Another concern with the CMMI

A project manager wrote to me: “My company wants to achieve CMMI Level 3 to receive incentive funding from the government. The company owner orders everybody to learn the CMMI and document materials to pass the appraisal by the end of the year when Indian consultant come and conduct the appraisal. The company owner asks me to manage this activity. I do not know anything about CMMI, I am worry that we may not achieve the Level 3. Please advise.”

Answer: It seems that your company has not had a CMMI appraisal. In that situation, you do not know about your current CMMI level, whether you are level 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5. Setting a goal without knowing where you are is a mistake. It seems that your company owner is misinformed and do not understand process improvement. No one in the company would feel comfortable to something that they do not know being forced upon them. If they feel that way than each improvement will be a battle between managers and developers.

You need to understand that process improvement means the process must exist so you can improve it. If the process is not documented and is in somebody‘s mind then you cannot improve it. To succeed, everybody in the company must participate in reviewing the existing process, identify weaknesses, provide inputs, and implement necessary things to improve it. Your people needs the process that they already used every day to improve, not something new. It is more harms if you add unnecessary things and documents to existing process just to pass the appraisal. In other word, order everybody to learn the CMMI (About 700 pages) and add new materials without knowing how they can provide some benefits, is a wrong idea.

It seems that your company needs a good consultant who is experienced in the CMMI to help explain and interpret the practices of the CMMI to fit your company. The owner should look at the CMMI as something to help his company to become more competitive in the market. The goals should be improve quality, reduce defects, reduce cost NOT just a meaningless CMMI level 3. If the government insists on just a level 3 as an incentive, then they are paying for something does not have any real value.

For real improvement to happen, motivation to improve must comes from the people within the company. Developers always want to improve areas that are causing them frustration. To make things better, you must start with those problems first. Planning project better, have more accurate schedule estimates are key to a project’s success. Have more reviews to reduce defect is also another way to make developers happy as they want to spend their time building new products rather than fixing defects in old projects. Your company owner needs to define his business goals that he wants to achieve then using that to prioritize improvement activities so result is not a ‘Level’ but to be a better software company.


  • Blogs of Prof. John Vu, Carnegie Mellon University

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