The day I used the CMMI model

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I learned a lot about various corporate models as a university student. Although I used many of them, some others are still hidden somewhere in my brain’s “theoritical models” drawer, waiting to be used someday. The CMMI (Capability Maturity Model Integration) model is one of them. In a nutshell, this model can help to understand the level of maturity of an organization business processes, and it provides a good roadmap to improvements (Wikipedia does a better job than me to summarize it). Well, I’m proud to announce the world that I finally used it a few days ago in a real life situation!

When the perfect is the enemy of the good

Some context: I work in a very well structured team, and we’re using a lot of different tools and processes to manage our client requests (dealing with hundreds of requests per year). Recently, I’ve been working with my manager to implement operational dashboards, which essentially read all this data and display it in a meaningful way for various stakeholders. These dashboards are very popular since they give some visibility on all our client requests and their status, and have allowed our team to identify some ways to improve ourselves and be more proactive with our client.

Other teams in the organization saw what we have implemented, and have expressed the wish to have similar tools for their own use. The problem is that they are not as structured as our team, so implementing such tools would be difficult for many reasons. Among them, they don’t track as much data as we do on their clients requests, and do not have clear business processes in place to manage them.

I was discussing with my manager about this situation, and we were thinking about what we could do to help them and what they should first do before implementing such dashboards. Suddenly, the CMMI model came to my mind (thanks brain!). Indeed, what was happening is a situation where a group was trying to take actions associated to a high maturity CMMI level (measurement and improvement initiatives), instead of first focusing on defining their processes (ie where a group at a low-maturity CMMI level should focus first). I had already understood that they would not be able to succeed before adding some structure to their processes, and the CMMI model just confirmed my first impressions.

Using the CMMI model to get lasting results from improvement initiatives

Taking a step back, I also realized that many failed improvement attempts in my previous jobs were in a similar situation, where we were trying to go too fast to improve ourselves instead of putting some order in our processes first. Thanks to the CMMI model, I now understand why we weren’t getting results with these improvement initiatives.

Understanding which level of the CMMI model you have reached as an organization is the best point to start an improvement initiative, as it will allow you to identify key actions to take to get some maturity at each level. The CMMI FAQ website provides a pretty good summary of what should be done to “reach” each CMMI level.  By the way, a good Business Analyst can support such a reflexion and guide an organization through the process.

Once this is done, it is easier to identify and prioritize improvement initiatives by focusing on your organization current maturity level; this helps bringing lasting results for the organization, and ensure that people & processes are getting used to the changes by doing it in an iterative way.

When you think about it, it is a very natural way to work. In fact, you probably already work like this with your family.  When you want your children to perform a new task, you probably do the following:

  1. Understand what are their current responsibilities and capabilities (my 5 year-old twins can clean up their basement playroom and their bedroom when asked);
  2. Identify a task adapted to their maturity level (help us clean the house and the backyard);
  3. Coach them the task and allow them to get some experience at doing it;
  4. Rince and repeat with another, more complex task (next: cleaning the dishes!)

This is the reason why my kids don’t perform the same household chores as my neighbor’s 10 year-old kids; they have to improve their maturity first.  It shouldn’t be different within organizations 🙂

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Does this situation ring a bell? Have you experienced something similar in your professional life, with the CMMI model or other ones? Share with us in the comments below!

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Eric Provost

Making sense out of chaos as a BA & UX specialist

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