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Reaching the Peak of CMMI: How Fast Can You Climb?

Henry Schneider, PPQC

While implementing the CMMI at Maturity Levels 2 and 3 usually contributes to some level of improved performance, successfully implementing Maturity Level 5 enables an organization to begin to truly optimize their performance. This distinction is even more noteworthy when an organization is able to successfully mature rapidly. A division of a large international systems integration company headquartered in Seoul, South Korea (LG CNS, LG Insurance Sector) reached this pinnacle in October 2005 having successfully reached Maturity Level 5 after achieving Maturity Level 3 just twelve months earlier. Though this speedy rise cannot be accomplished by every organization, there are certain attributes, practices, and lessons learned that can be applied to help manage change, improve processes, and rapidly transform performance.

I was given the privilege of leading this successful Maturity Level 5 appraisal, which provided insight into how they were able to succeed. There were many factors that contributed to their success: strong management commitment, leveraging corporate knowledge and resources, capitalizing on Six Sigma, low employee turnover, repetitive cycles, and the Korean culture. By itself, each factor is not sufficient to ensure rapid success. However, the synergy of their collective existence is what enabled the LG Insurance Sector to swiftly implement Maturity Levels 4 and 5 and have a successful appraisal.

The most important success factor for LG was management commitment. Where LG CNS and the LG Insurance Sector excelled was that management commitment was not solely confined to the organizational unit, it was evident throughout LG CNS. Proper attention was given to staffing, resources, and necessary training from the corporate level all the way into each organizational unit. The individual teams were empowered to make decisions, take credit for their success, and take responsibility for their failures. And most importantly each manager was a strong process improvement advocate. More than merely talking the talk, they truly walked the walk. This solid culture of commitment promoted process improvement and enabled rapid change.

One of the world class practices I noted from several LG CNS assessments and appraisals was their use of corporate resources to establish, augment, and coach a local SEPG group. This corporate knowledge base is very valuable in helping an LG division avoid the CMMI implementation pitfalls experienced by other groups, thereby greatly enhancing the organization's ability to rapidly progress up the Maturity Levels. The corporate SEPG group worked directly with the division to help them learn from the successes and failures of other LG CNS organizations and then appropriately apply these lessons internally. The corporate SEPG provided a standard set of corporate processes and assets for all organizations to use, the necessary process model training (be it ISO 9000, SPICE, CMMI, or Six Sigma), and hands-on CMMI implementation consulting services. When the local SEPG was capable, the corporate support phased out allowing the organizational unit to fly solo. This approach has been very successful for LG CNS throughout the corporation. By bringing knowledge and resources to the organizational unit, LG CNS avoided having each organization repeat the same mistakes, as well as building a cadre of expert internal process improvement consultants. In the case of the LG Insurance Sector, the corporate SEPG leveraged their experience from another LG CNS division that had successfully achieved Maturity Level 5 with the Software CMM. Even though there were local LG Insurance Sector challenges with implementing High Maturity practices, learning from how other internal organizations had already addressed these issues made it possible to overcome these challenges and rapidly implement Maturity Levels 4 and 5.

When employee turnover is high, the organization spends countless hours training new employees. And if their practices are not fully institutionalized, high employee turnover will slow the process down even further. When the workforce is stable, people carry the institutionalization of the organization's processes and procedures forward through time until it takes on a life of its own and it becomes part of the organization's culture. One crucial feature of the LG Insurance Sector was that between 2003 and 2005, this organization was extremely stable and had the lowest employee turnover of any LG CNS division. The practitioners enjoyed their assignments, got satisfaction from their work, and were highly motivated to improve their processes and procedures. They grew together as a team, forming strong bonds, and they experienced a lot of "pride of ownership" for process improvement. This factor greatly helped with their rapid institutionalization of their Maturity Level 4 and 5 practices.

The nature of the project work greatly influences an organization's ability to mature. The length of the project life cycles has a direct effect on the amount of data collected, analyzed, and used for process improvement. An LG Insurance Sector behavior that greatly impressed me was their use of a repetitive weekly cycle. Even though they worked on 4 annualized projects, for all intents and purposes, all work was on the same schedule and consisted of a series of weekly mini-life cycles. This repetitive cycle made it very easy to perform Generic Practices 2.8 (Monitor and Control the Process) and 2.10 (Review Status with Higher Level Management), as well as collect ample data. By weekly collecting and analyzing the project and process data, LG Insurance Sector was able to quantitatively manage the processes and statistically manage their selected sub-processes. Over the course of two months it was easy for the organization to collect and analyze enough data to compute reasonable control limits and quantitatively determine their process capabilities. And within four months they were able to statistically improve their inspection process as well as decrease the cost of rework.

And last but not least, the Korean Culture played a major role in LG Insurance Sector's ability to rapidly implement High Maturity practices. There was minimal resistance to change and process improvement, an extremely strong sense of camaraderie and being part of a work family, a strong sense of pride in performing a job well, a personal identification with the customer's needs and concerns, and the drive to do whatever it takes to complete a task. The lack of naysayers and this strong "can do" attitude greatly enabled the organization to pilot new changes, rapidly deploy the changes, and ultimately mature the organization.

Though these Critical Success Factors were major contributors to the LG Insurance Sector's success in rapidly achieving Maturity Level 5, it is vital to remember that any CMMI Implementation calls for a plan to coordinate resources; pilot the improvements; analyze the results; and successfully deploy the new and/or revised process assets. Planning is vital to the success of any process improvement endeavor. The LG Insurance Sector wrote and executed a series of plans that they quantitatively managed and clearly communicated the status to both management and project staff.

Based on the success of LG CNS and the LG Insurance Sector, here are some practical approaches that can help any organization.

  1. If you have a good working relationship with your customer, get them involved in your process improvement program. Educate them on what you are trying to achieve. Get their input on your Process Goals and Objectives.
  2. Management commitment is essential. Senior Management must be a strong advocate of process improvement and daily demonstrate their continued support. They need to clearly state their expectations and follow through on them.
  3. Communication of all process improvement efforts is vital. Increase everyone's awareness of your process improvement efforts. Let everyone know who is on the SEPG and their roles. Provide feedback on the results of submitted improvement proposals. The greater the visibility of your process improvements efforts, the greater the buy-in from the practitioners.
  4. Encourage and engender process improvement as a life style. Everyone should feel personal ownership of process improvement.
  5. And by all means have fun with your process improvement program. Pick a metaphor such as golf, baseball, or football and embrace it in every activity. Have an opening day ceremony. Play silly games integrating the metaphor with your efforts. Hand out little reminders, gifts, and rewards. Though this suggestion may sound dumb, it does have a positive effect.

It is possible to rapidly implement the CMMI and still comply with the expectations of each of the High Maturity Specific Practices. When you commit yourself to a rapid rise, it means focusing on the goal, providing dedicated and committed resources, leveraging the success of others, learning from your mistakes, and having strong management support throughout the chain of command.


About the Author
Henry Schneider is the President and Senior Principal Consultant at Process and Product Quality Consulting, LLC. He has over 30 years experience in software and systems development as a developer, systems engineer, project manager, trainer, consultant, and assessor/appraiser (ISO 9000/TickIT, SW-CMM®, and CMMI®). Henry is a SEI-authorized CMMI High Maturity Lead Appraiser and Intro to CMMI Instructor, former Vice President for the Society for Software Quality, and on the editorial review board for ASQ’s journal, Software Quality Professional. More about him at ppqc.blogspot.com. Henry is also a contributing author for ExecutiveBrief, technology management resource for business leaders.

© Copyright 2009 ExecutiveBrief. Used by permission.


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