The CMM & You

What’s process capability and organization maturity to you?

The answer to that question depends on who you are, what professional role(s) you perform and what interest, if any, you have in process.

I’ve written in other posts about what the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) is and how it has figured prominently in my own systems career. As a designated change agent, charged with teaching and leading CMM-based software process improvement, the model effectively capped and defined my IT career. So, my interest perforce was and remains comprehensive—the model in its entirety as a basis for organizational evolution. That meant formal training and certification for me, much effort by many people, and a series of formal assessments for my organization. That’s a big, expensive (time and money) undertaking that many IT shops could not afford.

If you are an IT executive and believe that aggressive pursuit of a formal process-capability or organization-maturity rating is imperative for your business model then, by all means, budget —for (expensive) staff training, many person-years of effort, and consultants expert in CMMI-based process-improvement—and have at it. I’ve been there, done that, and seen it tried in numerous organizations with mixed results. Done correctly, for the right reasons, it can be transformative for a group. Done incorrectly, for the wrong reasons, it can cost a lot of time and money with no tangible benefits.

Comprehensive commitment to staged implementation of CMMI, with or without formal training and assessments, is not the only way an individual or an organization can benefit from using the model.

For an organization, whether engaged in systems & software engineering or other disciplines, the model can serve as:

  • A sensible roadmap for process improvement
  • An educational resource on process and process-area relationships
  • An inventory of best practices across twenty-two process areas
  • A specific guide to assessing and improving process capability in any one (or more) of those areas
  • A generic guide to assessing and improving process capability in nearly any discipline

An important point to emphasize is that the CMMI is a document, available for download, not some expensive application suite that you must purchase and master to assess its utility and value. If you can read at a college-level and function within an IT (or other) organization, there is nothing in the model beyond your intellectual grasp. Sure, there are hundreds of fine-point details and relationships, but I summed up its essence in less than 1000 words.

If you are an IT executive—or director, department or project manager—cultivating an intellectual understanding of the model can give you an informal but objective basis for your own assessment of your group’s process capabilities and maturity and your own consideration of what areas offer the best prospects for an effective ROI from process improvement.

If you are an IT individual contributor—managerial, staff, or technical—the model offers a comprehensive set of best practices across twenty-two process areas for process and project management, systems and software engineering, and support. Your organizational role(s), job description, and functional assignment(s) lie at the intersection of some subset of those practices.

If you are a manager in some other discipline, there may be a specific CMMI model for you: including at present Integrated Product & Process Development (IPPD) and Supplier Sourcing. There is a People CMM (PCMM) for HR, and a Personal Software Process (PSPS) geared to individual and team softwar-engineering. I cite these to emphasize the generic applicability of the fundamental Capability Maturity Model.

If your professional discipline lies beyond these IT-centric areas, you can still benefit from study, understanding, and even application of specific model concepts and components. My experience and observations have led me to believe that three of the four CMMI categories—process management, project management, and support— can be applied to virtually any engineering discipline. I include any form of information engineering—including media, writing, and publishing—as well as service-disciplines (as diverse as marketing and health care).

Personally, in a second career as a digital media producer, I have applied many best practices from the CMM to studio processes for production, post-production, and distribution. I am also working on a Personal CMM project that applies capability and maturity to processes for life management and self-improvement. I’ll be writing about both “models” in future posts.

Your takeaway from this discussion—I hope—is that you can use and benefit from even informal and personal use of CMM for professional and personal growth and profit.

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