Accelerating CMMI Implementation with Technology Adoption Tools



Suzanne Garcia

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

Process Improvement

This article was originally published in News at SEI on: September 1, 2002

For those making the transition to Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) from another process improvement model or methodology, understanding CMMI implementation as a technology adoption and applying technology-adoption concepts can smooth the process considerably and provide strategies that can also be applied when implementing other new technologies.

CMMI Implementation as Technology Adoption

What is technology adoption? Generally, it is the set of practices and factors related to organizations selecting, deploying, and sustaining the use of a technology. Why look at CMMI implementation as technology adoption? First of all, CMMI is a technology—a process technology—and what’s more, it’s radical. “Radical innovation is the process of introducing something that is new to the organization and that requires the development of completely new routines, usually with modifications in the normative beliefs and value systems of organization members.1 Treating CMMI as a technology adoption activates a different mindset than the one typically applied to process improvement and enables CMMI adopters to benefit from some of the tools and concepts of technology adoption described below.

Dealing with Multiple Stakeholders

People whose organizations have successfully implemented the Capability Maturity Model for Software (SW-CMM) may think they can simply apply the same transition strategies in implementing CMMI. While there are similarities between SW-CMM V1.1 and the CMMI Framework, CMMI provides an opportunity to expand the scope of application of CMM concepts beyond just the software organization into the other parts of the organization involved in product or service development. This means involving new players in the CMM adoption and expanding the scope of effect of CMMs on the subsystems of the organization. The CMMI adoption effort should include strategies for dealing with different audiences with different needs at any one time. One way to address this is to ensure that the engineering process group or equivalent has adequate representation from all the stakeholders in CMMI, not just the experienced software engineering process group members from the software part of the organization.

Understanding the Audience

Who in the organization has to change something in their behavior, attitudes, or values to adopt CMMI? Executives, managers, technology users, support groups? Distinct factors will have to be addressed for each organizational subculture in developing an adoption strategy.

Within subculture groups, individuals also differ in their responses to a technology adoption. Different “adopter types” move through adoption at different speeds. These groups are distinguished from each other by their characteristic responses to an innovation (either process or technology) that requires a change in their behavior. Figure 1 illustrates the relative size of each adopter category for a typical technology adoption.2

Figure 1: The Technology Adoption Populations

Figure 1: The Technology Adoption Populations

Adopter types can be used in planning who should get the technology when and in determining which kinds of adoption-support mechanisms are likely to be successful. For example, if a pilot for new practices affects a group composed primarily of late-majority or laggard participants, the pilot is much more likely to succeed if (a) a completely packaged solution is provided and (b) adoption of the new practices is mandated by the organization, with sanctions for not adopting.

A brief description of the classic adopter types from Everett Rogers’s research3 can be found in The Road to CMMI: Results of the First Technology Transition Workshop. Geoffrey Moore’s Inside the Tornado describes their use in high-tech marketing.4 Many of his insights translate well to CMMI adoption concerns.

Diffusion vs. Infusion

In considering a process technology adoption such as CMMI, some time should be spent determining the goals of the adoption for the different roles within the organization. Some of the other concepts described above, such as what kinds of adopters the adoption is targeting, and what elements of the organization need to be realigned, can help in setting some of these goals. Another area that should be considered is the relative emphasis that will be placed on CMMI diffusion (how widespread the use of CMMI will become) versus CMMI infusion (how deeply embedded into the organizational infrastructure CMMI will become).5 An emphasis on diffusion may get broad acceptance and knowledge of CMMI within the organization, but may not achieve the differences in behavior that actually contribute more heavily to improved business results. With increasing infusion, the degree of CMMI use related to key workflows in the organization increases, and the degree of visibility of the technology increases within the management and oversight structures of the organization, usually leading to more permanent behavior changes that have a positive result on return on investment.

To measure infusion, one can measure “levels of use” of a technology. For example, the evolution of the infusion of CMMI use in an organization might look something like this:

  1. CMMI adoption has occurred in a few projects whose local procedures and processes have been changed to reflect the new practices.
  2. One of the divisions of the organization has changed its policies to reflect the practices recommended in CMMI and has formulated and published a set of standard process assets that are used as the basis for initiating and managing new product development projects.
  3. Reward and incentive systems in the new projects adopting CMMI practices have been examined and changed where necessary to encourage productive use of the new processes. Existing projects within the division have been evaluated to determine which parts of the set of standard process assets might beneficially be applied to the projects at their current point in the life cycle, and the projects are being provided the training and other support needed to make it feasible for them to adopt new practices in mid-project.
  4. Members of projects in the division adopting CMMI are being recruited for projects in other parts of the organization due to the reputation of the projects for meeting customer expectations; however, many of them choose to stay within the division rather than move to the other parts of the organization that are less disciplined in their management and engineering practices.

Each of these scenarios could be considered a “level of use” measure for the infusion of CMMI adoption within the organization. With increasing levels of use, the degree of visibility of CMMI within the social subsystem is increased, as exemplified in the fourth scenario.

Measuring diffusion provides a different insight. Instead of measuring how deeply embedded CMMI is, measuring diffusion indicates how broadly information about and use of CMMI has reached across the organization. Measuring diffusion at the start of a CMMI adoption would result in an organizational profile similar to that shown in Figure 2. As time goes on, the profile should shift to something like that shown in Figure 3 as more and more members of the organization participate in the activities of CMMI adoption. One use of this measure is to help senior managers understand the time needed to see tangible return on investment of a CMMI implementation. When they understand how many people have to go through several events before one can expect their behavior, and therefore their results, to change, it can help them tolerate some of the time lag that is typical between starting an adoption effort and seeing business results.

Figure 2: Notional Profile Early in Adoption

Figure 2: Notional Profile Early in Adoption

Figure 3: Notional Profile Later in Adoption

Figure 3: Notional Profile Later in Adoption

Transition Mechanisms

The SEI has been using a variation of the Patterson-Conner commitment curve for years to help organizations understand both the communication and implementation planning needed to ensure that a change is fully adopted (see Figure 4).6 It is also a useful framework for categorizing and understanding the types of transition mechanisms that are needed to help individuals and groups within an organization to progress in their adoption of a new technology. Transition mechanisms are products , activities, events, and methods that help accelerate progress from one commitment milestone to another (from awareness to understanding, for example).

Figure 4: The Patterson-Connor Commitment Curve

Figure 4: The Patterson-Connor Commitment Curve

As the adoption proceeds, the mechanisms move in character from communication and education more toward implementation support and incentives management. Mechanisms used in early stages might include CMMI reference cards and mappings of other models that the organization is using to CMMI. Later, mechanisms might include CMMI tailoring guidance for specific organizational contexts.

Timing of transition mechanisms is critical. Showing someone the measurements to be used to monitor the detailed implementation of CMMI before they even understand what parts of the organization are affected by the model is an example of a good transition mechanism being used too early. Conversely, waiting until everyone in the organization has been through Introduction to CMMI training before management communicates its vision of how CMMI will fit into the overall business strategy is an example of a good transition mechanism being used too late to be effective. For a list and discussion of transition mechanisms that early adopters of CMMI have used (and for their opinion on what types of transition mechanisms are also needed for CMMI to be successful), see The Road to CMMI: Results of the First Technology Transition Workshop.

Communities of Practice

Once problems are being solved with a technology, the possibility exists to seed a community of practice, which contains members of the organization who are motivated to continue learning about the technology and its implementation. They might build “translations” of the technology for other users who may not be as far along in their adoption of the technology, and communicate and solve problems with each other to improve their use of the technology.

In CMM adoption history, many of the Software Process Improvement Networks (SPINs) exhibit characteristics of communities of practice. Bringing the ideas of continued learning and involvement by the practitioners and change agents inside the organization can accelerate the adoption of CMMI, since this approach tends to access the informal networks of influence that exist within the organization outside the normal organizational structure.


There are many approaches from the technology-adoption arena that can be useful in making effective use of CMMI as it matures. A few of these have been highlighted in this article that either are “classics” worth repeating or that reflect some of the newer practices that the SEI is exploring as part of its research. Early adopters of CMMI should be prepared to invest in creating the transition mechanisms their organizations will need to be successful and to apply creative approaches to making progress. Understanding and applying technology-adoption concepts can help maximize return on investment by adding to tools already in place for an improvement effort.

Editor’s Note

Portions of this article were originally published in the March 2002 issue of CrossTalk.

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.

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