Wednesday, June 24, 2015

We need CMMI for SPARC, but will our Scrum teams have to follow one standard process?

Dear CMMI Appraiser, we’re an agile shop, delivering enterprise information technology solutions to the federal government. We just found out from a CMMI consultant about the requirement in SPARC for a CMMI SCAMPI appraisal. If we get a CMMI level for SPARC, does that mean our Scrum teams will have to follow one standard process? ~ Ray F.

Dear Ray,

A lot of companies are asking questions about the CMMI and the SCAMPI-A appraisal since SPARC came out. The SPARC RFP simply states that “contractors who do not possess independently prepared SCAMPI appraisal results assessed at the appropriate CMMI level for a given task will be restricted from performing the work.” It doesn’t say why that helps you. Understandably, people get confused when self-proclaimed CMMI-experts talk about the CMMI as being all about everybody doing the same thing every time. According to them, the CMMI is repeatable and predictable, and that means that everybody has to have the same behavior.

It sounds right. But is it?

Unfortunately, the CMMI says nothing of the kind. What needs to be repeatable are the OUTCOMES. Many projects are unique and require their own "way of doing things" (otherwise known as the PROCESS) - even though they will have repeatable outcomes (high quality software, efficient production, happy customers).

This is not to downplay the CMMI’s ability to help you bring more discipline to your agile methods. It is a terrific tool for that purpose. As a matter of fact, it is THE TOOL for that. However, it does not say you need a single standard process. The CMMI says you should have a SET of standard processes from which each project can derive their unique process. A “set” means more than one. And “more than one” means you need some flexibility and agility to decide how you are going to do something.

So, to be successful in adopting the CMMI in your agile environment, you’ll need to understand what the CMMI says and doesn’t say. You also need to know that, in the CMMI, flexibility and agility outweigh rigid compliance. See my Agile Process Manifesto....

For example, let’s say your development team has a new project. Do they want to use Planning Poker to estimate? Do they want to use Wideband Delphi or Cocomo? Or do they want to use something else? The answer depends on what they are building and the constraints they are dealing with.

The ability to provide flexibility is the most important thing you can do when it comes to improvement and deploying process. Rigid compliance hurts you, it doesn’t help you.

The great thing about the CMMI is that it is extremely agile. It gives you the ability to have choices and agility. It's right in the book ("Integrated Project Management").

I’ll say it again. A set means more than one, and more than one means there is room for flexibility and agility.

Anyone can claim to be a CMMI consultant. But only a small amount of people in the world have the requisite skills, training, experience and certifications that qualify them for the task. And an even smaller group of them have a proven track record. Think about it - it's not just "CMMI." It's organizational change, communications, successfully giving (and getting) advice. It's complicated!

Good CMMI consultants have a deep holistic understanding of the entire model, how it works, and useful ideas on how to use it to improve your company. They will recommend an approach that bridges agility and discipline, in a manner that fits the way your organization is already doing things.

Watch out for CMMI consultants who talk about the SPARC RFP and tell you one size fits all. Next time, just say, "NO!"

Like this blog? Forward to your nearest engineering or software exec!

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, ScrumMaster, author, and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff pioneered agileCMMI, the leading methodology for incremental and iterative process improvement. He 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.

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