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Is ‘process maturity’ anti-agile?

September 23, 2012

Organizations often implement tight controls at every level when managing change. One means of attempting this focus on process is by using the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI®) model.

The CMMI model is based on approaches to continual improvement of processes by Crosby, Deming, Juran, and Humphrey. The main assumption in the CMMI model is that “the quality of a system or product is highly influenced by the quality of the process used to develop and maintain it”. It is claimed by many, including the US GAO, to contain the essential elements of effective processes and enables the user of the model to measure the degree of maturity in processes involved in governance of projects and technical development.

There are four reasons why so many problems exist for the adopters of the CMMI model in government (see Figure 12). These are: [i]

  • It is difficult for many organizations to make the necessary investment up front to develop and document effective processes if the returns are not immediate and obvious.
  • Although many organizations have reached CMMI level 3 (of managed processes), CMMI level 4 is a potential vale of despondency. More processes become documented, and yet more quantitative measurement takes place. However, this produces little benefit until the processes start to become optimized, which is meant to happen at level 5.
  • Organizations find it difficult to optimize, and the process of ‘becoming mature’ may overshoot. The rollout of CMMI project can push the organization over into what I call “CMMI level 5½”, where processes are over‑documented, over-measured, too broadly prescriptive and difficult and expensive to change. Finding the sweet spot of CMMI can often turn into an expensive and forlorn search for the holy grail of CMMI level 5.
  • ¨  Any great investment in organizational maturity is at risk from organizational changes which split or join together portions of different departments. Organizations which are highly dependent on process maturity tend to have brittle and inflexible responses to organizational changes that are thrust upon them.

Levels 1-3 seem to make sense to most organisations, but beyond that there often lie dragons…  What are your experiences with CMMI? Does it facilitate, or hinder agile approaches?

[i] Alleman, Glen B., and Michael Henderson. “Making Agile Development Work in a Government Contracting Environment – Measuring velocity with Earned Value.” Accessed November 7, 2012 .


From → Agile Governance

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