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1.5 Assessments Transform Organizations by the Way They Work

Because assessments involve a broad section of the organization in a rigorous and communal act of self-analysis, they help train organizations to be systematically introspective and self-critical. The model of best practices against which the organization is evaluated provides guidance, but the ways in which best practices are introduced to the organization in the assessment create a basis for transformational effectiveness. Assessments force people to see things in more useful ways, and these new perspectives become self-sustaining: They perpetuate themselves after the assessment has been completed and make organizations more analytical and more efficient.

1.5.1 Assessments Transform Organizations by Getting Different People to See the Same Things the Same Way

A key part of the self-analysis that occurs during an assessment involves an organization's insight into how it is doing business at the moment of the assessment. This might seem like an obvious statement, but it is not, particularly in an organization that takes an ad hoc approach to improvement. When practitioners in such organizations begin to document the way they do business, they are often surprised and nonplussed. Often there is inconsistency or confusion about the way things are done. Identifying the current processes they use becomes a valuable exercise in its own right. The assessment imposes the discipline of objectivity onto a culture of wishful thinking: It examines the way things are being done at that particular point in time—not the way things should be done, or the way someone wants them to be done. The insight is the equivalent of finding your present location on a map so that you can intelligently plot a path to your goal. As Watts Humphrey once famously remarked, "If you don't know where you are, a map won't help."

1.5.2 Assessments Transform Organizations by Helping Senior Management's Efforts at Unification

Next, an assessment necessarily requires that senior management be actively involved as the sponsor of the assessment and the source of actions implemented as a result of the assessment. This also frequently constitutes a major shift in the operations of the kind of low maturity organization in which software is viewed as a mysterious process to be pawned off to a software department that may have little real authority. Without the sponsorship of senior management, grass-root efforts don't get results and become frustrating for the work force. Assessments require senior management to say that the process improvement exercise is being conducted not just for the software department's sake but also for the organization's sake.

Deming and Humphrey have indicated that major changes within an organization require leadership [Deming 82] [Humphrey 89]. Senior managers must set challenging goals and monitor their progress. Assessments require managers to establish priorities, provide resources, and monitor and support the changes in the software process. With management's hands-on involvement and support, grass-roots efforts begin to flourish. Assessments help transform an organization into a unit in which continuous management support becomes a prominent and lasting feature. Management commitment does not simply mean giving approval. It includes providing direction, having a good understanding of what and why activities are being undertaken, and providing visible active support and encouragement.

1.5.3 Assessments Transform Organizations by Softening a Culture of Blame, Permitting Staff the Freedom to Think About What Goes Wrong and How to Correct It

Another way that assessments transform organizations into better places to work is the way that they condition the members of an organization to think about the pros and cons of what they do in a non-threatening way. By insisting on the strict maintenance of confidentiality for all interviews, an assessment establishes a non-judgmental, respectful attitude toward the views of all the people who are interviewed. Non-attribution of data is essential for a free flow of information from participants in an assessment, but it also helps soften and transform organizational practices and begins to create better working environments.

Part of becoming a more mature organization involves recognizing that everyone makes mistakes and that the sooner you find the mistakes and their causes, the more profitable the company can be. As Stan Rifkin puts it, "There is no doing without mistakes. [The real question is:] What is the company's response? In the world of action mistakes are inevitable. Organizations that have closed the knowing-doing gap treat mistakes as a natural part of doing and use the mistakes as occasions for learning. Surgeons call this 'forgive and remember'!" [Rifkin 03].

1.5.4 Assessments Transform Organizations by Encouraging People to Think Across Boundaries

Assessments encourage participants to think across boundaries that may exist in the organization. Programmers learn how requirements experts think. Technical people learn how managers think. People on different projects learn how the other parts of the organization think. All in all, the experience helps everyone to feel as if he or she is part of an organization with mutual interests instead of competitors for resources or recognition. This is no small thing.

Nor is thinking across boundaries just a matter of what the other guy is doing. Different parts of the organization may have a certain way of thinking about quality, for example, even if they are doing similar jobs. The give and take of assessments helps them to question their own deeply held assumptions about what works and what doesn't work and opens them up to other and perhaps better ways to do things.

1.5.5 Assessments Transform Organizations by Consolidating a Party of Improvement

Conversely, people in different parts of an organization may have common doubts about the way things are done and common suggestions for how to make processes more reliable and more efficient. But because they are compartmentalized, their doubts are often dismissed. Assessments allow such people to confirm their own intuitions and unite to form a force for positive change. This happens not only as a product of a post-assessment action plan but also as a side effect of the assessment meetings themselves. And it can transform a culture.

1.5.6 Assessments Transform Organizations by Helping to Institutionalize Rigorous Analysis

Finally, assessments involve inculcating the plateau-sensitive logic of planned process improvement into company planning. There are many ways that an organization's action planning team can prioritize the introduction of improvements. But in immature organizations, few of them are sensitive to the knowledge contained in process improvement models about what software development processes must be in place before others can reliably function. Assessments integrate into an organization's own process of self-analysis an understanding of what software process improvement levels call maturity levels—that is, an awareness that unless management practices are made more predictable (the work of Level 2 in the CMMI), then sophisticated improvements in the organization's technical practices often will not work.

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