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Benefits-led Process Improvement Using the CMMI

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Achieving a maturity level is a target often used in CMMI based process improvement programs. It can be important for organizations to have insight in the relation between a maturity level and their business goals, and to know which business benefits they can expect from the improvements. Michelle Krupa, Project Portfolio Director at SITA, talked about the challenge of moving from a certification-led to benefits-led improvement program at the SEPG Europe 2013 conference.

InfoQ did an interview with Michelle in which she explains how they changed their improvement program from being CMMI Maturity Level based to a benefits led approach.

InfoQ: Thanks Michelle for doing this interview. For those not knowing SITA, can you describe what kind of business they are in?

Michelle: SITA delivers and manage business solutions for air transport, global distribution systems and government customers over the world’s most extensive network.We collaborate with industry bodies to provide a portfolio of communication and IT services — specifically for the air transport industry (ATI). Working with the ATI, we innovate and develop information technology applications and communication services.

InfoQ: The goal of the improvement program was to get CMMI Maturity Level 3. Why was this goal chosen?

Michelle: It was felt that by achieving that level the Software Development and Quality organizations would have a level of repeatability in their quality, delivery and on target achievements

InfoQ: The improvement program was started based upon a business case. But then there was a budget cut. How did the program handle this?

Michelle: The program took it in stride.  We looked to see what we could do with what we had to work with. Instead of using external process consultants, we looked to leverage our internal resources.  We had an internal Lead Appraiser that was also a certified SEI trainer, so there was a level of cost savings at the training level as well.

We realized that our internal knowledge and experience would only take us so far.  We lost our Internal Lead Appraiser and looked to fill that gap with a consulting firm that not only had the experience, but was a match for our organizational culture.

InfoQ: You talked about "avoiding the hard stuff". Can you elaborate on that?

Michelle: Of course we unknowingly avoided the hard stuff.  It was never an intentional thing.  Our processes met the ML2 goals and projects were using the processes, however, measurement was not very effective.  We measured what we could measure rather than measures that made sense.  When we dug deeper into the organization, we found that, though the project looked like they were following the processes, it hadn’t really taken a deep root throughout the team and the Project Managers were more Process Managers.

InfoQ: What was done to change the focus of the improvement program, while still keeping the original goal of maturity level 3?

Michelle: We went back to the business case.  We looked at what the program was meant to deliver and why.  While the goal was ultimately to achieve ML3, it was also meant to deliver a set of benefits.

We looked at the SITA Strategic vision, the SITA Strategic goals, and aligned each program benefit to a Strategic Goal.  I went to the program sponsor, my Senior Vice President and worked with him to get the benefits sponsor with our internal customers, which all report into him.  We built a set of Key Benefit Indicators and are now defining the supporting KPIs.  Each of our Solution Line Vice Presidents has been involved at the detail level of defining and agreeing the KBIs and KPIs.

InfoQ: You mentioned that the target of the program was redefined. What was the new target, and how did this help?

Michelle: The focus has now turned to delivering those benefits and seeing a return on investment.  ML3 is still a goal, but seeing the benefits delivered is the immediate focus.  This helps us focus on the right things.  Using business terms to relate what may be impacting the program.  It ties the Solution Line VPs into seeing value for money they are investing in the program.  It elevates the visibility and strategic importance of the program as a whole.

InfoQ: Which learnings from this improvement program do you want to share with the InfoQ readers?

Michelle: Our learnings are:

Don’t let a certification drive your improvement program

Understand what the business needs from your program and deliver it

Don’t let measurement wait, you will loose your way

Transparency and accountability are your friend even if they hurt sometimes

Sponsorship is critical, you need to be able to use political power

Address process deployment, you get no benefits if it is not used

Having processes is not the same as benefits delivered

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