Managing capability and maturity : 1

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We’ve been writing a few things recently around “process maturity”—and not just for ITA/ITD. For instance, about ASG’s Senior Director of Solutions Management, Mike Oitzman’s view that a certain degree of organisational maturity is needed before a full CMDB implementation is likely to be successful.

This reminds us that we don’t see very much in the way of IT development or operations process that wasn’t around 20 years ago—the jargon is a bit different and the implementing technology is sometimes cheaper, that’s all—we’ve known how to “do” IT in general ever since the days of Fred Brooks (see the here) and to ask about the kind of appraisal you underwent, and who carried it out; and to know about the scope of the appraisal; and about the timetable for repeat appraisals [an appraisal over 2 years old is considered invalid by the SEI]. We could write a white paper about how to waste money on doing CMMI wrong—but we suggest that you don’t bother to buy it from us. However, the possibility of dysfunctional CMMI, especially when management picks up the idea and doesn’t follow it through, perhaps explains why there’s apparently a movement towards “viral CMMI”, which doesn’t use the CMMI word. And this is not just about companies like ASG coming up with multilevel maturity models of their own.

A story. We once met someone who was trying to introduce CMMI Process Maturity into a firm that was also introducing Agile eXtreme Programming. Eventually, the two teams had to meet; and so, with very deep misgivings, they did. The CMMI people expected to meet a bunch of cowboys and the XP people expected a lot of boring old farts carrying stone tablets and chisels.

The meeting went something like this:

[CMMI guru]: Well, where’s your process manual?

[XPcowboy]: {Picks up the well-thumbed Kent Beck bible from his desk, nervously} “We have this book, the book what Kent wrote…”

[CMMI]: {doubtfully} “But that’s in your library, right, or on the bookshelf? What do you actually use day-to day?”

[XP] {incredulously} “No, we all have our own copies, I read mine every day on the bus home… What are these ‘bookshelves’ whereof what you speak? What arcane SEI technology is this?”

[CMMI] {surprise} “Right, I’ll tick off “process” then. Now, what about “User Requirements…”

[XP] {with rising confidence} “We have all these “user stories” on cards stuck to that whiteboard over there…”

[CMMI] {light dawning} “I see; and the whole team can see them all the time and keeps them up to date… Right, another tick…”

And they all lived happily ever after….

Although we suspect you’d have to pick your CMMI guru for this to work. And your XP team too—there a lot of “pseudo agile” teams doing “XP But”. As in: “we do XP but we don’t bother with pair programming… and all that testing is a PITA… and users really get in the way of getting prototypes writ…” A typical CMMI guru might just really annoy an “XP But” team like this. And a jolly good thing too.

But the sort of misunderstandings evident prior to this scenario could explain why there is “viral CMMI”. Some people are reading about the CMMI process improvement techniques and using them in their own process improvement scenarios. Just not calling them CMMI—and not going in for formal CMMI appraisals. We’re enthusiasts for ITIL v3 but we’ve always said that quite a lot of ITIL needs a high maturity level, in CMMI terms, to work—whether you use CMMI jargon or not. And we’re interested that a friend of ours is, in effect, using an unofficial SCAMPI (Standard CMMI Appraisal Method for Process Improvement) appraisal process for her ITIL implementations.

ITIL represents a specific service delivery process; CMMI—despite the new CMMI-SVC for services—is really more at the meta-process level, we think; so ITIL and CMMI should be complimentary. But is this “viral”, unacknowledged, CMMI a “good thing”? Well, it is probably a sign of the increasing grass-roots acceptance of capability and maturity management (when something succeeds, you stop talking about it and just do it). And, Pareto probably applies: informal CMMI may give you 80% of what is on offer for 20% of the cost, especially if you are working with a generally low maturity organisation. It is also probably a good starting point for adopting “proper” CMMI in the future.

However, in Part 2 of this article, we’ll be talking to a company that has gone in for real CMMI appraisal at ML5—and look at just why you might want to do this.