CMMI: Product Suite Expansion



Mike Phillips

This library item is related to the following area(s) of work:

Process Improvement

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: February 1, 2007

My previous column summarized the familiar elements of the CMMI Product Suite and the beginnings of the transition to the newest version, V1.2. This column introduces a new component of the CMMI Product Suite: Understanding and Leveraging a Supplier’s CMMI Efforts: A Guidebook for Acquirers, otherwise known as the Acquisition Guidebook. This guidebook, which will be available online by the end of March, links the existing product suite to the needs of government acquisition organizations in selecting qualified suppliers.

CMMs and Government Acquisition

From the inception of the Capability Maturity Model for Software (SW-CMM) in the late 1980s, government officials have sought ways to gain confidence in the capability of the suppliers of software-intensive systems to deliver products on time and with high quality. The SW-CMM was used from the start as a way to help assure that success. A tenet of this focus is that the quality of a product (or software-intensive system) is directly related to the processes used in its development, including the engineering, project-management, and support processes. The CMMI team, which consists of representatives from government, industry, and the SEI, has increased the scope of processes covered beyond that covered by the SW-CMM. Now more information is available to acquirers seeking to evaluate the growing number of suppliers that use CMMI for process improvement.

Myths of What Levels Can Indicate

In an earlier column, I discussed some of the myths about CMMI appraisals. A number of these myths relate to associating a capability or maturity level with an assurance of actual performance. Many Department of Defense and other government systems, however, are developed to include capabilities that have not existed before. Although we believe that organizations with more disciplined processes offer fewer development risks, risks do remain. Another myth is that expectations based on maturity or capability levels can be extrapolated to cover other team members, such as sub-contractors; other company elements; or the acquisition organization.

In the past, acquisition organizations had only a maturity-level or capability-level profile as an indicator of the value of a potential supplier. The Acquisition Guidebook provides information on how to interpret maturity levels and capability levels in a way that accurately reflects the strengths and weaknesses of potential suppliers, including what parts of the organization were appraised and what parts of the CMMI model were included in the appraisal, among other things.

Development of the Guidebook

The idea to develop the Acquisition Guidebook was based on an event sponsored by the National Defense Industrial Association (NDIA). Workshop participants recognized the importance of providing a sensible guidebook for the acquirer, and the CMMI Steering Group chartered a team to identify the best ways to use CMMI for Development V1.2 (CMMI-DEV) as an acquisition tool. Our DoD sponsor helped shape requirements for the guidebook, including a limit on its size. It was not to grow too large, but it did have to capture the better ways to interpret existing appraisal results to help select a supplier. It also had to help the acquirer consider strategies for future reviews of process improvement with the chosen supplier. As with all of the other elements of the CMMI Product Suite, an integrated team from government, industry, and the SEI created the initial document. A smaller government team then revised the draft to focus it to the essential elements that would be most appropriate for government use. The guidebook presumes that users have limited knowledge of CMMI but that potential suppliers are using CMMI to improve their development processes. This approach to the guidebook helped the CMMI Steering Group to formulate the title: Understanding and Leveraging a Supplier’s CMMI Efforts: A Guidebook for Acquirers.

The Contents of the Guidebook

The guidebook defines a path for use of CMMI elements by the acquirer in its four chapters:

The first chapter covers the basics of CMMI, including a brief review of the elements of the model, how capability levels and maturity levels complement each other, and how various appraisals can provide insight into the development capabilities of potential suppliers.

The second chapter helps the acquirer relate the model’s process areas to the critical elements of the acquisition program. Identifying these relationships enables the acquirer to evaluate potential suppliers using the process areas critical to that program.

The third chapter focuses on ways that the acquirer can leverage the existing process capabilities of the supplier to the advantage of the acquisition program.

The fourth chapter highlights the value of process reviews during the supplier’s development lifecycle to monitor and control the supplier’s activities and ability to meet the terms of the supplier agreement.

It wasn’t clear at first how best to provide additional information for each of the various strategies. In the end, the authors provided a set of appendices to cover the needed details so that acquirers would have guidance on how to implement the approaches. The appendices provide questionnaires and a mapping to the Defense Acquisition Guidebook, as well as information on what to do, when to do it, and how to do it for each approach offered.


The guidebook represents a crucial link, captured in a single document, between the acquirer and the supplier. This document addresses how claims of CMMI Levels may be misleading and encourages a continuous approach to process improvement. A risk perspective is implied, which focuses acquirers on taking advantage of process improvement in areas most needed for their programs. Acquirers who see the value of these methods may also appreciate and use the upcoming CMMI for Acquisition (CMMI-ACQ) constellation that is currently under development.

My next column will discuss the efforts we are undertaking to continuously improve V1.2 appraisals. While much has been done in the current product-suite release, our approach to the certification of SCAMPI Lead Appraisers will leverage current capabilities while building the professionalism of these important SEI Partners.

About the Author

As the director of special projects at the Software Engineering Institute, Mike Phillips leads the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) project for the SEI. He was previously responsible for transition-enabling activities at the SEI. Prior to his retirement as a colonel from the Air Force, he managed the $36B development program for the B-2 in the B-2 SPO and commanded the 4950th Test Wing at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s degree in astronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Phillips has master’s degrees in nuclear engineering from Georgia Tech, in systems management from the University of Southern California, and in international affairs from Salve Regina College and the Naval War College.

Please note that current and future CMMI research, training, and information has been transitioned to the CMMI Institute, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Carnegie Mellon University.

Find Us Here

Find us on Youtube  Find us on LinkedIn  Find us on twitter  Find us on Facebook

Share This Page

Share on Facebook  Send to your Twitter page  Save to  Save to LinkedIn  Digg this  Stumble this page.  Add to Technorati favorites  Save this page on your Google Home Page 

For more information

Contact Us


Help us improve

Visitor feedback helps us continually improve our site.

Please tell us what you
think with this short
(< 5 minute) survey.