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Pat O'Toole's Dos and Don'ts of Process Improvement: Don't Carry Old Baggage on a New Journey

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The CMMI's continuous representation has taken most of us out of our comfort zones because it's new. Learn how this method differs from the staged model approach and why "different" may be better.
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When I registered for the SEI's Introduction to CMMI course, I purposely selected a session that was being taught using the continuous representation. Since I already understood staged models, I figured I'd be best served gaining insight into the alternative representation. I was encouraged when I arrived and found 20 course attendees, at least 15 of whom were authorized CBA IPI lead assessors like myself – obviously great minds think alike!

Unfortunately, it didn't take long for the model bashing to begin, and particular angst was directed at the continuous representation. Now don't get me wrong, at the time I was as much a staged-bigot as the next guy, but I really wanted to understand the continuous approach before declaring it unconditionally evil. Some of my fellow attendees didn't feel that their wrath warranted such tempering, however. (Based on subsequent conversations, I learned that many of them had selected this session based on its availability, not on its representation.)

After the naysayers had disrupted the class three or four times, I had had enough. I said, "Look – PACT has a million-dollar client that has already decided that they are using the CMMI's continuous representation. My goal is to learn as much as I can in order to retain this valuable client's business. All this jawboning isn't helping me achieve that objective." They were taken aback by the depth of my conviction as well as that of my client's pockets. Coming clean, I admitted, "I don't REALLY have such a client but someday I might, so I've adopted that mindset to get through this course. I'd suggest that you do the same, or be prepared to send that future client my way!"

The CMMI's continuous representation has taken most of us out of our comfort zones. It's new to us, it's different than what we're used to, and therefore it must be wrong/bad/evil. Besides, it has a level 0 and everybody knows that REAL models start at level 1!

Not too terribly long after completing the Intro to CMMI course, I found myself in the midst of a battle between an SEPG and their process improvement sponsor. The SEPG was very much in favor of the continuous representation, as they perceived it gave them more flexibility in implementing improvements as well as a more granular means of planning and tracking their progress. The sponsor, who wanted the tried-and-true staged model, brought me in for one day to arbitrate a peaceful resolution to this lingering conflict.

After spending a few hours with the SEPG to gain a better understanding of their perspective, I met individually with the sponsor. We talked for an hour before lunch, and it was pretty obvious that he was adamant about using the staged representation. Based on my previous experience (as well as my own personal comfort) with the CMM for Software, I tended to agree with him. Now all I had to do was figure out how to ease the SEPG into the "correct" way of thinking.

Over lunch, the sponsor was bragging about his daughter, gloating that she had achieved a 3.8 grade point average in her freshman year at an Ivy League school. "It's funny," I mused, "using a 'staged GPA representation' she would only be a 3." His jaw tightened as he pondered my remark. "It's worse than that," he finally admitted, "she got nine 'A's and one 'C', so she'd only be a 2." The remainder of the lunchtime conversation focused on how best to implement the continuous representation throughout his organization!

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