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Pat O'Toole's Dos and Don'ts of Process Improvement: Do Exit Staged, Right?

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Process improvement requires mini-assessments in order to properly baseline an organization's capability. How can the findings of a mini-assessment be used most effectively to determine your group's strengths and weaknesses?
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"Just a quick question," the sponsor started, "are we still intending to conduct the mini-assessment next month to baseline our current capability within those 7 selected Process Areas (PAs)?" You answer in the affirmative. "And aren't we going to generate an improvement plan based on the findings of the mini-assessment?" You think to yourself, "So much for the quick question," but again provide a positive response to his lengthening query.

"I know that you've planned the mini-assessment to cover only the 7 PAs from your presentation," he continued, "but wouldn't we benefit from including Organizational Process Focus within the scope as well? Shouldn't we be striving to achieve Capability Level 1 or 2 in our process improvement program? Since we've just started this activity, I strongly suspect we are currently performing at Level 0 – and that's OK. But shouldn't we consider establishing a baseline for OPF and start addressing the most critical findings in our improvement plan?"

Unfortunately, he had a point. Being the new kid in charge of a recently-formed SEPG you have been trying to determine your group's strengths and weaknesses; this would be a terrific opportunity to get an objective view. "Good idea," you concede, "I think we can fit it in the current mini-assessment plan and schedule."

"Let me know if you need more time or resources to expand its scope. And while we're at it," he continued, "what about Peer Review? You indicated that for several months after the mini-assessment, that you will be generating or updating various process elements to support those 7 PAs, and then conducting inspections on each newly developed or modified element. Shouldn't we determine and improve our peer review capability as well?"

Wanting to regain control of your meeting, and feeling a strong need to reassert yourself as the process improvement expert, you respond, "Remember that the CMM's Peer Review KPA became Goal 2 in the CMMI's Verification Process Area, and we're really not intending to tackle Verification until next year. Good thought, but Verification would just come out Level 0 anyway." That ought to shut him up for awhile.

"Well, how but if we just include Verification Goal 2 then? Can't we extend the idea of "continuous" down to the goal level?" Man, he just won't let it go, will he? "We COULD do that, but that would never fly in a formal SCAMPI assessment," you respond, hoping to end the discussion before he tries to put all 24 PAs in scope.

"Perhaps you're right, it was just a random neuron firing. You've done a terrific job giving me a high level view of how the SEPG intends to help us improve our development capability over the next year or so. I'm hoping that once the mini-assessment has been done, and the SEPG has had an opportunity to analyze the results, you'll be able to provide me with a bit more detail. Once you've sketched out your plan, I suspect you'll also want to talk with me about reducing the aggressive scope that you've presented here, and/or expanding the SEPG's staff and schedule. Let me know what I can do to show my support for your program." With that he got up, shook your hand, and bounded out the door ("to disrupt yet another meeting," you think to yourself).

You have to give him credit, though – he knew when to back off and leave it to the expert. He's well intentioned enough, but a bit out in left field. Image thinking about reducing the scope to something less than Maturity Level 2! Or including a single goal within the scope of a mini-assessment! How absurd! And then you hear it – that nagging mental voice that says, "It is an intriguing thought, however, and it would be useful information to have!" You try to silence the heretic within as you feel

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