CMMI Myths and Realities


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

Process Improvement

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

CMMI is too big and complex.
A CMMI appraisal takes longer and costs more than an appraisal for SW-CMM.
CMMI is only for large organizations.

These and other myths are often heard in discussions about upgrading from the SW-CMM to a CMMI model. But those who have been using the new set of models and training materials contend that making the switch to the CMMI Product Suite is not only easier than it looks, but well worth it.

“For organizations already operating at a high Maturity Level, the process of achieving CMMI is very straightforward,” says Sarah Bengzon, an associate partner at Accenture, a leading management consulting and technology services organization. “People think that with CMMI, everything is new and that the process is too complex to undertake. But at Accenture, we have always been doing things this way. If anything, CMMI validates the best practices we already had in place.”

In fact, Accenture’s USA Government Operating Unit, which is an early adopter of the CMMI Product Suite, attained Maturity Level 3 just eight months after upgrading from the SW-CMM model. “CMMI enforces tying project objectives to organizational objectives, which is not only a good thing to do, but a bad thing not to do,” Bengzon says. “CMMI shows you exactly what you should be doing to improve your quality processes.”

Accenture’s group is just one of hundreds making the switch to CMMI Version 1.1 worldwide. Since its release in December 2001, nearly 4,000 people have attended the Introduction to CMMI course offered by the SEI and its transition partners, 85 instructors have been trained to teach the introductory course, and more than 120 individuals have become authorized SCAMPI Lead AppraisersSM. “Initial acceptance of CMMI seems to be much faster than it was for SW-CMM,” says Bill Peterson, director of the Software Engineering Process Management Program at the SEI.

While some myths from the earlier development and piloting days of the CMMI models are still circulating, Bengzon and others are proving that these misconceptions are easy to clear up with a little guidance from the experts.

“CMMI is too big and complex."

For more than 10 years, the SW-CMM model has been the global standard for appraising and improving software processes. As organizations came to know and experience the value of the SW-CMM model and other CMM models, these organizations sought to expand the use of the CMM concept beyond its initially defined scope. This evolution of the CMM concept naturally grew into the development of the CMMI Product Suite. Its purpose is to provide guidance for improving an organization’s processes and its ability to manage the development, acquisition, and maintenance of products and services. The CMMI Product Suite places proven practices into a structure that helps an organization appraise its organizational maturity and process capability, establish priorities for improvement, and guide the implementation of these improvements. But at 700+ pages each, the CMMI models can seem a bit daunting.

Roger Bate, principal architect of the CMMI Product Suite, says the models are so lengthy because they provide comprehensive guidance and details. “It’s similar to a dictionary,” he says. “There are a lot of words in there that you’ll never need to look up, but they’re there so they can be available to everyone when and if they need them.”

The most obvious additions to the models are related to integrated product and process development (IPPD), which now includes two additional goals and two new process areas (PAs) called Integrated Teaming and Organizational Environment for Integration. SW-CMM’s single Software Product Engineering key process area was expanded into five, more comprehensive PAs in the CMMI Product Suite. A Measurement and Analysis PA at Maturity Level 2 and a Decision Analysis and Resolution PA at Level 3 were also added to the models.

“But don’t let the page count throw you,” Bate says. He recommends three ways that an organization can reduce a model’s size and complexity:

  1. Select the right model. There are several CMMI models to choose from, including CMMI for Software, CMMI for Systems and Software Engineering (SE/SW), CMMI SE/SW with IPPD, and CMMI SE/SW with IPPD and Supplier Sourcing (SS). Once you select a model, tailor it to fit your organization’s needs.
  2. Don’t try to implement the whole model at once. “Select those parts that are most applicable and will have the biggest payoff at the first stage of process improvement,” Bate says. “Get at those things which are most important: improving quality, predicting costs and schedules, and reducing time to market. Develop a base from which you can move forward.”
  3. Follow the practices that make the most sense for your organization. “You can pick and choose or substitute your own processes as long as they meet the overall goals. Every subpractice doesn’t need to be implemented. They are informational guides, not requirements,” he says.

“A CMMI appraisal takes longer and costs more than one for SW-CMM.”

“While it is understandable that these kinds of sweeping statements will be made,” says David Kitson, manager of the SEI’s appraisal program, “the reality is that the two appraisal methods have some subtle but significant differences that make such direct comparisons less than useful.”

For example, the SCAMPI method, which is used to appraise an organization’s use of CMMI best practices, is designed as an Appraisal Requirements for CMMI (ARC) class A appraisal method. It is intended for use where the highest confidence and accuracy is desired on the part of the appraisal sponsor. In contrast, the CMM-Based Assessment for Internal Process Improvement (CBA IPI) method was designed as a replacement for the Software Process Assessment method. The primary design goal with CBA IPI was to minimize unexplainable differences in appraisal results produced by CBA IPI and the Software Capability Evaluation (SCE) methods. It was not designed primarily for benchmarking, so its requirements and features differ from those of SCAMPI.

With that understood, however, it can be said that a lot of thought and design effort was directed toward reducing the effort required to conduct SCAMPI appraisals. After hearing two years ago from early adopters that the SCAMPI method was often taking 150 or more hours for a Maturity Level 3 appraisal, the CMMI Product Team adopted a stretch goal: Maturity Level 3 appraisals would take no longer than 100 hours on site.

Kitson worked with a team of appraisal experts from industry, government, and the SEI who redesigned the SCAMPI method. Since the first round of SCAMPI Version 1.1 lead appraiser training in April, Kitson says he and his staff have seen a number of SCAMPI appraisals performed, and they are very satisfied with the results. One defense contractor has reported conducting its Level 3 SCAMPI appraisal in just 60 hours.

“We are seeing in practice the realization of the benefits we expected SCAMPI V1.1 would provide,” Kitson says. “The organizations that are reaping the maximum benefits that SCAMPI offers are the ones that are taking the time to make genuine improvements in their processes and to treat process improvement just as they would any other project they undertake.”

“The bottom line is that direct comparisons of appraisal costs—especially in the absence of consideration of other relevant factors-is not a very useful exercise,” Kitson says. “Ultimately, it all goes back to why process improvement is being undertaken in the first place. If the goal is world-class performance, the focus of attention should be on more substantive issues, such as ensuring that the SCAMPI method is applied in a way that minimizes the risk that any process-related issues escape the notice of the appraisal team.”

“CMMI is only for large organizations.”

Not true, Bate says. Although the CMMI models were developed in part to help larger organizations tackle complex issues across multiple disciplines, they can be tailored to meet the needs of smaller companies, especially if the companies apply the models purely for process improvement. “Many smaller organizations aren’t interested in using CMMI to benchmark themselves against other organizations. They don’t need to commit to all the process areas and practices. CMMI is designed so they can pick and choose among the PAs that have the most immediate applicability to them,” he says.

The CMMI Product Suite is currently being applied across a range of organization sizes, from large to small.

“Planning, measurement and analysis, monitoring and control, and requirements management are just solid, basic parts of what everyone should do, no matter what business they’re in or what they’re building,” Bate says. “It just makes sense to be doing those things, regardless of how large or small the organization might be.”

Ongoing Guidance for Software Organizations

The SEI is working with software-only organizations that may need additional guidance when interpreting the CMMI models for software-specific applications. Sessions at community events are being offered to collect user experiences and address questions from software and information technology organizations, the first of which took place at the recent CMMI Technology Conference and User Group in Denver, Colorado. “The community’s involvement is key to this effort as the SEI begins to understand and address the issues that software organizations face when migrating to or using the CMMI Product Suite,” says Mary Beth Chrissis, the team lead for this effort at the SEI.

Organizations are encouraged to contact the SEI if they are interested in receiving additional guidance on the CMMI Product Suite or if they would like to share their CMMI implementation experiences.

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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