Friday, December 11, 2015

What’s the best approach to process improvement?

Hey, CMMI appraiser, we’re considering adopting CMMI for process improvement, and my boss suggested that we need a CMMI consultant to tell us what to do.  Can you tell us, in your experience as a Lead Appraiser, what’s the best approach to process improvement?  We’re a mid-sized IT company using agile methods. Thanks ~ Tooley C.

Hey, Tooley,

Please tell your boss that it really won’t help for your CMMI consultant to tell you what you should do—that’s not even part of what we do.  We also don’t write a process for you.  It’s not even our responsibility to get you to write a process and propose one and deploy it, although that is useful. No the lasting value any CMMI consultant brings is teaching you to clear your biggest hurdle.

So what’s your biggest hurdle in a successful process improvement program?

For most companies, the biggest hurdle is how you deploy process improvement to the community. In other words, how you get people to embrace it and use it.

The approach my company Broadsword uses has been very successful.  It is an iterative and incremental approach we call agileCMMI, our branded approach.  Here’s how it works:
agileCMMI uses agile methods such as incremental delivery, continuous build, collaboration, etc. It applies the same techniques we use when writing software to deploy process and get people to embrace process.

The purpose of agileCMMI is to help organizations embrace processes successfully.  agileCMMI is an incremental method where we deploy small components of the process in releases over time. For example, we might release two or three sub-processes and test it out, and then once the company has embraced those small, easy to digest, useful things, we’ll give them another set of small, digestible, useful things.

We plan it all out in advance.  You are getting appropriate pieces at the appropriate times. And the reason it works is that’s how we learn. We learn as human beings by digesting things in very small pieces. So when you look at so many process implementations that have failed, you see some commonalities.  Typically the company tried to throw a big binder or a big website at all their employees and said, “This is going to be your new process.”  They were trying to get them to eat an elephant in one bite.

agileCMMI goes about this differently.  We're not going to force you to do anything.  We’re giving people very small components to start working with.  We'll keep feeding them those small bites over time until they have their complete process suite and their process improvement architecture and their methodology and everything they need will be implemented.  Sometimes this will take months.

During that time, you get these things in small, right-sized pieces, so that you can understand them, can put them in context.  Then you can start to embrace them and use them successfully.
Embracing the process is key to overall success.  After all, the best process in the world is useless if you can’t get people to actually embrace it and adopt it.  And until they embrace it and adopt it, you don’t even know if the process you developed is even useful.

That's what agileCMMI is all about, and that's why I would say it is the best approach to process improvement we've used.  It's how we learn.  It’s how we clear our biggest hurdles.

To learn more about combining agile and CMMI, check out our upcoming FREE webinars:

Monday, 12/14: “All About CMMI” -- This is a great place to start. Find out EVERYTHING you need to know about CMMI by signing up for the introductory webinar.

Tuesday, 12/15: “Agile Transformation” – Learn to take advantage of Agile for a lighter, leaner approach to solving business problems incrementally and iteratively.  Check it out!

Wednesday, 12/16: “Scaling and Strengthening Agile" -- By participating in this webinar, you'll come away with an understanding of the work that needs to be done to strengthen Agile in a way that makes sense for your organization, while staying true to Agile methods.

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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