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Pat O'Toole's Dos and Don'ts of Process Improvement: DO Firm Your Firm by Reaffirming

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Businesses need to maintain their progress by setting measurable goals and continually reviewing milestones. Learn the importance of using formal assessments to ensure the high level of quality that keeps your company running ahead of the pack.
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#12: DO Firm Your Firm by Reaffirming

I am a marathon runner; at least I think I am. For the past several years, I've run 3 or 4 marathons each year. I ran my first three within a four-week period (hey, I never said I was a smart marathon runner!). I've run marathons in several states and four different countries. My qualifications as a marathon runner are pretty solid; at least I think they are.

Unfortunately, the last marathon I ran was about two years ago. Although I have registered for a couple in the meantime, I had to withdraw due to an increased workload and a few ill-timed injuries. So although my qualifications are solid, they are not all that current, and now I feel a twinge of doubt (or is it guilt?) every time I call myself a marathon runner.

So my question is, "How long after your last marathon can you still legitimately call yourself a marathon runner?" A year – no problem; two years – I sure hope so; five years – probably not.

The only reason I mention any of this is because I meet a lot of people from high maturity organizations that seemingly express the same self-doubt when they talk about their maturity level. When they say, "We're a Level <X> organization," you hear the implicit follow-on, "at least we think we are," or worse yet, "at least we were" just begging to come out.

I once taught a CMM course for a firm that had been assessed Level 3 a few years prior. Shortly after their assessment, they experienced a change in management and direction – and so did their process discipline and project outcomes. Yet, although their organizational maturity had degraded significantly over the prior three years, their maturity level had not. Since then the new management team challenged the organization to be re-assessed Level 3 within two years – a motivating goal in some ways, a depressing one in others.

So my question is, "How long after your last assessment can you still legitimately call yourself a Level <X> organization?" If you haven't been assessed since the last century, do you feel a twinge of doubt every time you state your CMM level?

Don't get me wrong – there are some organizations that can sustain ongoing improvement without a formal assessment to reaffirm their progress, just as there are some long-distance runners that don't feel compelled to run an annual marathon. But for most of us, it's the focus on these measurable goals that helps us sustain our discipline through the trying times. Without these checkpoints, commitment can erode and regression can occur. If you don't believe me, just ask the "Level 3" company above.

So, am I still a marathon runner? I plan to reaffirm that assertion in October when I run the Mt. Rushmore Marathon with my 70-year-old father-in-law. It would be disappointing (and somewhat embarrassing) to find out the answer is "NO!" That pending challenge has influenced my life style to the point where running is fun again, I'm eating much healthier, and my middle-aged body is firming up.

So, is your firm still functioning at Level <X>? Go ahead, set a goal to reaffirm that claim and enjoy the benefits that accompany the journey that leads to the answer.

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