Keep Your Eye on the Prize

© 2000 Pat O’Toole

Pat O’Toole is a Principal Consultant at Process Assessment, Consulting & Training (P.A.C.T.) where he provides a variety of services to his process improvement clients. Pat is on the SEI’s list of most active lead assessors, and has led assessments spanning all maturity levels, including the largest Level 5.

Imagine that, six months ago, your senior management directed your SEPG to achieve CMM Level 2 within a year. As an SEPG member, you have invested extensive (some might say "excessive") time and effort generating all the required policies, procedures, templates, measures, checklists, and training materials, but you are now having trouble getting the development projects to pilot and adopt any of these new process components. Being reasonable, proactive change agents, you solicit your sponsor’s assistance. The sponsor eloquently reminds project personnel how important it is to reach Level 2 and urges them to be more open to helping the organization achieve this distinctive honor. The sponsor instructs SQA to be more aggressive in explaining the value of all the new process stuff and in identifying process deviants. But nothing really changes; the process assets continue to gather dust and the SEPG’s frustration continues to mount. Sound familiar?

Why are the projects being so difficult and how can the SEPG achieve Level 2 if the projects don’t get with the program? Why aren’t the projects helping us to achieve success? But wait a minute — why is the organization doing process improvement?

We’re not really doing it to "achieve Level 2," we’re doing it to improve. We shouldn’t be forcing the projects to grunt through a pile of administrivia to accommodate the CMM, we should be employing process aspirin to relieve project pain. Perhaps we can exploit the CMM to help the projects achieve greater success!

Let’s check this hypothesis by determining which result is preferred: We are assessed Level 2, but the projects achieve no measurable improvement; or The projects achieve measurable improvement, but we never reach Level 2. Unless there are compelling business reasons to get a particular CMM level (i.e., your customers will not allow you to bid on work unless you have been assessed at Level 2), answering "A" above means you’ve been in the Quality organization too long!

On the other hand, if the SEPG continues to help the projects succeed, their value will be recognized and they will overcome much of the projects’ natural resistance to change. In addition, if the projects continue to demonstrate sustainable improvement, the CMM level will ultimately come. Remember that using the CMM is merely one tactic to achieve a higher-level (no pun intended) business strategy through the execution of successful projects.

Consider keeping the SEPG focused properly by changing the meaning of "SPI" to Software Project Improvement and establishing the SEPG’s motto as: "If we are not helping the projects achieve measurable improvement, we are failing!" Okay, so what is the higher-level business strategy? And how do we define project success? And what do we do with senior management’s directive to "achieve Level 2"?

These issues will be addressed by the next installment, "Do: Establish the Alignment Principle".

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