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Pat O'Toole's Dos and Don'ts of Process Improvement: Do Set the Stage for Continuous Improvement

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In order to effectively manage an organization, a continuous improvement plan must be developed. Learn how to choose the ideal organizational "target profile" from the numerous possible capability level profiles that are available.
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Marilyn Vos Savant, purportedly the smartest person in the world, published the following brain puzzle: You've been selected as a contestant on the game show, Let's Make A Deal, and Monty Hall presents you with three doors. He tells you that behind one of the doors is a shiny new car (Applause!); behind the other two doors are goats. After Monty prompts you to select a door, you pick Door #2. Laying a hand on your shoulder, Monty says, "Before we show you what's behind YOUR door, let's find out what's behind Door #1." The door is opened to reveal a goat (Applause!). Monty smiles and asks, "Would you like to keep Door #2 or would you prefer to switch to Door #3?"

What should you do? Most people, figuring that they now have a 50:50 chance of winning the car, stay with the door that they originally selected; but then again, two thirds of those people take the bus home.

To illustrate, let's expand the puzzle to include 1,000 doors. When prompted, you select Door #123. Monty systematically opens door after door, revealing a goat each time, until there are only two left – yours and Door #847. He now offers you the opportunity to switch doors. Do you take him up on his offer, or do you keep the door you selected on a whim? Do you REALLY believe you have a 50:50 chance if you stick with your original guess?

In my last article, I indicated that there are a staggering 624 (or 4.7 x 1018) possible capability level profiles to choose from. How does one go about selecting from this vast array of choices without getting a goat?

Assume for a moment that you were recently hired to manage a newly formed SEPG in a Maturity Level 1 organization. Despite your predisposition to staged models, the sponsor has already decided that the CMMI's continuous representation will be used to guide organizational improvement activities (he mumbled something about his daughter's GPA, but you didn't quite follow it.) There are some reasonably good practices in place, with the notable exception of two process areas (PAs): Requirements Management and Configuration Management.

If only you were using the staged representation; you wouldn't have to think about what to work on first, you'd just get on with it! But no, they had to make this complex. Carl Sagan's voice echoes in your head as you think about the billions and billions of profiles to choose from. Heck, even Shakespeare noted that, "All the world is staged."

But wait a minute - why don't you just establish a "target profile" that mirrors the staged representation? They'll think they're doing continuous, but you'll know they're doing staged – it's the perfect plan. So you generate your presentation indicating that, in "continuous-speak," the organization will initially target Capability Level 2 in seven PAs (which just happen to be those associated with Maturity Level 2 in forbidden "staged-speak"). You figure it ought to take the SEPG about 12 months to write and implement the supporting process elements, and add the timeline and resource requirements to your presentation. You are now ready for this afternoon's meeting with the sponsor. After all, you're the (wo)man with a plan!

Just like Monty facing 1,000 unopened doors, you systematically proceed through your presentation, watching your prey getting drawn ever deeper into your web. You're on the final slide – schedule and resources – when you hear the sponsor clear his throat and say, "Just a quick question, ..." Monty Hall was down to the last two doors – the one you had selected, and Door #666. You fear that the sponsor is about to switch doors!

Tune in again soon to read the exciting conclusion to this gripping story– which is rumored to be co-authored by Stephen King!

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