Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What’s wrong with a little CMMI training?

[Dear Readers, for the past several months, our good friend Pat O’Toole, CMMI expert and seasoned consultant, has been collaborating with us on a monthly series of CMMI-related posts, "Just the FAQs." Our goal with these posts is to provide answers to the most frequently asked questions about the CMMI, SCAMPI, engineering strategy and software process improvement. This month, Jeff reveals why it is critical to develop an infrastructure for CMMI training. Take it away, Jeff! ~ the CMMI Appraiser]

Hey, Jeff, what does the CMMI mean by “Training Capability?” We did a PowerPoint lunch session and we think that’s good enough to be Level Three.

JEFF: Good enough? While I often say that you should have “just enough, not too much” process, this seems more like “not enough, way too little” to me. The Organizational Training practice you're asking about (SP1.4) packs a lot more punch than its diminutive size might indicate.

Let me give you an example. When I conduct a CMMI or Agile gap analysis, I like to schedule it so I can see the organization in action. Artifacts and affirmations are useful indicators for determining whether a behavior may have occurred, but nothing informs us more than seeing it for ourselves. I always try to attend standups, sprint demos, and sprint planning sessions. I like to tour team rooms to see the information radiators. And I like to attend any training sessions that are scheduled.

Last month I attended such a session, and left with the impression that they didn’t quite get the Organizational Training practice “SP1.4 Establish a Training Capability.”

The group of eager students filed in and took their seats at an oval conference room table, most toting some kind of brown-bag lunch. While we waited in uncomfortable silence, I scanned the room for indicators of a training infrastructure.

After a few more minutes, just short of the ten-minute rule we invented in college, the company’s top engineer, a kindly bearded fellow who had been with the team for many years, took his place at the front of the room. In his right hand was a Scrum reference book and in the other a folder of process documents. He gazed across the gaggle of students and said, “So, I’m here…I guess. What do you want to know?” The “training” went downhill from there, and devolved into a spirited debate between agile puristas and pragmatists about whether they were practicing Scrum or Scrum-but. (“We’re using Scrum, but …”) There was no agenda, no learning objectives, and no learning outcomes – in fact, no learning at all!

At the end of “class” I asked the instructor about it. He turned OT SP1.4 back at me by saying “SP1.4 says our training capability only needs to address organizational training needs. And this class meets our needs, so we’re good.”

Hmmmm. I understand it a little differently.

When I think of OT SP1.4, I envision a “training infrastructure” that includes:

- Facilities
- Materials
- Systems
- Qualified instructors, if the class is instructor led.

So, what does it take to create a training capability?


The right facility can make or break a training class. Planning and clear requirements will help make the training successful and enjoyable. As part of our class kit we supply a checklist and seating chart that describes the physical requirements for putting on a successful class. These include:

- Tables of four set up in pods with comfortable chairs
- At least four flip charts or some large white boards with dry-erase pens and erasers
- 20 x 20 space behind the tables for hands-on exercises
- Walls suitable for sticky notes and blue tape
- High quality projector with HDMI or VGA interface that is compatible with our laptops
- Projector mounted on the ceiling or an AV cart
- Screen or large white wall suitable for projection

I‘ve improved my checklist over the years as I teach more classes and encounter new road-blocks. For instance, last month I was greeted with a projector that would ONLY work with a Windows computer, and not with my Macbook. This was due to the network interface they used to attach wirelessly to the projector. Since my host may not have even known about this, I now include contact with the IT support team in my class preparation.

When I arrive onsite to teach each class I use the same checklist to QA the facility as soon as I arrive. Just like any other process or tool, using the checklist doesn’t mean the room is always appointed as I expect (no, the CMMI doesn’t make your customers do what you want), but it works more often than not. At the very least it triggers someone to let us know in advance if they’re NOT going to be able to meet the requirements. Once we have the facility covered, we’re ready to produce materials….


Well designed and professionally produced training materials will enhance learning and ground the class in a comfortable framework that allows both instructor and attendee to focus on the learning objectives and desired outcomes. Materials should mirror both, and need to be carefully thought out to ensure attendees depart with the necessary knowledge to be effective in their roles. A thoughtful combination of “follow-along,” hands-on, job-aids, and reference materials will help ensure that attendees who have different learning styles will complete the class with the information they need to be successful in their role.

Our “Introduction to CMMI” checklist includes the production of these four types of materials, some of which are given to each attendee, and others shared by the class as a whole. They include:

- Follow-along: bound PowerPoint slides and exercise book
- Job aids: agile guideline handouts, checklists, quick reference materials, practice exams
- Hands on: game sheets, planning poker decks, sticky notes, Legos, tennis balls, balloons, and dice
- Reference: CMMI-DEV text book, Scrum textbook

Since I often travel to teach each class, textbooks are drop-shipped to the facility, and everything else is produced at the local Fedex Office for delivery. So that leads us to Systems…


A training capability also includes the use of systems to describe the course, house the materials, facilitate production, register attendees, track completion, and gather feedback. This system could include the use of technology, but could also be manual depending on size and complexity.

For our CMMI and Scrum classes we leverage the following systems:

- A WIKI catalogue to house the master descriptions of all of our courses
- Eventbrite for each course description, registration and payment
- Fedex Office cloud to house all materials and facilitate production
- Amazon Prime for ordering, purchasing, and shipping textbooks
- Excel template (CMMI classes), corporate portal database (all classes) tracking completion
- Paper surveys, and Survey Monkey (all classes) for capturing and analyzing feedback

We have most of it in place now, so if we just had some instructors….

Qualified Instructors

Now, let’s get back to our bearded friend. He was a nice enough fellow, and he certainly had the technical knowledge to understand the material, but a teacher? Not so much.

Organizations I work with sometimes want to put their best engineers or project managers in the instructor’s chair, but that is often not the best choice. Having the prerequisite knowledge and certifications, if required, is only the first gate for instructor selection. A qualified instructor should also be able to:

- successfully convey information from multiple perspectives
- guide a class towards completing the learning objectives and desired outcomes
- deal with disruptions professionally and effectively
- provide relevant context, stories, and examples
- think quickly and improvise as needed
- use humor to make relevant points (and counter hecklers!)
- be an entertaining, interesting, and credible presenter

Being a great instructor is challenging work, and it’s not for everybody. Instructors need to know more about the subject than anyone else in the room, be prepared for any question, no matter how nuanced, as well as possess the aforementioned personal characteristics. Some of this can be taught, but many of the best teachers naturally possess these skills.

So, looking back at my gap analysis, our friends in the brown-bag lunch session weren’t getting what they deserved, but they were getting what the company paid and prepared for. Smart organizations develop a training infrastructure to help ensure that their team members know what behaviors are expected, and commit to training as if they are developing a valuable corporate asset.

Just like anything else with the CMMI, it’s easier to do all of this if you focus on improving performance, rather than achieving a CMMI rating. The extra-special double bonus for your effort is increased performance without working harder.

Our bearded instructor was asking the right question when he asked, “what do you want to know?” He was just asking it a few months too late.

For those who are interested in a different kind of CMMI training, you are invited to register for one of my upcoming CMMI training courses:

“Introduction to CMMI-DEV” Training – Southeast Michigan – September 15th - 17th/18th, 2015

“Introduction to CMMI-DEV” Training – Fairfax, Virginia – September 29th - October 1st /2nd, 2015

Note: both courses include a 1-day supplemental CMMI-SVC class (optional).

© Copyright 2015: Process Assessment, Consulting & Training and Broadsword Solutions

“Just the FAQs” is written/edited by Jeff Dalton and Pat O’Toole. Please contact the authors at jeff@broadswordsolutions.com and pact.otoole@att.net to suggest enhancements to their answers, or to provide an alternative response to the question posed. Your questions are always welcomed!

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