Tuesday, February 17, 2015

How can CMMI make us better when we don’t use process?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser – I am new to the CMMI and don’t really know much about it. Our management wants to be Level 2 and have an appraisal, but how can CMMI make us better when, as an agile shop, we don’t use process? ~ Charles S.

Hey, Charles, welcome aboard! It’s always great to meet people who are new to CMMI. You know, a lot of folks have the same reaction to CMMI at first. As a Lead Appraiser, I work with a many Scrum teams that started out by telling me, “We don’t really use processes. We don’t like processes at all.”

And I say …

You don’t use processes? What about these?

Planning Poker
Sprint Demos
Pair Programming
Test-Driven Development

Everything on this list is a process, also known as a technique or method. And for every one of these processes, there is a CMMI equivalent that we use to make it better.

I’ll give you an example. In the CMMI, we have a practice called, “Identify all relevant stakeholders” for the estimating process. Sounds very academic and very dry. But if we re-word it using agile language, we might ask the following: “What dudes need to be there to play Planning Poker?”

Same exact practice – figuring out who those right people are. Asking it differently helps improve our Planning Poker process, and as a result we have a process that says, “The right people need to show up to play Planning Poker.”

In this way, we use the CMMI to make Planning Poker better. That’s one of the practices in the CMMI.

It works the same with Refractoring. There is a practice guides us to reconcile the work, based on the current need. Well, there’s a lot to that. What does reconciling mean? Simply this: Involve the proper stakeholders. In agile lingo: Bring in the right dudes.

The CMMI helps make these processes better through the 12 characteristics of successful companies that it outlines.  The 12 characteristics are known as the "Generic Practices," or GPs. These GPs are the 12 things that need to be right for an organization to be successful. One of them is, we need to figure out who the right people are and make sure they are there. Another is, people need to be trained on how to use it. So if we say, “We have to use Planning Poker,” we better give people good training on how to make it work. Using the CMMI as a guide, you understand that people need to be trained.

A lot of organizations tell me, “Hey, we are already using Planning Poker. We are not really getting the results we want from it. It’s not that accurate. What’s going on?”

The answer? Look to the 12 GPs. They allow us to ask the right questions about our work, such as:
  • Stakeholders aren’t showing up? Well, that’s one problem. Let’s fix that.
  • People aren’t trained? That’s another problem. Let’s fix that.

See, the 12 GPs in the CMMI are almost like a checklist. This checklist covers all the things about Planning Poker, in this case, that we didn’t really think about when we implemented it. We just sort of threw a pack of cards on the table and said, “Go read an article and start playing.”

And maybe that’s OK in some shops, for some projects. But you will surely get better results if you deliberately and thoughtfully go through the 12 attributes within the CMMI and use them as a guide for improving the way you do your work. That’s how to use the CMMI as a checklist to make process better.

Interested in knowing more about how the CMMI helps you get better at what you are ALREADY doing? Then be sure to sign up for our Webinar on February 26 @ noon: “CMMI – Everything You Need to Know!”

Hope to see you on the Webinar!

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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