The path to CMMI level 3

Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) appraisal examines company development processes, business management procedures, and problem-solving mechanisms, making sure they are thoughtful, successful, and thoroughly documented.

QArea was appraised at CMMI-DEV Level 3, and it’s not a certificate, it’s a process that takes months of preparation, hundreds of cups of coffee, numerous sleepless nights, and truly sincere engagement of the team. Today we share all the whos, wheres, and hows of the CMMI appraisal process by interviewing Andrey Osipenko — a project manager at QArea, and one of the key figures in the CMMI-appraised business unit.

Hello! *someone is sneezing on the background* Bless you, whoever you are. I guess it was the sign we can start now. Who’s in charge of the CMMI appraisal process? Who decides whether the company is appraised or not?

Hey! Let’s do it. In the course of the CMMI appraisal, the internal company processes are thoroughly examined by a certified appraisal manager from the CMMI Institute. They are experts in all requirements of the certain capability & maturity levels. Their task is to help the team through the course of the CMMI appraisal, watch them keep independent, unprejudiced attitudes to the whole process, and do everything legitimately.

Is it the whole company that is assessed, or separate departments? Who exactly works on the CMMI documentation and proves that the company is super-capable & mature?

This is how it goes. A CMMI manager comes onsite and gathers employees from different company departments or from one department (depending on what type of appraisal company has applied for). In our case, it was the Product Development Department, and the CMMI for development, Level 3. This so-called “appraisal team” can include chief managers, team leaders, project managers, developers, and other employees who are involved in the management processes of the company. These people create an”appraisal team” and work together within the course of the CMMI appraisal. Every team member is chosen carefully to avoid conflict of interests and have an equal level of engagement in the CMMI process.

What are the main requirements to be appraised at the CMMI?

Not every company or department can apply for CMMI appraisal. Since we wanted to get the appraisal for our Product Development Department — the first fundamental requirement was to provide proof of a well-functioning project of at least one-year existence and active operation and continuous growth. This is a decisive condition for companies that want to prove the 3d CMMI maturity level.

There’s a so-called checklist of requirements that helps the company understand which processes are well-tuned, and which of them are poorly or insufficiently polished/automated. For example, all project tasks have to be managed in the CRM system of the company’s choice and have clear specifications, links to documents and presentations, etc. This is one of the easiest ways to keep things in order and show that the working process is established and transparent.

Please describe the preparation process. How exactly you prove the CMMI manager capability and maturity of the business?

There are separate interviews with each member of the “appraisal team” during which the CMMI manager has the opportunity to get a clear understanding of what exactly this or that department is doing. Most importantly they observe how they’re doing things. The internal management processes have to be at least documented, if not automated.

Describe the atmosphere in the office during the whole CMMI process. Did you guys gather at a round table, keeping the best traditions of office culture?

Of course, it may sound funny but the atmosphere was really cozy and homelike. CMMI manager is a living person, like all of us. We did gather at a round table, discussing the workload on our agenda. Sometimes we had to work nights to deliver everything on time. It was more like a group of old pals, gathering to talk business and drink coffee. At the same time, you realize it’s serious stuff you still have to deal with. So there was little space for babbling and more of a deep-brainstorming-conversation type of gatherings. Still, the whole thing was on the verge of serious, fun, and panic at the same time. And it was awesome.

Did you find yourself failing at some point?

*thinking in silence for a minute* I am not sure we can call it a fail, precisely because we learn by our mistakes to avoid repeating them in the future. We did feel a bit out of place when we realized we forgot to write some crucial documentation for assessment. So we took quick measures, gathered our strength, and pushed it to the limit until everything was done.

Tell me about your relationship within the team. Did it change somehow in the course of the CMMI appraisal?

Our relationship changed drastically. We became more like a close-knit community rather than a team of office colleagues. We spent a lot of time together and pushed all our efforts towards one thing — CMMI appraisal. It just couldn’t be the other way because only friendly, like-minded people with the same readiness and eagerness to achieve the goal can do their job successfully.

How did you manage to combine your daily working routine with CMMI appraisal process? Did you actually?

It was almost impossible to make both things work at the same time. We all had to drop everything we were working on, if not totally then at least partially because CMMI appraisal needs total engagement and concentration. Every document has to be written accurately, with a pinch of diligence and responsibility. Thankfully, the entire team was well trained in creating clear documentation, so getting caught up only took me a couple of hours of reading. I partially stopped working on my project personally and dropped out of my casual routine for a while. After the CMMI appraisal process was finished — I had to delve into the details again, and it felt so new because for a couple of months my project sort-of lived its own life.

Did you expect getting appraised specifically at the 3d level of capability & maturity?

Oh, we did! Yet, we did not expect it to turn out much harder to comply than we thought it would be. We assessed our processes by ourselves before we applied for the appraisal, and we were sure it’s gonna be CMMI Level 3. And then all the fun started. When CMMI manager came on our premises, and we ran through the checklist of compulsory model requirements altogether — it was clear we still had to improve some processes and prove they are well-established.

How do you see the future of the company after CMMI appraisal? Does the team plan on hitting the next level of capability & maturity?

CMMI appraisal not only requires you to provide documents of how you do business, but it also helps to make sure you are on the right track. The whole process motivated our team to work on our internal spirit, take on more complex, serious projects, and improve the mechanisms of each department. It’s a benefit for the whole company in terms of a clear understanding of how NOT to do, as well as a huge leap for each one of us by leveling-up our personal skills. One of the inside moments we still laugh about is that several months of hard work on CMMI appraisal equals a degree in business management. So it’s definitely a yes — we do plan on getting a CMMI-DEV Level 4 soon. We still have to prepare for it technically, physically, and emotionally though.

Did you party hard after the whole appraisal process finally finished?

Yes! *giggles* In fact, we did it the same minute we found out that we’re officially appraised. We opened a bottle of champagne and felt a hint of relief. The team still can’t believe this is all over and we are finally on top of it.

Sum up the value of CMMI.

It’s hard to say it in a couple of words. Yet, CMMI model in software engineering is precious. It’s all about running business smartly. Tons of knowledge acquired, especially in business strategic thinking, management, operations, problem-solving. Also, our team received lots of valuable advice on the improvement of internal documenting processes, which will be helpful when we apply for the appraisal of the 4th level of capability & maturity. Overall, it was an in-depth experience with the outcome of which we are immensely proud.

I guess we can call it a day now. Thank you for your time and really interesting talk!

Thanks! It’s time to go back to work. Goodbye.