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Pat O'Toole's Dos and Don'ts of Process Improvement: Dont Maintain a Low Profile

When using the CMMI's continuous representation, organizational behavior is characterized within each Process Area (PA) by one of six Capability Levels: Incomplete (0); Performed (1); Managed (2); Defined (3); Quantitatively Managed (4); or Optimizing (5). Learn how CMMI's Capability Levels are used to assess organizational process improvement.
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When using the CMMI's continuous representation, organizational behavior is characterized within each Process Area (PA) by one of six Capability Levels. An organization's Capability Level for a given PA is either:

Incomplete (0); Performed (1); Managed (2); Defined (3); Quantitatively Managed (4); or Optimizing (5).

As defined by the CMMI, a "capability level profile" is a list of PAs and their corresponding Capability Levels. With 24 PAs in the SE/SW/IPPD CMMI (v1.1), each of which may be performed at one of the six Capability Levels described above, there are a staggering 624 (or 4.7 x 1018) possible capability level profiles. I'll leave it as an exercise for the reader to generate the exhaustive list of all unique combinations.

Using the CMMI's concept of "equivalent staging," an organization employing the continuous representation may legitimately claim to be performing at Maturity Level 2 provided they have achieved Capability Level 2 or higher in each of the 7 PAs associated with Maturity Level 2 in the staged representation. Focusing solely on these 7 PAs, there are still over 275,000 possible capability level profiles. Over 16,000 of these profiles result in Maturity Level 2 equivalence; the remaining 259,000 combinations yield Maturity Level 1 equivalence.

One of the 16,000+ capability level profiles that results in Maturity Level 2 equivalence is the singular case in which the organization is performing exactly at Capability Level 2 in each of the 7 PAs associated with Maturity Level 2. In other words, the staged representation is a specific instance, and therefore a VERY proper subset of, the continuous representation. Other than this singular case, an assessment yielding one of the other 15,999 Maturity-Level-2-equivalent capability level profiles would provide an extra bit of good news – i.e., at least one of the PAs is operating at Capability Level 3 or higher!

"Wait a second," I hear you snicker; "most organizations that achieve Level 2 (capability, maturity, or otherwise) do so by focusing intensely on implementing and institutionalizing the minimum requirements to accomplish their target level. The likelihood of an organization having exceeded their goal is next to nil...isn't it?"

Theoretically, the only difference between Capability Levels 2 and 3 in any non-Engineering PA is implementation of two generic practices: 3.1 Establish a Defined Process; and 3.2 Collect Improvement Information. Now I don't mean to trivialize these practices, but many organizations implementing the specific practices within a PA establish a defined process for performing those activities as well as collect and analyze data that leads to the identification and implementation of additional process improvements over time.

But has the organization really done enough to achieve Capability Level 3 in Requirements Management, or Project Planning, or Configuration Management? If not, what additional steps might they consider to further enhance organizational capability in these process areas? What additional value might be realized by taking these additional steps? Using the CMMI's continuous representation an organization is strongly encouraged to ask and answer such questions; using the staged representation they are not – at least not explicitly for the Maturity Level 2 PAs.

So how does an organization go about determining which of the 4.7 x 1018 possible capability level profiles is best for them? Does all of this freedom really provide value, or is this simply the CMMI Consultant's Full Employment Act of 2002? I will defer these questions to subsequent articles. Until then, start working on that list of capability level profiles – and be sure to write legibly!

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