Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How long does it take to get a CMMI Level 3 rating?

Hey, CMMI appraiser. My boss is telling us we need to get a CMMI Level 3 and be CMMI certified by the end of the year, or else. I told him, doing things right takes time. But from your experience, how long does it take to achieve a ML3 rating? ~ Daria Z.

Hey, Daria. It’s no fun working with a boss who makes threats. Normally when someone asks me how long it takes to achieve a CMMI Level 3, I say, “It depends on where you are today.” If leadership is onboard and focused on being a great company, it will take less time. If they are not, it will take more. In the case of your boss and his rush to get a so-called “CMMI certification,” he’s setting your CMMI adoption up for failure.

How much time will THAT take?

I love your response, though. Doing things right does take time. As a Lead Appraiser, I’ve found that transforming the leadership of an organization is always the biggest task in any successful CMMI adoption – and one that takes the most time.

There are several reasons leadership might not buy-into CMMI at first. CMMI is big. It’s a lot to focus on, if you’re new to evidence-based performance improvement frameworks like CMMI. Plus, management wants to delegate and keep hands-off. They think they are being effective managers when they don’t want to know the details.

If I were your boss' business coach, I'd ask, “Why wouldn’t you want to? Insisting on certain behaviors is the responsibility of management. And behavior is about what differentiates us as a company.”

By the way, this is why templates won’t work. Why normalize yourself to someone else’s definition of greatness?

Great companies know the importance of focusing on changing and improving behavior. Arbitrary time frames hardly matter when you are focused on being a great company. Being a great company means focusing on doing things as well as you can do them, and being better than the companies you are competing with. When you learn to use the CMMI as one of the tools that can keep you focused on producing the best products and being the best in your industry, your CMMI level will surely follow, regardless of how long it takes.

On the other hand, if you focus on getting a CMMI Rating and achieving a CMMI Level 3 as fast as you can, and you don’t care much about being a great company, you will spend a lot of time and money producing a lot of overhead that will not result in business value.

As I said, your CMMI adoption will fail. Things won’t get any better.

The moral of the story: Focus on being a great company, and a nice CMMI certificate will follow. That’s just the way it works.

Still, people often ask me, “How fast can I get a CMMI certificate?” And my answer is, “How fast do you want to transform and change your company to be a great company?”

Because if you understand that question, you’ll understand it’s not something you can do in a couple of weeks or months. It’s a major undertaking to be a great company. As I say to my clients, this is a journey, not a race. You focus on being a great company, I will focus on helping you achieve a Maturity Level, and we’ll meet at the end.

Ask not, "How long is it going to take?"

Ask, "How focused are we on being a great company?"

For more information about changing and improving behaviors, please visit our Webinar Calendar and choose from 6 new presentations on solving software and engineering business challenges in Broadsword's “Everything You Need to Know” webinar series.

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.

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