Monday, December 15, 2014

What’s the ONE THING we should do to improve organizational performance?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser – all we want for Christmas is peace in our software organization! Tell us the one thing we should do to fix all the performance issues we’re having. ~ Dianne M.

Hey, Dianne, Merry Christmas! You know, people attempting to improve organizational performance often ask me this. They are dealing with a whole host of issues – late projects, unpredictable results, lessons not learned, mistrust and miscommunication. All these problems, and yet they only want ONE THING to solve them all!

But I'm cool with that, because it really does come down to one thing you should do.

Of course, there are many things you CAN do. There are hundreds of things within process models, frameworks, systems and architectures. The CMMI literally gives us 356 things you can do. Agile and Scrum give us many things to do. ISO gives us many things to do.

But you asked what you SHOULD do. And I believe the one thing you should do to improve performance is this:

Address organizational values. 

“Values,” you say? “You mean those words stuck to the wall in the lobby that nobody looks at?”

No, I mean the values that are clearly defined and are compatible with the way your company does business.

Values come from upper management, usually. They are set as part of the strategic vision of the organization, and, for a company to be as great as it can be, they should trace down directly to the behaviors of the most junior person in the organization.

So if you see companies that have super cultures – high morale, high performance, everybody is on the same page – you’ll find that the values of that organization are clearly defined and are compatible with the rest of the work.

How do these companies do it?

Several things are important in having a great culture. Leadership, your expertise, your people. Also your business processes, the way you do your work, every day. As Lead Appraiser, I have had the opportunity to study many companies that are great and many more that are good, and I can tell you one constant: They do their work in a predictable, consistent way.

What happens when a company’s values become disconnected from the way people do their work? It leads to bad decisions, strained customer relationships, and poor quality. When the company’s values are inconsistent with the work that is being done, you see low morale. You see chaos and lack of productivity. Unfortunately, this is what’s happening in the agile community today.

Here’s an example. If you are an agile team, and one of your values is to “incrementally deal with issues and risk,” you might select a method such as Scrum and use a technique like Daily Stand-up. But if you are operating in a Waterfall company, this value would be a problem. The two are inconsistent and incongruous. People wouldn’t know HOW to act, and chaos would ensue.

To be useful, Values must guide behavior.

At Broadsword, we call this “making values operational.” We use a “values-based architecture” that links Values, Frameworks, and Techniques. Our goal is to trace a direct link between the company’s values and how work gets done.

We have nine core values that we have “operationalized.” Each value guides our behavior and can be traced to how we do our work. Our values range from being “creative problem solvers focused on our clients” to being “fun and hassle free to work with.”

We think our Values reflect who we are as a company. Values have an impact on customers, on employees, and on the way products are developed and code is written. If you want to be the best company you can be, make sure your values are clearly defined and aligned with your way the work gets done.

It’s the ONE THING you should do to address performance issues.

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.

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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