Archive for the ‘Appraisal’ Category

CMMI On One Leg

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

I’m not sure, but I’m told some famous guy back in Biblical liturgy was once asked to explain the point of the Pentateuch (aka, the Torah, aka, The Five Books of Moses) while "standing on one leg".  

I now undertake a task, possibly no less daunting, regarding CMMI.  And, if there ever were anyone more appropriate to try it, I doubt I’ve met them.

Seriously though, much has been written here and many other places (not to mention eons of conference and user group content) about a number of "universal truths" about CMMI.  Let’s get these out there first, but without dwelling on them:

  • There are no "processes" in CMMI, only practices, and there’s a difference.
  • The practices in CMMI are "what" but not "how".
  • These practices are use to improve your processes, not to define them.
  • The CMMI does not require the SCAMPI appraisal to be effective.  You can use CMMI to improve your operation without ever using the SCAMPI to appraise your use of CMMI.
  • 42.  OK.  Not really.

However, not a single one of these "truths" explain the point of CMMI, or,  how to actually use CMMI.  So, here it goes:

Each one of the practices in CMMI improves some aspect of your organization’s performance resulting from how you do your work.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s providing a service or developing a product.  And, it doesn’t matter whether you do so using so-called traditional development methods or Agile approaches.  If you have performance issues in an area of your operation (called, "Process Areas" in CMMI), Check each of the practices in that area for activities in your operation that might be causing those performance issues. 

It’s assumed, then, if you don’t have any issues covered by a practice then you don’t need to do anything about a practice, because you’re already doing it.  This says nothing of how well you do it, why you do it, how you do it, whether you recognize that you do it, or whether the fact that you do it is a complete coincidental freak of nature, but, if you read a practice, understand the risk it avoids, and you don’t encounter that risk, you’re somehow performing that practice.  Pretty simple.

I’ll repeat and summarize that two-step thought experiment:

  1. Look in the process areas for practices that address performance issues you’re experiencing with the operation of your work.  When you encounter a practice (or more than one), the absence of which can explain why you’re seeing those issues, make appropriate changes to your operation so that you incorporate that/those practice(s) into your operation.  Rinse and repeat.
  2. Practices that don’t represent risks or issues you’re not seeing are (pretty much, by definition) practices you’re somehow managing to accomplish.  Don’t bother with them — unless you notice that you don’t like something about how you do it, but that’s a different priority/matter.

Keep in mind, this says nothing of

  • whether what you do/don’t do will suffice as "evidence" for an appraisal
  • how well you perform the practices (regardless of whether or not you perform them or believe you can use them to improve),
  • what it takes to incorporate practices or make change, in general, happen in your operation,
  • whether an appraisal team will concur with whether you do/don’t perform practices, or
  • you interpret practices in constructive ways.

Nonetheless, if you internalize the significance of the above 2 steps, you can (I dare say, "will") save yourselves a lot of time and grief when using CMMI.  This approach can certainly help you prioritize the practices for which to focus on, appraisal or not.  And, if you do take this approach towards preparation for an appraisal, keep in mind the bulleted caveats and don’t try this alone.

You’ve got processes, but . . .

Friday, September 23rd, 2011

A friend who consults in program, project and risk management (typically to parachute-in and save wayward technology projects) is working with a client whose project is dreadfully behind schedule and over budget, and, not surprisingly, has yet to deliver anything the end-client or their users can put their hands on.  It doesn’t help that his client isn’t actually known for being technology heroes.  In fact, this is not the first time his client has tried to get this project off the ground.

Looking everywhere but in the mirror, my buddy’s client decided to have the developer put under a microscope.  After all, reasoned the client, they hired the developer on, among other attributes, touts that they were rated at CMMI Maturity Level 3!  So, they had the developer and the product undergo a series of evaluations (read: witch hunts) including a SCAMPI (CMMI) appraisal.  Sadly, this tactic isn’t unusual.

Afterwards, trying to help his client make sense of the results, my pal asked me to review the report of the appraisal which was fairly and (more or less) accurately performed by someone else (not us).  The appraisal was quite detailed and revealed something very interesting.

Lo-and-behold, the company had processes!

However, the development organization nonetheless failed to demonstrate the necessary performance of the Maturity Level 3 (ML3) practices they were claiming they operated with!  In other words, they had processes, but they were still not ML3!  In fact, they weren’t even Maturity Level 2 (ML2)!

How could this be?

While the details bore some very acute issues, what was more interesting were the general observations easily discernable from far away and with little additional digging.  The appraisal company created a colorful chart depicting the performance of each of the practices in all of ML3.  And, as I noted, there were important practices in particular areas with issues that would have precluded the achievement of ML2 or ML3; but, what was more interesting were the practices that were consistently poor, in all areas as well as the practices that were consistently strong in all areas.

One thing was very obvious: the organization, did, in fact, have many processes.  Most of the processes one would expect to see from a CMMI ML3 operation.  And, according to the report, they even had tangible examples of planning and using their practices.

What could possibly be going on here?

Seems awfully much like the development group had and used processes.  How could they not rate better than Maturity Level 1 (ML1)?!  Setting aside the specific gaps in some practices that would have sunk their ability to demonstrate anything higher than ML1 – because this isn’t where the interesting stuff shows up, and, because even were these practices performed, they still would have rated under ML2 – what the report’s colorful depiction communicated was something far harder to address than specific gaps.  The developers’ organization was using CMMI incorrectly.  A topic I cover at least in the following posts: here and here.

In particular, they were using CMMI to “comply” with their processes but not to improve their processes.  And, *that* is what caused them to fall far short of their acclaimed CMMI ML3.

How could I tell?

Because of where the practices were consistently good and where they were consistently gap-worthy.

I was reviewing the report with my friend on the phone.  As I was doing so he commented, “Wow!  You’re reading that table like a radiologist reads an X-ray!  That’s very cool!”  The story the chart told me was that despite having processes, and policies, and managing requirements and so on, the company habitually failed to:

track and measure the execution of their processes to ensure that the processes actually were followed-through as expected from a time and resource perspective,

objectively evaluate that the processes were being followed, were working, and were producing the expected results, and

perform retrospectives on what they could learn from the measurements (they weren’t taking) and evaluations (they weren’t doing) of the processes they used.

It was quite clear.

So, here’s the point of today’s post… it’s a crystal clear example of why CMMI is not about process compliance and how it shows up.  There are practices in CMMI that definitely help an organization perform better.  But, if the practices that are there to ensure that the processes are working and the lessons are being learned aren’t performed, then the entire point to following a process has been lost.  In Shewart’s cycle, this would be akin to doing P & D without C & A.

The only chance of anything that way is compliance.  There’s no chance for improvement that way except by accident. 

CMMI is not about “improvement by accident”.  (Neither is Agile for that matter.)

Interestingly enough, while there were clearly issues with the developer’s commitment to improvement, there may not necessarily have been any clear issues with either the product or the results of their processes.  While the experience may not have been pleasant for the developer, I don’t know that by buddy’s client can say to have found a smoking gun in their supplier’s hands.  Maybe what the client needs is a dose of improving how they buy technology services – which they might find in CMMI for Acquisition.

SEPG North America – Tutorial Day

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

So today started out with a bus ride from the hotel to the Savannah International Trade and Convention Center rather than the expected ferry ride over the river.  A container ship in the port managed to get damaged and leaked fuel into the Savannah River on Sunday immediately closing the river to non-clean-up traffic, including the otherwise convenient cross-river ferry.

Be that as it may, the bus ride gave me an opportunity to connect with Michele Moss from Booz-Allen, Hamilton.  A kindred spirit in things related to "the future of process".  She and I had plans to meet anyway some time today to discuss ideas about "bringing ‘younger people’ into the field" and a related topic, addressing modern-day issues such as cyber, agile and value as these concerns are manifested in processes and process improvement.

First order of the day after registration was to co-create what I perceived as a rather successful (and well-attended) tutorial with Judah Mogilensky on a tailoring for SCAMPI appraisals that increases efficiency, collaboration, and reduces time and cost, we called "One-Stop Shopping".  Immediately following, Michele and I met with Bob Rosenstein, the events and conferences manager at SEI.  David Anderson, just arriving to the venue, was a very beneficial addition to the discussion, conveying his experience with creating communities and conferences specific to a community such as his LSSCDana Hanzlik and Danny Pipitone from SEI’s PR group also sat in on the conversation.  About the only definitive expectation to come out of this meeting (other than our commitment to come to the retrospective with with data from the Peer-to-Peer), was that SEI will be open to more closely tying into other gatherings.  Not bad since we had no expectations going in, and, even if we had, it wouldn’t have been reasonable to have expected any commitments.

Much came up in just under an hour with Bob.  We’re planning to include bits of this topic in our end-of-conference committee retrospective on Thursday.  Part of what will feed into that retrospective will be a Peer-to-Peer session on Wednesday afternoon that Michele and I will be co-creating and was planned with David’s help.  Our Peer-to-Peer is being billed as, "Where do we go from here? Value, Agile, Cyber, and all things Future Processes."

The mind-map of the problem-space was really intriguing.  This will not be an easy matter.

After a conference lunch with David and Michele, we split up and I attended the invitation-only advanced overview of the changes to "high maturity" to CMMI v1.3.  Good stuff, really.  Way too geek for here.

After getting as much as I cared to get from the high maturity campfire (which coincided with the moment I sensed my lunch moved far enough down my digestive tract to make room (literally) for a run) I decided to go back to my hotel to squeeze a run in before the evening gorge-fest that includes the opening of the trade-show floor, a board meeting, and later, a surprise opportunity to attend a special reception, all of which were to include food (and in order of continually improving quality at that).

Before I could get back across the river, I nabbed an opportunity to comment on a frequent occurrence here, on the Savannah River:

Several lovely hours later of socializing (albeit, mostly work-related) I’m back at the room planning my day ahead.