Thursday, December 18, 2014

What’s the SECRET to "passing" a CMMI Appraisal (or any other audit)?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser! What’s the secret to passing a CMMI Appraisal? ~ software and engineering professionals everywhere I go

Dear Readers,

As I travel around the country and planet helping people receive the value that frameworks like CMMI and Scrum are intended to provide – higher quality products, faster delivery, and predictable, repeatable results – I invariably encounter someone who pulls me aside and whispers, “Hey, CMMI Appraiser! What’s the secret to passing a CMMI Appraisal?”

These good people have correctly surmised that we Lead Appraisers have a lot of secrets. There are some things we are not supposed to tell you about how to pass a CMMI appraisal. But I’m going to break ranks and share some of those secrets right here in today’s blog post – as long as you promise not to tell anybody else.

Got it? This is just between us – you, me and thousands of monthly readers of Ask the CMMI Appraiser. So mum’s the word!

Why do I want to share these trade secrets? Because I’m on a mission to change the perception in the market about the CMMI.

By the way, speaking of perceptions, when they created CMMI, nobody ever expected it to turn into a certification type of event. So-called “CMMI certification” was never the goal. CMMI was always intended to be about performance improvement.

I say this as a precursor to the first secret of passing an appraisal: Don’t follow the CMMI!

And here’s the second secret: Don’t be compliant with CMMI!

In my opinion, these are the two hugest problems in the CMMI community. People think they have to follow CMMI and be compliant with it. So let’s get those problems out of the way immediately. CMMI is not a rule book to be followed. It’s also not a compliance model. CMMI is not ISO.

So what is the CMMI? CMMI is a process model. It’s also a behavioral model. A good way to think of it is as a massive checklist. CMMI gives us a checklist of 356 things that great companies do. Your challenge, as you go about adopting the Model, is to figure out how to get the most value out of this great checklist.

That’s the next big secret: To be successful in your CMMI adoption, ask “the CMMI Questions.”

What are the CMMI questions? These are the questions you should be able to answer for every single thing you do on your agile team. They are based on practices in the CMMI.

For example, there is a CMMI practice that says, “Estimate the scope of the project.” There’s a right way and a wrong way to approach that practice.

The wrong way to respond: “OK, we could do that. We could pick some estimating method and do it just because the Model says we have to.”

Contrast that with the RIGHT way to respond: “How are we going to estimate the size? Let’s collaborate on how we are going to do that.”

Every single agile ceremony can be strengthened by going through the CMMI and asking the CMMI questions. And the cool thing is, the CMMI lays it all out for us. All we have to do is ask the CMMI questions:

What expectations are we going to set? Who is involved in that? When are they involved? What are the tools we are going to use? How are we going to train people? Where are we going to put all this stuff? What stakeholders are involved? How are we going to know if the process is working? How are we going to know if people are doing what we want them to do? How does management know that it’s even working?

Those 10 CMMI questions come directly from the 10 Generic Practices in Maturity Level 2 of the CMMI. They are the 10 characteristics of a good process.

See what’s happening here? When we form them as questions, instead of strictly following the CMMI language from the book, we avoid the risk of driving the wrong behaviors.

For example, the CMMI language says, “Establish an organizational policy.” What do people do when they read that? The wrong (but all too common) way to respond is to go off and create a book with 18 pages in it and a policy on each. Make everybody sign it. Then put it on a shelf that nobody looks at.

That’s a complete waste of time. Better to ask the CMMI questions: “What am I supposed to do? What do you want me to do?”

Here’s another example. The second Generic Practice is “Plan the process.” Sounds intimidating! My CMMI question is, “What’s the plan here, team? What are we doing?”

That’s all these CMMI practices are about. They can be summed up in just five CMMI questions:
  • What are we doing?
  • When are we doing it?
  • Why are we doing it?
  • Who is responsible for doing it?
  • What do we need to do it?
The biggest problem I see with agile projects is when these questions are unasked, and thus, unanswered . Everybody thinks they know how to do the work, and everybody’s thinking something different. But if you know the secret to success – asking the CMMI questions – you’ll be on the path to greatness. Passing a CMMI Appraisal and achieving a Maturity Level will be natural byproducts. That’s the secret truth.

Now promise me you won’t tell ANYONE!

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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