CMMI and Agile Blog

July 4, 2014

How Do You Decide Which Improvement Model (or Approach) Makes the Most Sense for Your Organization Today?

Filed under: CMMI And Agile,Software Engineering Method & Theory (SEMAT) — pemcmahon @ 2:53 pm

If you are facing questions related to which improvement model (or approach) makes the most sense to help your organization improve in today’s rapidly changing world, don’t think you are alone.  To make this decision even more difficult when you start to look close at your options it is likely you will find that the best answer is not a single answer.

More and more organizations are using a multi-model approach today and for good reasons.  As George Box once said, “all models are wrong, but some are useful.”  Another way that I like to look at this is, “all models have weaknesses, but they each have their strengths”.

A few years back when I went through my Lean Six Sigma Black Belt certification I did so for multiple reasons.  First, I did have a business reason as a few of my clients had recently been asking about Lean Six Sigma and were thinking of adopting this tool-kit as part of their overall corporate improvement strategy.  But even before that motivator, many of my clients that I had helped achieve a CMMI Level 3 were agile organizations (e.g. Scrum houses).  Now they were looking at taking the next step in their process improvement journey, and that meant becoming an organization that used their data more effectively to predict and improve.  While the CMMI higher maturity practices (e.g. Level 4 and 5) can help here, the model is not strong in the “how-to” side of setting up a measurement system and monitoring data to help you predict and make effective improvement decisions.  This is a strength of the Lean Six Sigma DMAIC methodology toolkit.

What I have found most surprising recently is how many of my Scrum clients are now trying to find better ways to get more value out of their retrospectives and many of them are interested in more quantitative measurement techniques to support their decisions.

At the recent SEPG/CMMI Conference in the Washington, D.C. area in May this year I presented one of my recent case studies of a client that was using CMMI Level 4 and 5 practices to help improve the effectiveness of their agile retrospectives.

The picture I hope you are getting is that Lean Six Sigma can help the CMMI, and the CMMI can help Agile approaches as well.

The new kid on the block is SEMAT’s Essence Framework, which was just recently adopted as a new Object Management Group Standard.  Like Lean Six Sigma, CMMI, and Agile Retrospectives, the Essence Framework has its own strengths and weaknesses.

With my own clients I am introducing them to Essence gradually as I see areas where I believe it can help strengthen what they are already doing today.   One of the strengths of the Essence Framework is that it is more for the practitioners than for the process improvement professionals.  It is a framework that a team can start using quickly as an aid to help figure out where they are now and where they need to be focusing their attention in the near future.  Teams can also use Essence to help get more value out of their retrospectives.   Another area where teams can quickly get value out of the Essence Framework today is to use the Essence Competencies to self-assess ensuring they have the right skills on their team.  These are areas where the CMMI, Lean Six Sigma, nor Scrum provides much help to a team, and therefore Essence can help to power each of these improvement models in these areas.

The long range vision of the SEMAT community, and the Essence Framework includes many other goals I have not discussed here including the vision for a practice library where practitioners can share and compare practices.  Part of the SEMAT vision for the future is for all software practitioners to be taught the Essence Framework in the Universities so we all have an agreed to set of common terms and essentials as a starting point to aid communication regardless of which approach is chosen in a given organization.  This will help new software practitioners get up to speed faster, and it will help organizations assess in a more consistent fashion where they might have gaps and overlaps in their processes/practices.

So similarly to how Lean Six Sigma can help the CMMI by helping with the how-to side of  measurement, Essence can help whatever your organization is doing today by helping to engage practitioners in their own process/practice improvement.

Getting back to the initial question: How Do You Decide Which Improvement Model (or approach) Makes the Most Sense for Your Organization Today?

There is no single best model (or approach) to performance improvement, and I don’t see this changing in the near future.  But the best approach does include conscious thought and it does require that practitioners take on greater ownership of their own personal, as well as their organization’s, performance.

Love it, or hate it, I’d like to hear your thoughts so your feedback is encouraged and welcome.

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