Sunday, December 30, 2018

Why do CMMI Appraisal costs vary so widely?

"Your price is 120% higher than the last guy that was in here!" the potential client cried, "what's up with that?  Shouldn't a SCAMPI A be the same from each Lead Appraiser?  I mean, IT'S A STANDARD for heaven's sake!"

Not being my first rodeo, or nearly the first time I'd heard someone say this, I just sat back, smiled, and asked her " What are you trying to accomplish, really?  I'm not talking about the 'level," I mean what are you really trying to do here?"

That caught her a little off guard.  "What do you mean, 'accomplish?'  None of the other guys asked me that.  They just gave me a price."

Ah ha.....

There are a lot of reasons for differences in pricing.  Quality of service, obviously, is one.  Experience.  Credibility. Timing, size, and most importantly, business goals.  That last one is a little harder to predict.

"But I thought my business goal was to get ML3?" my potential (and future) client stammered.  "My boss told me I needed to get it by the end of the year or else I wouldn't get my bonus."  The poor lady seemed pretty frustrated with me, and appeared as if she was about to throw me out and hire the cheap guy from Appraisals-R-Us.

"Why do you think your boss wants you to get this? I asked.

"So we can bid on government work!" She answered.

"And the government wants you to be CMMI ML3 because.....?" I quickly added.

"uhhhh.  I'm not sure, It's just an RFP requirement" she replied.

"Look,  I'm sure the government's reason for asking you to do this has nothing to do with yet another plaque on your wall in the lobby ('Plaque Buildup'), but has EVERYTHING to do with ensuring that your company can handle what's about to happen should you win one of those sweet IDIQs.  They want to make sure your process systems can handle the stress, and deliver results."

"OK," she said. "But how does creating a bunch or process and documents help me do that?"

BINGO!  They don't!

They only help you pass an appraisal (maybe), but it's not nearly enough.  For true performance improvement, you need an expert in BOTH CMMI and Performance on your side.    The appraisal itself is perfunctory - a single event, a moment in time, a gate to get through.  The harder, more valuable stuff comes long before the appraisal.  But the time the appraisal comes you should have already won.

It's kind of like that movie "Rocky."  You could have  skipped right to the fight with no manager (which Rocky considered), participate in the fight, and get beaten badly (worse than he was!).  Or you could be more like the famed "Italian Stallion," who took his training to heart, made the hard choices, ran all his steps, and savored victory while bounding up the steps of the Philadelphia Library and doing his victory dance.

He had already won by that point!  We knew the rest.

Image result for RockyAnd that's what you need to do with CMMI.  Work with someone who will take you to victory long before the appraisal event occurs.  The appraisal should be a non-event for you, not something you prepare for.  It should be more "bring it on" than "I hope we pass!"  "Passing" should never be part of your aspiration or goal - greatness should be.  Of course you're going to pass - you're now an awesome company!

There are some Lead Appraisers who don't get this - too many, actually.  They're satisfied to leave it to you, just conduct an appraisal, give you a certificate, and walk away without providing any valuable advice or insights.  But a great Lead Appraiser is an advisor and counselor, as well as a mentor, coach, and teacher who knows that the path to greatness lies on the far side of innovation, hard work, and discipline - and has the ideas you need to make it happen.

Don't waste your time with someone who doesn't get that.   That's WHY they're so cheap.

By the way, here's what to look for in a great Lead Appraiser:

- Has proven Experience
- Understands your methods, tools, and domain
- Understands your business
- Is comfortable interacting with Senior Management, as well as all levels of the company
- Freely offers ideas and techniques for improving working conditions and processes
- Is a teacher, coach, and mentor - not just a "consultant" who tells you what they think you should do
- Takes time to brainstorm ideas and solutions to your biggest problems
- Offers other valuable insight and ideas for business problems you are having

Best of luck to all of you, and here's to a great 2019!

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Dear Readers: My new book, Great Big Agile: An OS for Agile Leaders is out, and you can get it on Amazon!  Here, just for you, is a totally free sample!  If you like this, please go to and get your own, personal copy.  If you bring it to a conference where I am speaking or attending, I'll be happy to sign it for you!

Preface: Great Big Agile

I wasn’t always a technologist.  In fact, I was the furthest thing from it.

My childhood was a little different than most of my friends.  By eight years old, I was touring in our family’s music group, joining my parents and three siblings as the bassist for the Dalton Family Singers, a traditional American Folk Music group that performed up and down the North American eastern seaboard from 1968 to well into the 1980s.  It was so “normal” for me that I used to ask my friends where their family was touring this summer!  The “Singers” was my father’s brainchild, who reasoned that a family music group was the perfect incubator for his musical children, and also an opportunity to practice and demonstrate to us the entrepreneurship required to run a successful entertainment franchise in a crowded market.  Before the internet and Twitter there was my Dad with his Typewriter, press releases and corded phone.

Following those years I attended formal music school, first at the internationally recognized Interlochen Arts Academy, and then the Peabody Conservatory of Music in Baltimore (now part of Johns Hopkins University).  I cut my studies short at Peabody to spend the next decade honing my craft as a concert double bassist with orchestras in Spain, Mexico, and the United States.

What did I learn during those years?  Craftsmanship.  Discipline.  Collaboration.  Transparency.  Perfection.  Persistaece.  Ceremony.  Value.  And also how to self-subscribe and commit to excellence while working together with over one-hundred other artist under the direction of a conductor to create some of the most sublime music known to mankind.  It’s a pretty good model for agility.

The other important thing I learned was the art of the retrospective.  Notthe standard retrospective we usually see in the typical agile teams, one of “what went well, what didn’t, and what could we do better” with some people participating, and some grumbling a few perfunctory comments, but a comprehensive and sometimes brutal process that kept many music students up at night – known as “Juries.” A CEO friend of mine, who also happens to be a musician and a visual artist himself, told me a story about his juries while attending art school in Pittsburgh.  I recollect it went something like this:

“Juries in Art school are brutal! They start right away during your freshman year don’t stop until you’re done.  Both your teachers and fellow students critique your work in public, and most of them don’t hold back!  Those were tough times, but their real value is that you get used to the criticism, and your aversion to being evaluated melts away before long, letting you really focus on what’s important – getting better!  You also make sure that your next jury is as perfect as it can be!”

In the art world, where most of us aren’t Mozart or Salvatore Dali, we know that the capability to be creative and innovative only comes after the hard work has been done.  Not until the scales have been perfected, the arpeggios have been practiced until the fingers bleed, the concertos have been memorized, the music theory classes have been completed, and the performances have exceed the pre-requisite ten-thousand hours, can we break the rules, experiment, innovate at a world class level.  Only after we stop thinking about the process can we create something new, innovative, and exciting.  Agile isn’t any different.  In many ways embracing agile requires the same commitment as a career in music or art – where rigor and discipline are paramount, not just coding.

If this sounds like a systemic program to build a solid foundation for quality and early defect detection, while embracing a culture of excellence for continued high performance, it’s because that’s exactly what it is  In fact, trained musicians, artists, and dancers entering the technology workforce have a significant advantage over new engineers and software developers who don’t have this experience,– and it’s the reason we often here that “musicians make good coders.”  It’s not because “music is math,” by the way, it’s the culture.

The first development team I ever led was building solutions for the international retail market, and we were creating world’s first touch-screen point-of-sale system. My second official act, after helping the team to establish much needed discipline around coding standards,  was to implement “juries:” public, collaborative, and transparent code reviews with the code projected larger than life on a ten-foot screen with the entire team in attendance.  Team members were asked to present, and defend, their design and coding decisions.  At first the team resisted with all their might – and who wouldn’t?  It was nerve wracking, uncomfortable, and stressful.  But by the second month of doing weekly reviews, the code quality went up dramatically and the team went from combative and defensive individuals to an innovative, transparent, and collaborative team.   This was 1994 – long before “agile” and values were in the headlines.

My journey from musician, to software engineer, to CEO has been one of many twists and turns, but the most important concept I’ve learned to harness along the way was “innovation lies on the far side of rigor.”   While we all believe ourselves to be innovative and creative, few of us are able to commit to the discipline to make ourselves world class performers.  But the proven lessons from music can help us get there.

This idea of foundational craftsmanship and relentless improvement found in the music industry can and should extend to the parallel universe of software development, where adoption of agile values and frameworks are akin to music theory and were designed specifically to foster innovation, experimentation, and continuous learning. So far this level of performance has mostly eluded very large organizations in the government and private sector who want to “go agile,” but adoption of agile values along with an operating system for agile leadership can help.

But all is not well in the Land of Agile either. Many large adopters are struggling to achieve the results they expected, team members are often uncomfortable with the ambiguity inherent in agile projects, line managers don’t know how to lead in a high-trust self-organizing teams, and business customers complain that they have to spend too much time working on the project without getting the return on investment they were promised.  In some cases, CIO’s are finding it so complicated that they are now forbidding the use of Agile altogether!  But, in every leading magazine, from Harvard Business Review to the Cutter IT Business Journal to CIO, and in every major survey, including Version One’s “State of Agile Survey,” we learn that the responsibly of these, and other issues related to limited success with large-scale agile adoption, rests squarely on the shoulders of leadership.  My own observations from over two-hundred agile assessments confirm this.  While leaders are telling their teams to “be agile,” they are not themselves adopting, practicing, and projecting agile values.  This creates an organizational type mismatch where leaders are practicing their hard-earned command-and-control techniques, and teams are trying to self-organize in what is inevitably a low-trust environment.  If you were a leader who spent their entire career learning to navigate in a low-trust environment, would you give it up that easily? This leads to chaos. 

                     I am lucky enough in my work to collaborate with some of the greatest agile  organizations in the world in my role as Chief Evangelist for, a research and development organization who’s focus is on performance models and assessment methods for large agile organizations.  Through that work I have observed that:

Agile ceremonies often devolve into “water-scrum-fall” with scrum masters tasking team     
members, sprint durations changing based on workload, team members moving in and out
of teams, and story points being normalized between teams as hours.

  •  Leaders continue to resist high-trust, self-organizing values 
  • Product Owners are often “IT surrogates,” negating the value of the business owning the risk and ROI of the product.
  • Retrospectives are rarely conducted beyond the individual agile team community 
  • Team members and leaders are not sufficiently trained in the rigor and discipline of agile ceremonies
  •  Leader don’t know what “agile looks like,” and are unable to verify that teams are embracing agile values, ceremonies and techniques in a way that makes sense for the business. 
  • Traditional, often punitive metics are still being used, adding little value to the organization. 
  •  Teams and leaders often “experiment” their way into chaos by eliminating or severely distorting the intention of the ceremony or technique they are using

I was inspired to write this book while thinking of my experience as a professional musician, and how it informed and affected my own performance and thirty-year technology journey that started as software developer, and then rapidly moved to project manager, architect, Chief Technology Officer, Director of Product Development, VP of Global Consulting, CIO, and finally CEO of two of my own technology companies. 

I wanted to provide agile leaders with those lessons in an illustrated guide that defines objectives, outcomes, and actions needed to successfully lead large-scale agile organizations. The resulting model, the Agile Performance Holarchy, is an implementation guide to bring solid Craftsmanship, Discipline, Collaboration, Transparency, Perfection, Persistence, Ceremony, and Value to your organization.

So join me in reviewing the scales, arpeggios, and concertos, and building a foundation of discipline and rigor in order to establish a sustainable and high performing agile organization.

This book is about my own journey to excellence – I hope it helps you too!

You've been reading a sample from Great Big Agile by Jeff Dalton. If you like what you read, you can purchase Great Big Agile: An OS for Agile Leaders on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or directly from the publisher at

Thank you for reading!


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Happy New CMMI Year!

Dear Readers,

The New Year will bring many new CMMI opportunities for engineering and software leaders and professionals, and this CMMI Appraiser is excited to help you take advantage of it all! Whether you need training in the new CMMI 2.0, CMMI v1.3, or Agile/CMMI integration, feel free to check out our slate of popular CMMI and Agile classes in 2019.

See more info below! 

Class Title: Introduction to CMMI-DEV v1.3

Location: Washington, DC area
Date: February 19-21, 2019

Class Title: CMMI V2.0 Instructor Led One-day Upgrade Class

Location: Washington, DC area
Date: February 22, 2019

Class Title: CMMI-DEV V2.0

Location: Washington, DC area
Date: April 1-3, 2019

Class Title: Agile/CMMI Integration Workshop

Location: Washington, DC area
Date: April 4-5, 2019

See you in class!

Like this blog? Forward to your nearest engineering or software exec!

Jeff Dalton is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, Certified CMMI Instructor, Certified Agile Assessor, author, keynote speaker, and consultant with years of real-world experience with the CMMI in all types of organizations. Jeff has taught thousands of students in CMMI training classes and has received an aggregate satisfaction score of 4.97 out of 5 from his students. His new book, Great Big Agile: an OS for Agile Leaders (© 2018), is now available on Amazon.

Visit for more information about engineering strategy, performance innovation, software process improvement and running a successful CMMI program.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Big Agile Requires Strong Leadership: Just Not The Kind You're Used To

By: Jeff Dalton

Everywhere we look, including every CMMI and Agile appraisal I’ve done in the last decade, technology leaders in large companies are asking about scaling agility. 

But it’s the wrong question. They should be asking how to scale self-organization.

For centuries business has been led using a proven hierarchical, low-trust, command-and-control model that has its roots in the successful Roman military machine, and is still taught today in MBA programs from Cambridge to Ann Arbor.  It’s a model that is in professional DNA, and self-organization, a foundational characteristic of agility, is absent.

In recent years, many businesses have been attempting to transition from traditional hierarchies to self-organizing models based on the  “rules of nature,” a system that more closely resembles the controlled chaos of the natural world.  They start with the premise that humans naturally demonstrate certain behavior patterns, and it makes sense to leverage these, rather than re-program them to fit into more traditional hierarchical models.  Agile frameworks like Scrum,  as well as self-organizing performance models like the Agile Performance Holarchy, are good examples of this.  

These models invert the hierarchy, transforming leaders into stewards of the a self-organizing behavioral architecture,  with team roles and accountabilities dispersed throughout the organization in a way that allows people go about the messy process of self-organization and improved performance. In an agile world, team members are empowered to make important decisions within the context of the behavioral architecture without having to ask permission from a supervisor or manager.

But don’t expect all mangers, or the schools where MBA students who are eager to lead are graduating, to come along willingly.  To ask them to change is to ask them to transform themselves after a lifetime of learning how to succeed in a hierarchical world.  This might have been best articulated by Benjamin Disreaeli, who upon becoming the Prime Minister of the UK said “I have climbed to the top of a greasy pole!.”  Indeed.
Why Agile Matters

According to the CMMI Institute, over seventy percent of organizations who have achieved a CMMI rating in the last three years describe at least some of their projects as  “agile.”  This is a dramatic increase over previous years that has deep-rooted cultural and operational implications.  There are good reasons for leaders to transition to self-organizing models, but significant cultural change, especially among leaders, will need to take place to ensure success.

Agile frameworks reduce the cost of failure. It is conventional wisdom in the technology industry that failure is inevitable, with many companies seeing failure rates as high as 70 percent.  Research conducted by organizations such as the Project Management Institute and the Software Engineering Institute has consistently confirmed high failure rates, so it makes sense to seek solutions that assume failure, not success, and to simply reduce its cost.   All agile frameworks, with their incremental and iterative development model, support the idea of “fail-fast.”

Failure is not just an option; it’s a requirement. A foundational premise of agile is to acknowledge that failure is normal, and we should plan to fail fast and learn as much as we can.  This reduces a project’s cost while allowing teams to redirect efforts toward a more successful approach through the use of experimentation, retrospectives, and short, timeboxed iterations. Quality professionals will recognize this as an application of W. Edwards Deming’s “plan-do-check-act” framework of continuous improvement applied in short iterations.

Agile methods deliver business value to end-users more quickly. Value is delivered more quickly with an iterative and incremental delivery approach due to low-value features being de-prioritized or discarded, freeing up valuable resources to focus on the high-priority needs of the customer.

Self-organization pushes decision-making downward, freeing leaders to focus on strategy. For decades, the technology industry has explored ways to push decisions downward. Agile frameworks finally provide a model that can make that a reality, if only leaders are willing to accept their role as enablers rather than task managers. A successful agile team requires minimal over- sight, makes day-to-day operational decisions, collaborates with business customers, and delivers business value without the need for continuous management intervention.

Agile complements important IT industry models. If CMMI®, ISO 9001, and the PMBOK® Guide are models we use, agile is something we are. For example, CMMI has a perspective of defining what needs to occur for a product or service to be successfully and consistently deliver, and to improve the process,  while agile values describe why we take those actions. If adopted in this way, rather as only a marketing tool to receive a rating, CMMI makes agile stronger.

Big Agile is Coming

Since 2016, General Motors, the Department of Defense, Health and Human Services, Fiat Chrysler, and other large companies have begun to adopt agile within their software organizations, and along with their combined $100 Billion IT budgets they are bringing their biases, bureaucracies, documentation, and leadership infrastructure with them.  What will be the effect on the agile community?

“Big Agile” requires leadership at all levels, just not the kind we are used to. Simply working with an agile coach to implement well-known ceremonies is not enough. Metaphorically, the leadership “operating system” needs an upgrade.

In today’s corporate hierarchies where command-and-control structures, low trust, long-term planning, and risk management reign supreme, the skills required to thrive and survive are anything but agile. This leaves agile teams to push the culture uphill, leading to unpredictable results once business operations expand beyond the boundaries of the core agile team. This creates a “cultural type-mismatch”  due to information technology, operations, marketing, infrastructure, business development, sales, and end-users not being on the same cultural page.

Performing agile ceremonies and techniques without self-organization isn’t agile at all. There is nothing inherently wrong with adopting ceremonies and techniques identified as being agile, and many companies have found some success with that, but the power of agile values and their associated frameworks grows exponentially once self-organization is perfected.

What to do about it?

Tomorrow’s leaders, and the schools and corporate mentoring programs that train them, will need to transition their mission from that of command-and-control task manager to one of an architect and operator of a self-organizing infrastructure.  This includes changes in culture, training, and performance monitoring with a bias towards high-trust, peer accountability and self-governance.  Two models that can help new leaders prepare for the future are the Capability Maturity Model Integration V2.0 ® and the Agile Performance Holarchy (APH).
CMMI V2.0 provides guidance for leaders to consider while implementing improvements to organizational process systems, and currently contains twenty Practice Areas, with three that specifically apply to solving this problem: Governance (GOV), Process Management (PCM), and Implementation Infrastructure (II).  These three Practices Areas each contain practices that can help leaders formulate a plan, as well as develop and deploy a system, for a new, self-organizing operating model. 

The Agile Performance Holarchy is a leadership model that provides a definition of a self-organizing agile architecture, with objectives, desired outcomes, and set of behavioral guiderails for agile leaders and teams seeking to master self-organization and large-scale agility.  The APH currently contains six Performance Circles that address Leadership, Craftsmanship, Providing Infrastructure, Affirming Quality, Teaming, and Envisioning Solutions.

Culture Needs to Change

An “Agile Transformation” where the scope is hiring an agile coach, and the adoption of basic ceremonies or techniques, is doomed to failure.  Agile isn’t a process or a framework like scrum, XP, or SAFe.  It’s a collaborative, transparent, and self-organizing culture where the operational model is high-trust, empirical, and calibrated for relentless improvement in the pursuit of high quality and increased speed to value. 
Jim Bouchard, author of The Sensei Leader, sums it up for leaders: “Don’t even attempt to transform your organization until you can transform yourself.”

Jeff Dalton is CEO of Broadsword Solutions Corporation.  He is a Certified SCAMPI Lead Appraiser, CMMI Instructor, Certified Agile Assessor, author, and keynote speaker.  His new book, Great Big Agile: an OS for Agile Leaders  (© 2018), is now available on Amazon.