Monday, January 11, 2016

Should we add a CMMI Maturity Level 2 or 3?

Hey, CMMI Appraiser, Our team is exhausted. We’ve got too many forms, meetings, reviews, and sign-offs. Our quality audits are heavy-handed, and there is far too much oversight. To reduce some of the chaos, should we add a CMMI Maturity Level 2 or 3? ~ Jim J.

Hey, Jim,

The CMMI is a performance improvement framework that you can use as a set of guidelines to reduce chaos and put your company on the path to greatness. But I would caution against using the word “add.” Going for a CMMI Maturity Rating, without understanding and applying the value of the Model, will only introduce more risk and chaos into the organization.

So how do you clear away the clutter and make your way onto the path of greatness?

A proper approach to the CMMI can do exactly that. A proper approach to adopting the Model helps you supercharge engineering performance, increase productivity, reduce risk, and do what you do, better. But you have to be willing to re-think the forms, meetings, reviews, sign-offs, and all the things that are bogging you down.

I talked about this recently during an interview on Blog Talk Radio with my friend Murali, who shared the perfect anecdote for this problem. He told the story of the sculptor who says, “It is easy to sculpt a lion out of a block of marble. I simply chip off all the marble I don’t want.”

We laughed, and I said the marble is analogous to what I call “Process Debt.”

Process Debt is the unintentional consequence of trying to “add a CMMI Maturity Level 2 or 3” without reaching for greatness. Examples of Process Debt include late projects, over budget projects, unhappy customers, unhappy employees, etc.  All bogged down and trapped in a block of marble.

The analogy applies to many different industries and disciplines. For example, one of my hobbies is recording music, and when I’m in the recording studio in my home, I think of the great recording artists, who say: “The secret to great music is not what you add, but what you take away.”

So many times, the secret to excellence is to NOT do things, instead of do things. Miss that, and you’ll cause all kinds of chaos to the business. And the nightmare doesn't end there. Process Debt crushes morale, damages creativity, and destroys any productivity gains you were hoping for. Some organizations carry so much weight that engineers can barely deliver a product.

That’s usually when my phone rings.

“Hey, CMMI Appraiser, we need a solution,” they say. “What should we add? What should we create?”

My advice is: Don’t create anything! Don’t add anything! STOP doing all these things that you’re doing. You are only piling up more Process Debt.

To fix this problem, I tell them, try taking the proper approach to the CMMI. Understand that CMMI is not about certificates, plaques, or achieving a Maturity Level 2 or 3 Rating. It’s not a test you need to pass. It’s not a rule book you need to follow. The CMMI doesn’t “make” you do anything – and if you are creating documents and processes to satisfy some CMMI appraiser – he or she is adding to your Process Debt. Fire that person immediately.

To find out how to have a successful CMMI adoption, and put your company on the path to greatness, check out our January 2016 schedule of CMMI and performance improvement webinars.

Click here for webinar calendar.

Good luck!

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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