CMMI Representations: Past and Future

CMMI in Focus, a special guest column by Mike Phillips

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CMMI Representations: Past and Future

July 30, 2010CMMI Version 1.3 models will be released in November 2010. This latest release of CMMI models includes changes to the high maturity material and other improvements that will better meet the needs of organizations that use CMMI models.

You may recall that two areas of improvement that we in the CMMI Product Development Team have sought to provide with this update were to improve harmonization and to clarify the understanding of high maturity. One important change that will be included in Version 1.3 models will contribute to both of these objectives: the elimination of the level 4 and 5 generic goals.

As the development team began the work on Version 1.3, a high priority was to clarify high maturity. We commissioned a High Maturity Team with majority representation from industry participants to ensure that the improvements represented current best practices in the community.

As the work progressed on Version 1.3, the team found that the description in Version 1.2 using the continuous representation is flawed. The continuous representation defines high maturity as applying generic goals 4 and 5 (described in four brief generic practices) to process areas in the same way that four high maturity process areas are used in the staged representation. As the team worked to clarify the content of the four high maturity process areas for v1.3, it became clear that changes needed to be made to improve the alignment—the harmonization—of high maturity efforts in the two representations.

Since the clarification of the high maturity activities affected many practices in the four associated process areas, it was clear that the current use of the generic goals 4 and 5 associated with the continuous representation were insufficient to provide the corresponding clarified guidance. Instead, level 4 would entail applying two process areas to the effort. To use the continuous representation to focus high maturity attention to areas of interest, such as integrated verification and validation, the process becomes: first, bring the two process areas (VER and VAL) up to capability level 3. Next, select and bring the Organizational Process Performance (OPP) and Quantitative Project Management (QPM) process areas up to capability level 3 to achieve the quantitatively managed level. These activities will ensure that the capability enhancement for the area of interest has the same attention to practices that ML 4 gives in the staged representation. Then, bring the Causal Analysis and Resolution (CAR) and Organizational Performance Management (OPM) process areas up to capability level 3 to achieve the optimizing level.

An answer that might have approximated the rich coverage of the four high maturity process areas would have been to add more practices from the high maturity process areas to the generic goals, but adding any significant number of generic practices seemed to increase both duplication and complexity.

We investigated the impact of this change by reviewing the collection of existing high capability appraisals in the SEI appraisal database. Of about 1,000 appraisals that investigated high capability or high maturity, only a dozen identified capabilities beyond CL3. Several of these appraisal results were focused investigations of particular processes or groups of processes. For example, recent discussions about the need to protect these options mentioned processes such as “Independent Verification and Validation” as the focus of improvement in the organization, so I used that in the initial example. The CMMI Product Development Team is committed to ensuring that these types of focused investigations can still proceed. Also, the team recognizes the value of standards like ISO 15504 and that making CMMI as compatible as possible with these approaches is desirable.

Version 1.3 changes will not eliminate the continuous representation or the staged representation. The Product Development Team feels that the best path is to fully deploy the continuous representation for levels 0-3. In fact, the additional clarity that the capability levels provide to distinguish process areas as they move from being unsatisfied (level 0) and well defined (level 3) merits description in all SCAMPI A appraisals. Therefore, beginning with Version 1.3, all process areas will be described in appraisals against capability levels.

Since we began displaying appraisal results on the Publicly Available Results Site (PARS), we used the term “satisfied” for process areas successfully appraised in staged appraisals but depicted their capability level in appraisals using the continuous representation. The depiction of capability levels provides useful information and eliminates an unnecessary difference in all our appraisals, so with the release of V1.3, we will eliminate the distinction between declaring a process area as “satisfied” and the equivalent measure that the generic goals that match the maturity levels are satisfied.

This approach to appraisals has a far-reaching advantage. As we explore appraisals that use process areas from multiple constellations, the continuous approach to appraisals provides opportunities to use only those process areas that best assist the process improvement efforts of today’s multi-disciplinary organizations. In several discussions I’ve had with attendees at various courses here at the SEI, the division lines between models are not useful for process improvement activities. For example, how many organizations might benefit from investigating the value of CMMI for Service’s Capability and Availability Management process area, even if their main area of interest is development or acquisition?

Those of you who are fairly new to the CMMI Product Suite most likely have seen discussions about the two model representations, staged and continuous, as well as the two model ratings, maturity levels and capability levels.

A representation is a lens by which you view CMMI model content. One representation (staged) emphasizes a structured, overall approach to process improvement. This view of the model stages improvement by grouping processes into a foundation, or stage to be used for process improvement. To advance, the organization adds more processes to achieve another stage of organizational improvement until four improvement stages have been defined and achieved. Finally, the organization is positioned to identify and pursue process improvement opportunities as they arise.

The other representation (continuous) emphasizes a more focused yet flexible approach to process improvement. This view of the model involves mapping processes of critical importance to the CMMI model and selecting a process area (e.g., Requirements Management) to be used for improvement. To advance, the organization adds more generic goals to achieve another capability level of improvement until three improvement levels are achieved. To advance further, the organization selects more process areas until it finally has achieved all three capability levels for all CMMI process areas. The organization is then positioned to identify and pursue process improvement opportunities as they arise.

Many of you may know that in the early days of CMMI, debates raged about which representation would win, as if the two were in competition for the attention of CMMI model users. In the early days, we had separate model documents for each of the two representations. One of the significant contributions of the three authors of the Addison-Wesley CMMI textbook was to find a way to combine the two representations into a single model document. That achievement led, in turn, to a consolidation of the Introduction to CMMI courses from two representation-specific courses into a single version.

The representation concept has persisted, but the emphasis of the concept has reduced significantly. Now the most recognizable place where representations are noticed is during appraisals. Organizations can be appraised using either representation. However, regardless of the representation used, the steps of the appraisal are quite similar. Furthermore, organizations that choose to use the continuous representation for their process improvement activities can still achieve maturity level ratings using equivalent staging if they had actually satisfied the process areas relevant to the various stages in the other representation.

These changes continue the simplification of CMMI model elements and methods while expanding the support of process improvement for a constantly expanding community of interest. With the release of CMMI V1.3, the distinction between continuous and staged appraisals is reduced if not eliminated. All process areas that are appraised are evaluated the same way—to assure CL 1, 2, or 3. The collections of process areas then define the maturity level (e.g., CMMI-ACQ ML3) for those groups pursuing organizational maturity.

The decision to improve the coverage of high maturity was central to the Version 1.3 update. The decision to eliminate the high capability goal structure adds value for process improvement more than simply maintaining the legacy approach. Some will find these changes challenging; however, most will see that the advantages of a multi-constellation environment outweigh the risks that come with any change.

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