Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Can we get a CMMI tune-up in time for SPARC?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, we need to schedule our CMMI appraisal so we can achieve a Maturity Level 3 in time to bid on the SPARC RFP. But I’m concerned about the repercussions if we are unprepared for the adventure and fail the SCAMPI A. Do we have time to get a tune-up, so we can pass the appraisal and win that bid? ~ Bradley S.

Hey, Bradley,

Whoa! Hold up a second … pass the appraisal? Win the bid? I know you are eager to take advantage of this opportunity to work with a big client like the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but you are getting a little ahead of yourself. First you need to discover the value of the CMMI. Otherwise you won’t behave any differently today than you did yesterday. You’ll just go storming after the next goal and the next goal, without any thought to what this adventure is REALLY about, and why you’re undertaking it.  And believe me, if you take a minute to read this, your goal will be easier to achieve!

Let me point you in the right direction.

You are correct about the SPARC RFP. It 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.” As a result, a lot of companies are looking for information on SCAMPI appraisals.

There are three types of CMMI appraisals, but whether you choose a SCAMPI A, B or C, it’s essential to understand that an Appraisal is not about passing or failing. It’s not about winning or losing. It’s about learning about your company.

You also need to know that, while SCAMPI A is the only appraisal that results in a "rating," it is not a "tune-up." Tuning up your existing processes is something you do continuously before and after you go through the SCAMPI B or SCAMPI A process. Like giving your car a tune-up at the 3,000 mile mark, tuning up your processes prepares your company to keep its quality and performance improvements rolling in the right direction. But on its own it doesn’t assure that your journey will be successful.

So, before you even get started, there are some key questions to ask yourself:

1. What could we learn about ourselves from a SCAMPI C (Gap Analysis)?

The SCAMPI C is one way to find out how well your company learns about itself. How aligned (or misaligned) are behaviors with the CMMI framework? It may be a long road ahead, but it's well worth the journey - and you want to understand the baseline before you start.

2. How could we benefit from training?

Multiple training courses are available to assist you in your journey to becoming a great company. Since this is apparently your first experience with the CMMI, start with the introduction to CMMI training course, followed by training on how to become expert process engineers. Broadsword offers courses and workshops that teach you how to execute our AgileCMMI methodology, and how to design and develop the processes you will need to become a great company. While you're at it, consider some methodology training like Scrum, Measurement, and Process Quality.

3. What is really involved in the "tune-up?"

After the SCAMPI C, and often concurrently with the training, you'll need to develop a plan that identifies all the opportunities to improve that you will need to execute with company. This plan could be months, or even years, in duration and includes everything you need to do in the context of the methods and working teams you will be using, as well as all of the releases and iterations that must take place between now and when you reach your desired state - perhaps as tested by your SCAMPI B Appraisal.

The SCAMPI B is a semi-formal appraisal that serves as a tool to give you the information you need to completely understand your current state in relation to the CMMI. It gives you the information you need to help you determine whether you should move forward with a formal SCAMPI A.

Some companies consider skipping the SCAMPI B in order to save money or, in your case, time. This may seem prudent, given that it is not specifically required, but keep in mind that this discussion is not about time and money, but about Risk Management. You are right to be concerned about the repercussions if you fail to manage this risk. It would be expensive and demoralizing for your team to have an unsuccessful SCAMPI A.

As far as doing this “in time” to bid on SPARC, it depends. My personal rule-of-thumb is, if the SCAMPI B is better than 75% "in the green," that's a pretty good indicator to start thinking about when you want to conduct your SCAMPI A appraisal. How quickly you get there depends upon how far away you are today.

And if you are successful with your SCAMPI A … WOO-HOO! You’re golden, right?

Wellllll … not so fast. Achieving a CMMI Rating gives you an awesome start! It doesn’t make you a great company. It just means you are sufficiently equipped with the infrastructure and tools you need to become a great company.

As a builder of experimental aircraft and a licensed pilot, I am fond of a saying that we have in the aviation world . . . you'll have a "license to learn." This ain’t no paper chase. It ain’t no gold rush either. Making structural changes in your company – and making the commitment to long-term improvement as an organization – that’s your real adventure.

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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