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Guide to CMMI

All About CMMI

guide to cmmi

Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) is a bit of a mouthful.

The tongue-twisting pronunciation isn’t exactly helped by an equally tangled list of concepts, definitions, and associations. In most industry guides to CMMI, you find terms like “generic practice elaborations,” “discipline amplification,” “subpractice”, and “staged and continuous representations” — terms that sound precise and authoritative but don’t connect the dots for anyone interested in improving their processes in a practical sense.

We’ve put together a layman’s guide to CMMI so your business can break down CMMI’s core parts, ideas, and implementation — what CMMI is, who it’s for, and how it benefits the organizations that use it.

What is CMMI?

what is cmmi

CMMI is a process-improvement model.

CMMI provides an in-depth catalog of definitions and behaviors for an organization to interpret to reach its ideal state of performance. If a set of processes are designed and implemented that fulfill the CMMI at its fullest, then the CMMI model is a pathway for institutions to maximize their resources, optimize project outputs, better serve customers, and proactively define and manage their core business processes.

If adopted, CMMI becomes its own scaffold to superior performance. Before incorporating CMMI, enterprises begin with a quick assessment of where they fall on CMMI’s spectrum, then pick process domains to target, implement, and ultimately improve upon from its in-depth catalog of process elements.

CMMI has two main “representations”, which are methodologies for how to understand and manage changing an enterprise’s processes—called “Staged” and “Continuous”.  In either representation, organizations seek to advance between five “Maturity Levels” for the Staged Representation or six “Capability Levels” for the Continuous Representation. These levels create that overarching scaffolding at the heart of CMMI — a roadmap leading to process innovation.  Just like a roadmap, the Staged Representation describes the (process) journey day by day while the Continuous Representation describes the exact same journey milestone by milestone.

Last but not least, CMMI is structured and formulaic. Although this approach seems inflexible to beginners, the emphasis on a structured approach helps organizations to quickly begin working on improvements with a proven approach that has worked for other successful enterprises, such as IBM, Siemens, and Raytheon. Both principal CMMI methodologies, staged and continuous, are built around the following four core elements:

  • Levels: The defining architectural concept of CMMI is progressing through increasingly sophisticated levels. Maturity and Capability Levels tier an organization’s ongoing progression and subsequent ranking. The differences between the two, as well as why you might adopt one over the other, will be explained later in this guide.
  • Process areas: CMMI version 1.3 contains 22 process areas. Process areas make up bundles of related ideas that proved the target activities for organizations to interpret and then incorporate into their operations. Both the five Maturity Levels and the six Capability Levels contain the same 22 process areas, the only difference being differences in the implementation approach.
  • Specific goals and practices: Each process area comes with its own list of unique goals and practices. They are concrete yet adaptable initiatives directing the detailed objectives for guiding your process implementation. The specific goals and practices provide the core ideas for processes that support your organization’s goals. An example specific practice is that every service delivery opportunity or product development project should have a set of known requirements that must be fulfilled in order to satisfy the customer(s).
  • Generic goals and practices: Finally, the CMMI includes a dozen generic organizational goals and practices that provide the support structures for improving internal operations. Generic goals and practices are not process-area specific but rather are basic ideas helping you implement and sustain productive processes in your organization. An example generic practice is that a process that is not supported with appropriate tools and training will not be as effective as possible.

Benefits of CMMI

CMMI sets itself apart from other process-enhancement models with its two-fold strategy. Built into every Level and every area are both process-oriented and behavioral measures.

The benefits of a model that outlines processes and behaviors are numerous. It means that your organization not only makes performance-altering changes but also has a blueprint for making the changes stick, with buy-in and walk-the-talk participation from everyone affected.

This balance between process improvement and process sustainment is only one of many benefits of CMMI:

  • Comprehensive change: CMMI is explicitly designed to address all of the following core operations of business — data management, project management, people management, service and delivery, vendor/supplier relationships, product engineering and development, infrastructure support, and process development. Few models come close to creating such a complete portrait of end-to-end product and process life cycles.
  • Improved product and service quality: Opportunities for right-the-first-time increase and defects decrease, vendors and suppliers are more strategically managed, and employee talent is better supported, assuring higher-quality and consistent deliverables.
  • Boosted productivity: CMMI helps standardize project-management protocol and team collaboration efforts, plus finds ways to integrate workflow to simplify and streamline activities.
  • Increased customer satisfaction: Enable quicker times-to-market, strengthen customer touch points, and fine-tune channels with your customer base for more confidence, connection, and exceeded expectations.
  • Enhanced on-time delivery: Standardized product testing and timetables better manage all project timelines, plus reduce the likelihood of scope creep, budget delays, or project pivots.
  • Cuts costs: Employee time and talent are better allocated, waste and redundancies are reduced, process-expenses versus benefit become leaner, and suppliers are better managed — all benefits CMMI can bring to your bottom line.

CMMI Levels and Representations

levels of cmmi

CMMI comes in two alternate worldviews for how to implement process change — the Staged Representation and Continuous Representation.  Both provide “levels”.  The Staged Representation gives “Maturity Levels” and the Continuous Representation gives “Capability Levels”.

There are more similarities than difference between the two representations, yet they aren’t directly interchangeable. Both Staged and Continuous methodologies rely upon the same terminology, process architecture, and scaffolded approach. Each requires a formal appraisal to give officially an organization its ranking.
While Staged and Continuous Representation share core tenets, they apply process changes on different scales.

1. Staged Representation

Staged Representation CMMI uses five Maturity Levels to map out an organization’s overall process improvement strategy.  The Staged Representation helps plan the organization’s process improvement journey by carefully designed “stages” that are known to work, with each step building on the previous step.  The Staged Representation is like a staircase:  it’s a proven way to go from down to up.

  • Initial: Internal processes are ad-hoc, informally overseen, departmentally siloed, and undefined.
  • Managed: Key team and departmental processes are formally standardized and documented but still reactive and project-based in nature.
  • Defined: Processes are aligned with the entire organization’s goals and business objectives, not a department’s or project’s. Standardizations contribute to that whole and are proactively, not situationally, implemented.
  • Quantitatively managed: Performance metrics back standardized, business-objective aligned processes. These metrics provide further process measurements and controls to inform decisions.
  • Optimized: All internal processes are actively measured, managed, and institutionalized. A structure is now in place for continual improvements and growth.

Each of these five Levels is described in terms of the process areas to be implemented at that level. These process areas themselves are broken down into dozens of specific goals and practices, which, as described earlier, are categorical and descriptive — not prescriptive — in nature.  (Watch out for consultants who tell you that the CMMI dictates how you implement your processes.  Such consultants are both wrong and dangerous.  The CMMI is not one-size-fits-all.)

In other words, the Staged Representation and its stair-step approach to the process areas does not tell you what to do to see black-and-white process improvements. The Staged Representation makes guiding suggestions on how process improvements can be approached, defined, and executed—but the concepts are guidelines, not rules.

Complementing the specific goals and practices, the Staged Representations also include general goals and practices. These denote how an organization sustains process performance gains to “levels up,” moving from one Maturity Level step to the next through all five tiers. This maturity rating designates the enterprise’s overall evolution in the CMMI framework. Once formally assessed, an organization can claim, “We are at Maturity Level 4.”

Over 80 percent of companies adopting CMMI use the Staged Representation as a proven path to install multi-function process improvements and support holistic growth.

2. Continuous Representation

Continuous Representation CMMI uses six Capability Levels to describe improvement steps for individual process areas rather than for sets of process areas as in the Staged Representation.  If the Staged Representation may be thought of as a staircase, using the Continuous Representation is like climbing a rock wall—there are many paths to the top with different challenges, risks, and rewards.

These are the two fundamental differences between the Continuous and Staged Representations.  Both differences originate from the Continuous Representation’s focus on a micro approach to change rather than the Staged Representation’s macro approach.

First, with the Continuous Representation, an enterprise picks and chooses what adaptations make the most sense or are in the best interest of that particular enterprise’s goals.  An organization using the Continuous Representation is able to develop a process change plan that is uniquely suited to that particular organization’s goals.

The micro approach also supports more detail-oriented planning, management, and measurement of process evolution.  Each small improvement can be mapped out and progress tracked.  Like climbing a rock wall, little bits of progress can be measured instead of whole stair steps achieved.  Rather than stating, “We are Maturity Level 4,” and therefore denoting integrative practices and sequences built across the entire organization, in the Continuous Representation, an organization would simply say, “Our Supplier Agreement Management process is Capability Level 3,” since that’s what they’re working on.

With both the Staged and Continuous Representations, there are no new or different process areas to pick from between the two. Wording, content, specific, and generic goals remain identical between both Representation types, keeping CMMI cohesive.

Evolution of CMMI

CMMI was initially created by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Melon University in the late 1990s under the sponsorship of the US Department of Defense (DoD).  Since then, private industry experts have refined its process improvement template model and subject matter content into the cross-capability maturity framework today.  From the original base content of software engineering, CMMI has grown to include hardware and systems engineering, personnel management, data management, systems resilience, acquisition management, and service development, delivery, and management.

CMMI has undergone a few generations, or versions. Today, an enterprise interested in CMMI can use Version 1.3 or the newly introduced Version 2.0 to plan process improvement activities in support of the enterprise’s goals.

1. Version 1.3

Version 1.3 is the current widespread template for CMMI applications. It outlines the 22 process areas and their specific goals and practices, as well as their complementary, cross-Level generic goals.

CMMI version 1.3 has been the most popular and successful revision of the CMMI to date.  From CMMI’s early development paid for by the US DoD, version 1.3 has seen an expansion around the world.  Although the CMMI continues to be heavily used in the US, there are now more organizations building on it in India and China than the US.  The CMMI Institute, the successor to the SEI, will stop supporting version 1.3 in the fourth quarter of 2020.

2. Version 2.0

Version 2.0 is still young, having seen initial batch rollouts in March 2018. Downloadable 2.0 PDFs and other Version 2.0 details are available from the CMMI Institute directly. CMMI 2.0 is available but is not yet considered fully operational, since conducting formal CMMI 2.0 appraisals requires special coordination with the CMMI Institute.  Version 2.0 will become the only supported version in the fourth quarter of 2020 with the retirement of version 1.3.

There are four primary updates included in Version 2.0:

  1. User-friendly: Version 2.0 stresses non-technical language and applications. It contains an online portal for businesses to design a visual CMMI model tailored to their specific interests.
  2. Business-focused results: Version 2.0 promises a profit-building process pipeline with increased attention on customer conversions, retention, and satisfaction alongside ways to boost employee productivity and efficiency.
  3. Operationally agnostic: Version 2.0 will more explicitly outline how CMMI integrates with other popular operations methodologies and philosophies, like Agile, DevOps, and Lean Six Sigma.
  4. Appraisal adjustments: Shortened appraisal timelines, reduced costs, and greater transparency on rating results are also highlighted in Version 2.0.

Creating a CMMI Culture

The most critical element of creating a successful CMMI culture is, to many, also the most counter-intuitive — at all steps, CMMI is meant to be folded into your organization, not your organization folded into it.

Yes, CMMI is both a process-based and behavior-based set of guidelines. This leads many organizations to view it literally as a manual for replacing how they do business with something entirely new simply because “CMMI said so.”  This viewpoint almost always leads to failure—wasted time and money with little benefit at the end.

CMMI is not a textbook. It is not a list of instructions for organizations check off, one by one. Using it this way goes against CMMI’s very nature — like trying to make your square business peg fit into a circular hole. It won’t work, it’s frustrating, and everyone gives up.

CMMI Integration Tips

To make CMMI’s influence effective, repeatable, and lasting in your organization, consider the following tips:

  • Don’t create a “CMMI process”: There’s no such thing as a standard CMMI process. CMMI is about overarching suggestions to sharpen and elevate your work processes already activated, not replace them.
  • Prioritize people: From your end customers to your everyday employees, CMMI scaffolds ways to better support and satisfy anyone involved with your business. People come first. After all, without people, there’d be no point to processes in the first place.
  • Complement implementation with change management: A change-management strategy helps organizations institutionalize its adjustments. Employees are less likely to feel process-change aftershocks. They have a better sense of what changes are happening, when, and why — plus how their roles fit into the new workflow.
  • It’s a marathon, not a sprint: Incremental process rollouts with measurable benefits, stakeholder collaboration, performance tracking, and batch metric analysis are just a few pacing elements ensuring a successful CMMI integration. Save the all-out organization blitz for another time. Changing a process on paper is quick, but changing how an organization performs that process without reverting to “the old way” takes time.

Tips on Choosing a CMMI Consultant

choose cmmi consultant

CMMI consultants offer multiple areas of expertise. From assisting an organization in CMMI-based process implementation to preparing for a formal Standard CMMI Appraisal Method for Process Improvement (SCAMPI), CMMI consultants lend essential guidance.

Consider the following questions when picking the right CMMI consultant for your organization — as well as what to expect from such a professional.

1. What industries do they work in?

Many CMMI consultants pivot their careers to focus on particular industries. If aligned with yours, this could mean the consultant is more familiar with industry-specific challenges and risks, as well as industry goals, objectives, performance metrics, and overall trends — all of which can be funneled into a more workable process plan.

BTI has experience supporting a wide array of industries, from defense industry leaders to health management systems and everything in between.

2. Do they support CMMI for Development, CMMI for Services, or some other CMMI application domain?

CMMI for Development looks to secure process maturity for engineering product development (software, hardware, systems engineering, and support products) across a product’s entire life cycle. Look for CMMI consultants who have work experience in engineering product development and support, including working as program management or engineers.  Too many CMMI consultants don’t have hands-on experience in actually creating a product and therefore have only an academic knowledge when applying the CMMI for Development.

Conversely, CMMI for Services targets organizations that perform services. It covers process-enhancement and behavioral strategies for the design, establishment, administration, and delivery of such services.  CMMI for Services is broad, since it can be used in any service delivery organization from running a doctor’s office to a fast-food eatery to a multi-national overnight shipping company.  Look for consultants with knowledge in your specific industry.

There are also CMMI models for acquisition, systems resilience, personnel management, and data management.  These domains are more specialized.  Look for consultants who have the specific expertise that you need.

3. Do they consult, train, and lead appraisals — or a combination of all three?

Much like a doctor or accountant is formally licensed to offer services in order to assure that they meet certain standards, the same is true for CMMI appraiser and educators.  Consultants are not formally licensed, but most CMMI consultants work in conjunction with an appraiser or training service provider.

A listing of licensed CMMI appraisers and instructors is available from the CMMI Institute:  service providers.

One of the main reasons for hiring a CMMI consultant is to help the organization to understand the CMMI and use the CMMI to plan and implement industry-appropriate improvements.  If an organization has a business motivation for attaining a particular CMMI Maturity or Capability Level, the consultant should also help the organization prepare for the formal CMMI accreditation event called a “SCAMPI Class A appraisal”.  This is the formal appraisal that gives an organization its official one to five Maturity Level or zero to five Capability level ranking.

A SCAMPI Class A appraisal is the only appraisal method to assign such rankings. As such, certified SCAMPI A Lead Appraisers are brought into an organization to conduct the formal assessment.

A CMMI consultant who runs appraisals on their own work is akin to an accountant auditing their own books. Inquire with any prospective consultants how they separate consulting responsibilities from those involved with SCAMPI A appraisals and consider what is ethical for your organization and in the view of your customer and your competitors.

4. Can they do both regular (Maturity Level 2-3) and high (Maturity Level 4-5) appraisals?

Again, CMMI is meant to work for your organization, not make your organization work for it.

CMMI consultants can perform gap analyses and data collection to gauge where your organization currently ranks before a formal SCAMPI Class A appraisals. Depending on those early assessments, your organization’s capacities may be on the lower end (one to three) or already positioned higher (four or five).

A consultant’s expertise should come tailored for your realistic capacities, goals, and next Maturity Level. You may not necessarily be ready for that Maturity Level 5 ranking, but a consultant certified by the CMMI Institute for Level 5 support will be more experienced and knowledgeable to see you across any CMMI tiers.

Note that less than 25 percent of official CMMI Institute partners hold this five-tier authorization. BTI is one of them.

5. Can they do both CMMI 1.3 and CMMI 2.0?

As CMMI 2.0 becomes more established, hiring a CMMI consultant fluent in its updates and template implementation will be more important than ever, bridging the gap between today’s CMMI ideology and tomorrow’s.  Not all organizations providing CMMI services can support CMMI 1.3 and 2.0 needs.  BTI can do both.

6. If you work in or for the U.S. Department of Defense, can they do classified CMMI consulting?

DOD contractors and agencies have special compliance interests they must follow. So much so that contractors bidding on DOD software or IT contracts must carry a minimum of a CMMI Maturity Level 2 or 3, depending on the acquisition.

A CMMI consultant brought in to help requires preemptive approval themselves. These individuals need full access rights and clearance to work on government-sponsored projects involving sensitive data.

This often means thorough vetting not only by the CMMI Institute but also by the DOD itself. Only a handful of Institute partners hit this dual qualification.  BTI is one of them. Save yourself time and energy by ensuring your list of prospective CMMI consultants have appropriate access to your projects that will meet with the approval of your DoD customers.

Let BTI Bring CMMI Transformation to Your Organization

cmmi consulting by bti

Business Transformation Institute’s consultants are part of an elite group of all-Level certified CMMI experts that help prepare, audit, and implement tailored templates for business-process success.

Explore our portfolio of CMMI services and success stories, then schedule your free consultation today.

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