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Playing the Game of Dungeons and Dragons

This chapter from Making the Software Business Case provides a process improvement case study. The hypothetical firm has just kicked off an effort to reach CMM Level 4 within two years. The case showed how to justify the expenditures in terms of early error detection and correction, exploitation of COTS, accelerating productivity gains, and moving to product lines, architectures, and systematic reuse.

Some would argue that processes underlie all information systems. After all, technology links and supports all organizational activities in this information age. Directions and game plans for dealing with this area make implementation of information systems easier for managers.
—Alistar Davidson et al. [1997]

Setting the stage

The first case study is built on a real one that involves a company that is seeking to improve productivity via an aggressive process improvement program. I have been working with firms for over a decade. As the case unfolds, I use this firm to illustrate how to build similar business cases from situations that occur. The reason I selected the chapter title "Playing the Game of Dungeons and Dragons" is to show how unexpected events may influence how you justify your process improvement initiatives. My goal is help you to put the fundamental concepts that we covered in the first four chapters into practice using the case study, the game.

You are probably asking by now,"What's the object of the game, who are the players, and what are the rules?" Of course, the goal is to win the game. Winning requires you to formulate a game plan and get management to fund the investments required to pull it off. The business case provides management with the motivation they need to support you. The players include senior management, program management, the quality assurance group, the process group, and the performer organizations. These groups are organized via matrix management concepts as illustrated in Figure 5.1 [Daly, 1997]. Senior management champions the process cause and provides encouragement and support for the effort. Program management focuses on delivering acceptable products on schedule and budget. Performer organizations provide the technical talent to get the work done. The process group develops the organizational processes and helps projects tailor them for their use. Finally, quality assurance audits to ensure that projects use the approved processes. More details on these organizational roles and responsibilities are provided in Table 5.1. In my experience, these roles are standard across industries.

The organization's history of process improvement is displayed in Figure 5.2. As the figure illustrates, it began its process improvement programs

Figure 5.1: Organizational Structure

Table 5.1: Organizational Roles and Responsibilities


General Role

Process Improvement Responsibilities

Senior management

Provide corporate vision and leadership.

Provide oversight and direction.

Champion the overall process improvement initiative.

Provide needed resources (money, talent, etc.) and support for the organizational initiative.

Program management

Manage the timely delivery of quality products that satisfy customer requirements per agreed-to budgets and schedules.

Maintain customer liaison.

Sponsor process and stress its importance.

Ensure that adopted process initiatives make both technical and business sense.

Provide the budget needed to tailor and use the process at the program and/or project level.

Process group

Develop institutional processes and stimulate their adoption organization-wide.

Develop and roll out processes at the institutional level.

Train performers in the use of the processes.

Support performers as they try to use the processes.

Optimize the processes and implement statistical process controls.

Quality assurance group

Ensure that performers follow approved processes.

Monitor the use of the process.

If the process is not used, find out why; then recommend corrective action.

Performer organizations

Do the work needed to get the products out the door per agreed-to budgets and schedules.

Tailor the institutional process for use on their projects.

Use the process to do the work.

Recommend improvements based on usage experience.

Figure 5.2: Organization's Process History

over a decade ago because its largest customer, the U.S. government, forced it to do so to compete on contracts. Since then, the firm has run hot and cold when it comes to process primarily due to external factors. In the mid-1990s, process took a back seat to running lean because the company was positioning itself to be purchased. The focus was on maximizing profit by minimizing overhead and capital expenses. Because money wasn't available at this time for process, the organization reverted to the way it had done business in the past. This wasn't dif-ficult because the people who stayed on during these years were the old-timers who were familiar and comfortable with the old ways. As a result, the organization lost its momentum and regressed from CMM Level 3 to Level 2 process maturity rating.

About three years ago, things took a positive turn. Senior management loosened up the purse strings when it decided to stay in the aerospace electronics business. Managers focused on several opportunities and won several important contracts. They started acquiring firms to help infuse new talent and technology into business areas that had become stale. Most important, they recognized the importance of process and started to make an effort to recapture the improvements they had made in the past. To win several new contracts, they reformed the process group and tasked it with leading the charge to being reassessed CMM

Level 3. They took people with talent from key programs and placed them in the process group. Once a plan of attack was in place, they found the money to fund it. Senior management got serious about process improvement when customers said "good job" after independently assessing the firm at Level 3. Several of the key players in the process group were given incentive awards based on performance. Everyone seemed excited by the turn of events.

The process saga continues today unabated. While senior management remains supportive, program management is not convinced that it buys them anything. Their experience with process and other corporate initiatives has been spotty. Some have seen other corporate initiatives (e.g., total quality management [Schulmeyer, 1992]) come and go. Their reaction is either to wait and see or to stonewall the process group's efforts to enlist their support. Others recall their past experiences with process and either like it or hate it. There seems to be no middle ground. Most in the middle do not share senior management's enthusiasm for process. They say that they need to be convinced before they will spend their project funds on yet another process initiative. What being convinced means, you are not sure of. But your job is to address their concerns and convince them that spending lots of money on process is a worthy cause. Senior management supports you. They say that all you need to do is tell them what you need.

The current goal is to reach CMM Level 4 within two years. As Figure 5.2 illustrates, senior management has tasked the process group with the responsibility of leading the charge to Level 4. Senior managers are motivated again by competitive factors. Big procurements are coming up, and they believe that being at Level 4 will help their chances of winning the contracts. Their customer told them that their chief competitor is at Level 4, and they want to level the playing field.

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