Archive for the ‘Level-Chasing’ 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.

Forget CMMI!

Tuesday, November 15th, 2011

This is probably the most important blog entry I’ve ever posted.

The video is the longest video I’ve ever posted on the blog, and for that reason, I’ll keep the text content to a minimum. 

Here’s why you should watch the video:  CMMI may be entirely wrong for you, and you may not know it!

The video explains an epically crucial reality about CMMI that many agile (and other) teams are not aware of, leading them unknowingly down a path of self-defeat and damage.  All of which could be avoided with this one super-critical piece of knowledge.

You’ll thank me later.


The lure of seemingly limitless opportunities can be quite strong, obviously.  And, especially in tough economic times, succumbing to that lure can cause even the best of businesses to act unwisely.  Such is the lure of CMMI ratings.

Well, anything that’s very alluring can cause unwise behavior, I suppose.  Whether it’s as apparently harmless as indulging in a luscious dessert, spending money on unnecessary luxuries, or any of equally limitless opportunities to make bad choices, doing what we want instead of doing what’s right shows up even when working with CMMI.

This blog is full of examples of such bad CMMI choices, but there’s one bad choice I haven’t mentioned much about.  That’s the choice to even try to use CMMI.

When working with a knowledgeable, concerned, trustworthy CMMI consultant, an organization should be steered away from CMMI when their circumstance doesn’t align well with model-based improvement using CMMI.  In some cases, it may be a matter of steering towards the right CMMI constellation (e.g., for Development, or, for Services).  However, just as whether or not CMMI is right for an organization ought to be discovered before too much energy is put into it, so should the decision about a particular maturity level within the constellation.

No CMMI constellation should be attempted if/when the organization doesn’t control the work that it does.  Namely, that the work it does is controlled by another organization, such as a customer.  Or, put the other way, CMMI should only be used if/when the processes used by the people doing the work are controlled by the same organization using CMMI to improve them.

At Maturity Level 2 (ML2), almost any type of work can use the practices in that level to improve its performance and to demonstrate that the practices are in place.  However, at Maturity Level 3 (ML3), you have to be doing the type of work in the particular constellation in order to be able to use the practices in it.  If you’re not doing that type of work, the practices will be irrelevant.  Attempting to use the practices when there’s no such work being done will only cause the practices to get in the way and add nothing but frustration.

In particular, if you’re not doing work that involves structured engineering analysis, CMMI for Development at ML3 will be truly unwieldy.

Adding practices for work you’re not doing is an example of the bad behavior many organization exhibit when they’re chasing a level rating rather than hot on the trail of performance improvements.  It’s these sorts of behaviors that are somehow rationalized as being beneficial when, in fact, they are unequivocally, diametrically, and everything but beneficial.  They are a colossal waste of time and money and detrimental to morale and productivity.

You really need carve out about 11 minutes to watch the video.

A real "class act"

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

I learn so much from failure it’s hard to ignore the good that comes from it.

This week I parted company with a client long before their goals were reached.

Sadly, I knew from the start they would be a challenge and made the mistake of ignoring the warning signs.  Never again.  Honest!

This entry is as much for coaches and consultants as it is for teams, staff, management and leadership.

There are several tell-tale indicators of success and/or failure.  In our own ways and in their own contexts, experienced coaches and consultants know what these indicators are.  Well-rounded, experienced, and seasoned practitioners within companies know them too.  In fact, most people know them instinctively, somehow.  I can therefore safely say that whether it’s through experience or instinct, we all know many of the same indicators.  In fact, we can probably sum-up every indicator in one word: Attitude.

So, yes, Jeff Keller’s famous self-help book, "Attitude is Everything", applies as well.  In organizations, "attitude" is frequently interchangeable or encompassed by company "culture".  And yes, attitude is a derivative of culture.  But sometimes culture is harder to pinpoint than attitudes.  Attitude shows up in your interactions with the company from the very start of your prospecting dance.

Here are some attitudes you may encounter and whether or not they spell greater odds of success or failure:

Failure-prone attitudes:

  • Hassling about price/cost/time but expecting the same scope and performance outcomes.
  • Focusing on deadlines and schedules instead of real results.
  • Not owning the work and expecting off-site outsiders to invent working approaches.
  • Shallow goals that aren’t S.M.A.R.T.
  • Mistaking a task for an outcome or goal.
  • Ignoring, denying, and filtering information that indicates problems.
  • Poor communication (which often starts with poor listening skills).
  • No allocation of explicit time and/or resources to make improvements.
  • Failing to recognize the importance of the right people in the right roles for the right reasons.
  • Delivering materials for review with no lead-time for turn-around.
  • Persisting in propagating bureaucratic policies despite the obvious lack of value-add.
  • Executives who are mostly (if not exclusively) involved in decisions involving budgets but not in making changes.
  • Repeatedly using external influences as excuses to not make important changes.
  • Assuming a victimization attitude instead of owning up to their circumstances.
  • Failure to learn and apply new ideas — even after being presented with the benefits of those ideas.
  • Management by motivation 1.0 or 2.0

Success-leading attitudes:

  • Focus on results not the cost of getting them.
  • Clear, S.M.A.R.T. goals.
  • Executive involvement and ownership of leading the changes.
  • Respect and appreciation for everyone’s contribution and effort.
  • Active concern for overtime, unplanned work, and defects.
  • Accounting and planning for everything that takes time by everyone involved.
  • Taking full ownership for all the work (irrespective of the “divisions of labor” as seen by the customers).
  • Clear-eyed view of effort and not planning around "best case only" scenarios.
  • Ability to appreciate the need for non-technical, non-managerial skills in the roles of leading change.
  • Seeing beyond the surface: A desire to learn and understand the meaning behind the work, not just following the specific language of the work.
  • Dealing with people as people and not numbers.

My best clients have always had direct, clear and unambiguous evidence of two things:

  1. S.M.A.R.T. Goals, and
  2. Executive involvement in making the changes happen — not just lip service and budget authorization.  This usually took the form of the top leader (or 1-step away) taking personal involvement in not just setting direction, but in working through the best way to make things happen with the people who will be most affected.  (What does NOT count is a “top” leader with a purely administrative role and no executive accountability or responsibility.)

In experiencing the failure with this client, I admit to learning about at least one critical oversight on my part (there were others but this one takes top spot).  As we were interviewing each other, I failed to interrogate the leaders of the company for specific improvement goals.  The only "goals" they came to me with was to make their processes "leaner" and to attain a CMMI Maturity Level 3 rating with leaner processes.  Which turned out to really mean little more than to replace their heavy-handed compliance-oriented approach with a set of processes more projects could comply with more easily.  Again, note that they were still about "compliance".

Despite claims to the contrary, I didn’t fully realize until well into the engagement that compliance was still their primary attitude — at least among the people who were charged with overseeing the process assets for the entire organization. 

During the engagement, I repeatedly worked to identify meaningful improvement goals that being "lean" could help them attain.  I then created a strategy that would bring them closer to these goals and presented it to the majority of the executives.

Despite wide agreement on the goals and the strategy, when it came to rolling out the necessary changes, it was met the same-old resistance to change and fears that I knew spelled doom.

Nonetheless, I had high hopes for this organization so I decided I would bring them around by modeling the behavior I was trying to help them see.  A few people caught on but, alas, not the people who held sway in the organization.  Our mutual falling-out began early when it became apparent that desire among the leadership to achieve a maturity rating without upsetting the apple cart was overshadowing the desire to actually reach the performance goals being a leaner organization would achieve.

Notwithstanding, there were other tell-tale signs from the list above that this organization didn’t have the attitude to make the changes necessary.  I won’t belabor you with the complete saga.  Instead, I’ll return to my point about this entry.
You as coaches, consultants, and staff can’t want to better than your leadership is prepared to be.  The signs are all around you.  Pay attention to the signs early.  You will save yourself a lot of time, heartache and frustration.  If you believe you don’t have enough experience to justify your powers of observation, then trust your instincts.  Is the organization defensive about their entrenched position on their circumstance?  Do they make excuses instead of setting goals?  Are the goals devoid of any real results? 

You don’t even have to go that far.  How are you treated as a person, as a professional, is about all you really need to know about whether or not there’s a hope that things can get better.  If you’re not appreciated, if your organization is willfully blind to the things that cause you grief, if you see signs that tell you the organization lacks "class", you don’t need 20 years of experience telling you you’re right to know you’re right.  This organization is doomed to mediocrity.  Is that the kind of organization you want to be associated with?

I don’t, and, I won’t ever be again.