Book Review: Interpreting the CMMI – A Process Improvement Approach

Perhaps no other process improvement framework has ever been so  misinterpreted and misused by the IT industry as CMMI. The original purpose of  CMMI i.e. process improvement is largely forgotten and the focus of the CMMI  initiatives in most of the organizations has been reduced to getting successfully assessed at the targeted  maturity level. Many prospective clients require an X maturity level (usually maturity level 3 or above) from the software services organizations as an eligibility criteria to bid for projects. Even if some of the clients do not insist on CMMI maturity levels, the organization’s marketing and sales teams jump into the fray  to increase their chances of winning the bids by flaunting their CMMI maturity level ratings.

In such a scenario no one really seems to care whether implementing CMMI has really resulted in any business benefits (apart from becoming eligible for and/or winning a bid) in terms of faster delivery, improved productivity , better quality of the products and services.

Therefore it is very heartening to see that the authors of this book primarily take a process improvement approach  towards interpreting CMMI to derive real business benefits as against writing a cookbook on how to pass a CMMI appraisal.  They state that “our experience tells us that organizations that focus on an appraisal view will fail. They fail to truly satisfy the model mainly because of a lack of institutionalization, but also will fail to provide any real business value to their organization in return for the expense. Those organizations taking the process improvement view will succeed in providing business value

But recognizing the sad reality of the rat race for maturity levels they also provide ample information (mercifully only about 10-15 % of the book content) concerning what is important when preparing for and facing a formal appraisal of your process improvement efforts.  .

The other plus points of this book are:

  • the pragmatic approach towards process improvement
  • incorporation of lessons learned by the authors in course of their work with various organizations—what worked, what didn’t, and what organizations have told them about the pros and cons of using the CMMI.
  • list of things that most organizations tend to forget about each of the process areas
  • ideas in measurement that have been well received at authors’ client sites and international conferences.
  • the chapter on high-maturity practices which has clear-cut  instructions on reading and interpreting statistical control charts and also has simple examples of process performance baselines and process  performance models.
  • discussion on how the generic practices from CMMI  can amplify the benefits of agile methods and make them stick.
  • the conversational tone with ample doses of humor in the text, which lightens up this book on a subject considered dry by most of the IT professionals

One limitation of this book is while trying to “write this book for the widest audience possible—that is, for the experienced process improvement practitioner, the inexperienced practitioner, the CMMI expert, and the CMMI novice” the authors have not gone deep into most of the topics they have discussed. Hence the book does not rise much above an overview book.

Nevertheless this is one book which everyone should read if before they tackle the CMMI elephant !

Publication Details:
Authors :Margaret K. Kulpa and Kent A. Johnson ;  Publisher: CRC Press LLC. ; Hardcover: 426 pages.

 Key Topics in this Book

(Note: I have written about the 2nd edition of the book, which corresponds to CMMI – DEV 1.2 and SCAMPI 1.2.  Since the publication of this edition next versions of CMMI-DEV and SCAMPI has been released. So some of the material in this book may be outdated. Yet the general principles and concepts  still holds good and definitely worth the read.)

This book has 24 chapters spread across  six sections. The key topics discussed in these sections are given below.

Section I. Introduction : Purpose of the book; what process improvement really is; why to use CMMI and how to use it; structure of CMMI; CMMI representations – Staged and Continuous.
Section II. CMMI Process Areas: Overview of the Process Areas in context of maturity levels 2,3,4 and 5.
Section III. Implementation: Aligning multiple process initiatives; suitability of CMMI for small organizations; establishing a process improvement group; roles and responsibilities of people involved in process improvement efforts; planning and tracking process improvement activities; defining charters, procedures, processes and policies; documentation guidelines.
Section IV. Measurement: Measurement issues; basic metrics to collect as part of normal CMMI implementation; statistical process control; measurements from a high maturity perspective.
Section V.  Appraisals:  SCAMPI(Standard CMMI Appraisal Method for Process Improvement) appraisals types; steps in SCAMPI-A approach; developing PIIDs (Practice Implementation Indicator Description) ;
Section VI. Odds and Ends: Blending Agile and CMMI ; closing thoughts on process improvement, change management, management commitment, rewards and punishments, quality assurance.

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