Thursday, October 29, 2015

This Halloween, why dress up as great company when you can BE one?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, I became concerned recently when our Virginia-based engineering division interviewed a CMMI appraiser from Maryland who said he would get us dressed up and looking like a great company, so we could pass the appraisal. Is that really useful for us? ~ Janet M.

Hey, Janet,

Is it useful for your CMMI consultant to make you look like something you’re not, rather than try to acquire a deep understanding of your business and help you do what it takes to truly be a great company? Your question is appropriate for this time of year. That’s one SCARY proposition!

No, it’s not useful.  But it's also not unusual that a so-called CMMI consultant would say something like this. We hear from companies all the time who call to say, “Hey, we need to look at CMMI certification because we’d like to bid on certain government contracts.”

I get that. I fully acknowledge many small and large engineering companies in Maryland, Virginia, Ohio, Michigan and elsewhere must achieve a CMMI Maturity Level in order to bid on work. In some cases, we’re talking about millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts. It's a business reality we all have to deal with.

But “looking like a great company” can’t be your only CMMI Appraiser’s goal – or you will not get the results you were hoping for.

Now, if your CMMI Appraiser was any good at what he does, he might have asked you “Why are you doing this to yourself?” That might have led to discussion about the possibilities of adopting CMMI as model to be a great company - not a model to get a plaque (we call this "plaque buildup"). Was that your experience?

I kinda doubt it.

One technique I often employ is to try to talk the sponsor out of having an appraisal altogether - just to see how important it really is to them and to understand how much they have thought it through. Sometimes, as it turns out, it isn't that important. Sometimes it's about greatness . . . as it should be.

See, a good CMMI Appraiser would know that learning about your company and how to make it better is the real goal – not achieving a level.

A good CMMI Appraiser would teach you to start to think like a great company. He or she would help you use the CMMI as a strategic weapon to help you attract and retain new customers.

A good CMMI Appraiser would help you set the right goals and objectives, and ask the right questions that keep you on the path to continuous improvement, where the real deals are won.

Unfortunately, too many CMMI professionals don't get this. Some are only interested in helping companies get a so-called CMMI certificate or achieve a CMMI Maturity Level. We call these companies "appraisal mills." They see no value in providing advice, strategy, and helping to ensure that you get the results you were hoping for.

The CMMI is so much more valuable and useful than that, Janet. It’s about things like how well you are running your engineering division in DC, Maryland, Virginia, or elsewhere, how well you are delivering products, and how happy your customers are.

It’s all about KNOWLEDGE, and nothing to do with dressing you up to look like something you’re not … even on Halloween.

Note: for those who are already see themselves as a great company, would you care to find out how you stack up against other great companies?

The CMMI Institute has just announced the 2016 Capability Challenge, and they are currently accepting participants. Contestants will be asked to tell their capability improvement story – the story of how they became a great company.  Through a series of short webinars, voters will pick the best stories, with finalists being featured prominently at the annual “Capability Counts” conference.  

Click here to take the 2016 Capability Challenge!

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 running a successful CMMI program.

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