get the benefits. What's not to like?

The value of the CMMI comes from the transformation of the culture of your company. It’s about changing the way we behave, so that we build products that are better than other companies that are building similar products – with the big difference being that their processes cost more, produce lower quality, and make their employees and clients unhappy.

My final point: You can’t transform a culture by going out and getting certificates. Too many companies have walls full of certificates ("Plaque Buildup") but build inferior products.  When we put a “certification” mindset around getting better, it drives the wrong kind of behaviors. Rather, we should focus on doing the things that help us be as great a company as we can be. CMMI helps us do that better than any model I've seen.

“I’m giving you one more chance,” he said. “If you want our business, you’ll give us a discount and tell us how to do this as fast as possible. What do you say?”

I said the only thing I could say: “Good luck!”

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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