Thursday, January 27, 2011

We like our consultant, and want him to be our Lead Appraiser - but isn't this a conflict of interest?

We’ve been working with a consultant who is also a Lead Appraiser.  We’d like to use him for our appraisals since he knows our organization so well.  My boss is challenging the decision saying that an audit performed by our consultant wouldn’t be objective.  What are the rules on this?

As the folks at the SEI are so fond of saying . . . it depends!  Specifically it depends on what you mean by “consulting.”

There is a lot of hyperbole on this subject - with lots of so-called "experts" weighing in.  Here's the answer.

The SEI takes conflict of interest very seriously and the Lead Appraiser’s Professional Code of Conduct requires us to report any real or perceived conflict of interest for every appraisal we conduct.   As part of their QA Process the SEI reserves the right to further investigate any conflicts (or anything else for that matter) to ensure that appropriate behaviors were exhibited.  This makes sense.

So, on the face of that very limited information, it would seem that a consultant might have a conflict of interest.

However, and this is a big HOWEVER (so wake up and pay attention!), not all consulting is the same, and the “type” of consulting you’re asking about matters if we really want to answer the question accurately (and be fair to both you and your potential Lead Appraiser).

Rant begins.....

I like to tell my clients that I don’t do anything.  Yes, I literally tell them “I don’t do anything!”  So why do they keep hiring me?  Why have I had ten banner years in a row with some of the biggest names in the industry?  Simple.  I really don’t do anything. Well, I do advise them on how to be better process engineers (I’m kind of like BASF . . . I don’t make Processes, but I help you make Processes better…).  I help them make complex decisions, tell them where the roadblocks might be, how much things might cost, help them to communicate their objectives, and so forth.  So I guess I do something, just not what you might expect a “process consultant” to do.

Rant continues….

Everyone and his brother claims to be a consultant these days.  But being a consultant means more than being in independent performer.  And being a professional consultant means helping clients succeed by helping them help themselves. (and not leaving too many fingerprints behind…).  If you write processes, perform QA Audits, or code and run test scripts, you’re not a consultant – you’re a contractor.  Sorry.

Many, many contractors believe they’re consultants.  So many make this claim that clients now call contractors “consultants” – but most of the time they’re not.  This further confuses the conflict of interest discussion.

Now back to your question…..

So, if you “consultant” is also your “process guy” – if he writes process descriptions, does the QA, runs your SEPG, or especially “prepares” your teams for appraisals (or anything that looks, feels, or smells like that), then no, it’s probably not appropriate to use him or her as your Lead Appraiser.

But if he or she guides you towards becoming a better process engineer, helps you understand the CMMI better, suggests what training you should take, gives you tips on being a better communicator, how to run your SEPG, facilitates some workshops, and generally helps you down the “Path to Greatness” where YOU decide what your processes and measures should look like, then it may* not be a conflict of interest – but the Lead Appraiser should still document it in the appraisal plan. 

Just like anything else there are gray areas, so have an honest discussion with your Lead Appraiser about it.

One more thought.  Your boss used the work “Audit.”  A SCAMPI Appraisal is NOT an audit, it is an appraisal meant to identify strengths and weaknesses of your organization – which can be uncovered MUCH MORE EASILY if your Lead Appraiser knows a lot about your organization already.  Bringing in a Lead Appraiser “cold” is a recipe for waste and disaster and a huge, unnecessary, self-imposed risk.  Why would you do that?

After all, CMMI isn’t about “getting a level.”  It’s about collaborating with people to make your organization better.  Make it real.

* you may have noticed I've used the word "may" here several times.  This is because every situation is different and has to be evaluated in context.

What is a "Pre-Appraisal" and what are the rules?

Hey Appraiser!

Can you tell me something about the ‘pre appraisal’ requirements and restrictions?

I want to know the following specifically

  • What is the minimum required number of days that the appraiser himself needs to spend with the client company during the preappraisal
  • How are man-days different than normal working days when talking about the pre appraisal duration?
  • Does bringing more people from the appraiser for the pre appraisal work if the preappraisal days are reduced
  •  How many days a client can ask for from the appraiser , for the pre appraisal?

You say "Pre Appraisal" and I say "SCAMPI C!"  Sounds like a song.

There is no formal event in the CMMI world known as a "pre-appraisal" but that term is often used to describe a "gap analysis" or a "SCAMPI C" so I'll assume that's what you're referring to.

To answer your questions specifically:

- There is no minimum required days that the appraiser needs to send with the client company.  In order to do a thorough and professional job the appraiser should spend time talking with a large cross-section of your organization, select project that provide documentation for review, and to review the process documentation.  There should also be time for meeting with your executive sponsor and other key stakeholders

- man-days and "normal working days" should be the same.  Just remember that appraisals often required "pre-work" that is often done offsite, and "post-work" that is often done offsite as well.

- nine-women can't make a baby in one month, so more people from the appraiser's organization may not help.  There are SOME administrative things that can be shared by other people, but the LA still needs to see and speak with everyone, so it doesn't make much difference for a pre-appraisal.

- the LA and the client sponsor should collaborate on the amount of days required.  It all depends on the goals and objectives, the deliverables that have been agreed to, and the scope of the appraisal.  For me, a pre-appraisal is usually 2-3 days, but I have had them last as long as 5 days.

Good luck!

Can we skip steps from the CMMI for maintenance projects?

Dear Appraiser,

Our company has several projects that have been already developed. Now, our activity regarding those projects is corrective maintenance. We have defined a very complete process, since an issue on the incident is opened to the issue is closed. It passes through the following states: new, assigned, planned, agreed with client, developed, solved and closed.

My doubt is referred to small incidents, in which making the plan takes longer than solving them. We thought on defining a reduced process for incidents that can be solved in less than 8 hours. This process skips some steps from the complete one. Do you think it would be right? To what extend do we have to follow the standard defined processes in situations where its management becomes a bureaucracy?

Great question!

The CMMI is not a "standard process" but it is a set of guidelines for designing a SET of standard processes.  This means that you can have a set of processes for "new development" and a set of processes for "maintenance," and a set of process for . . . . . well, you get the idea.

All the CMMI really is is a set of reminders for us to do what's right for a given situation.  So, if it's new development, perhaps a detailed requirements spec is required, with a lot of oversight and review.  It it's maintenance, maybe it's a work order with very little oversight.  Both could be "CMMI compliant" but each would be unique to the needs of the organization using it.  It's "right-sized."

The "states" you’ve described are like "life cycle phases" on a development project and should be treated as such – just smaller.  The time to NOT follow a process is when it is only a "bureaucracy."  That is a good sign that the process doesn't "fit" for your project.  In that case, do something different!  

I don't think it's a matter of "skipping" as much as it is a matter of doing the "right thing" for a given type of work.  I would recommend you ask the company to provide you with a "lite process" for these types of work, but still one that accounts for all of the required steps.  It's easier than you think – simplify, simplify, simplify – and don't do ANYTHING because the "CMMI says so!"  Do it because it's good for business.

Good luck!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

As Engineers we make decisions all the time, why do we need a DAR Process?

Dear Appraiser,

Our Lead Appraiser is not satisfied with the way we make engineering decisions.  We've tried to tell him that we hire really good people that are really smart, and making good decisions is part of their job description.  What's wrong with this?  Why do we need some heavy process to manage what we already to really well?

Yes, really great people doing great things. . . .why have any process at all?  Boy, you ARE smart!

Many who read "Ask The CMMI Appraiser" have noted that I don't think much of the "advice" you get from some of their so-called consultants, but in this case I'm going to have to call you out.  Good people don't always make good decisions because there are many other factors that affect those decisions - like being overworked, underpaid, and not having the resources to do a quality job.  In other words, good people are human, and humans are fallible.

You're right about not needing a "heavy" process - none of your processes should be "heavy."  They should be useful.  But it's a false choice your presenting.  It's not "heavy or nothing."  Process lives along a continuum, and DAR is the perfect process area to make this point.

DAR is your friend, and it exists to ensure that your buddies and your management don't trash you and your decision after you make it.  It will reduce the chance that your decision won't cost the company millions in unexpected costs (and thereby putting you on 99 weeks of unemployment), and will ensure that whatever you've decided won't be turned around the minute you move up (or move out).

To illustrate the value of DAR in my classes I ask the students to write down the "3-Ds."  Durable,  Defendable, and Deliberate.

A decision is said to be Durable when it stands the test of time, outlasts the person making it, and stays the right decision long after it is made.

A decision is said to be Defendable when it can survive the inevitable sniping be detractors who are offended that they were not asked to make it, those trying to score a point by proving you wrong, or just boneheads in management that think "adding value" means to question every decision a  subordinate makes whether they understand it or not.

Finally, a decision is said to be Deliberate when (and this is ironic . . . ) a well-defined and executed ENGINEERING process is used to make it - thereby supporting the Durable and Defendable parts...

So that's why DAR is your friend, and a good process to use when you need to make any kind of important decision.

Oh, and by the way, smart is not a differentiator . . . most engineers are smart.  It's obviously not enough to be smart.  And using it as an excuse to not be even smarter, well, that's dumb.