Aspects of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM) in Organizations

When Watts Humphrey designed the framework underlying the Capability Maturity Model, his purpose was for the CMM to have positive aspects in organizations. His intent was that the CMM should help organizations improve the ability of their workforce and develop, motivate, organize and retain talent. Even though the Capability Maturity Model has constructive parts in organizations, it also has destructive parts when it is applied to organizations.

In this article by Kerime Ataker, Superb Internet Corporation Product Marketing Specialist will focus on the negative and positive aspects of the Capability Maturity Model.  Kerime intends to provide both sides of the CMM and the reasons why this model may or may not function well in a particular organization.

Negative and Positive Aspects of the Capability Maturity Model in Organizations

How disappointing it is to read that, according to research, seven out of eight information technology projects fail to meet the original time, cost, and requirements criteria (McManus & Wood-Harper, 2008). According to McManus and Wood-Harper, the key finding from studies of successful and unsuccessful projects is that no single factor is the overriding cause of project failure; however, instead, a number of factors contribute to failure, and some of them interact with each other. The most important reasons why projects fail are poor communication, lack of user or customer involvement, ineffective project managers, insufficiently managed requirements, undisciplined project definitions or baselines, and uncontrolled scope (McManus & Wood-Harper, 2008). A project that has senior-level sponsorship has a higher chance to be supportive of the strategy and goals of the business. Also, it has a higher chance to have an experienced and disciplined control team that will be actively involved in confirming the project’s objectives against those goals. Of course, this kind of involvement requires good communication within the project team as well as good management requirements. Thus, the Capability Maturity Model was established to avoid all of these failure factors and help projects succeed. Even though the Capability Maturity Model is designed to help organizations not overrun schedule and budget constraints to complete a project, the model has negative and positive aspects when applied to organizations.

The Capability Maturity Model has a well organized structure for managing the software process. When Watts Humphrey designed the CMM, he made sure that the model consisted of five levels. Kashif Manzoor, software engineer, on his website, has explained these five levels of the CMM. Initial is the first level. At this level, processes are disorganized and chaotic. Also, success is expected to depend on individual efforts and is not considered to be repeatable since processes would not be sufficiently clear and documented to allow them to be replicated. Repeatable is the second level, and at this level, basic project management techniques are established. Also, success could be repeated since the essential processes would have been established, defined, and documented.

Defined is the third level, and at this level an organization has developed its own standard software process through greater attention to documentation, standardization, and integration. It is also important to point out that if an organization, at the initial level, tries to fulfill the activities involved in the defined level, the result is usually chaotic since every level of the CMM lays the ground work for the next level. Thus, an organization has to achieve level 2, the repeatable, to be able to successfully achieve level 3, the defined. Managed is the fourth level in the CMM. At this level, an organization monitors and controls its own processes through data collection along with analysis. Optimizing is the fifth and final level. At this level, processes are constantly being improved through monitoring feedback from current processes and introducing innovative processes to better serve the organization’s particular needs (Manzoor, 2007). In his article, Marco (2002) stated “The purpose of these levels is to provide a ‘measuring stick’ for companies looking to improve their system development processes.”

The Capability Maturity Model presents a lot of different features to organization. The model has several positive aspects to organizations. For one thing, unlike other management models, the focus of the CMM is not on the end product, the piece of software or an enterprise architecture plan, rather its focus is on the development process itself. Thus, this well controlled process that is regularly evaluated and improved usually yields a higher quality product. The second positive aspect is the fact that the CMM allows organizations to record and measure their improvement in developing and applying the architecture. Thus, this helps organizations to see their improvement year to year (Zyskowski, 2001).

Another positive aspect of the Capability Maturity Model is that benefits emerge at each maturity level which solves different sets of problems. For instance, at the initial level, there is no benefit since the organization has inconsistency, schedule and budget overruns, and defective applications. However, at the second level, repeatable, the benefits start with having meeting schedules and reduced turnover resulting from less overtime. After achieving level two, organizations see that their projects can set realistic expectations, commit to achievable deadlines and stay away from the initial maturity level. At the defined level, the benefits are meeting cost and functionality targets as well as improved quality. LeVasseur (2008) discussed: Organizations gain experience with a common development process, they gain greater understanding of the interactions among schedule, effort and functionality. This learning process allows them to meet commitments in all three dimensions simultaneously. In addition, because they have installed peer reviews and other defect-detection methods earlier in their development process, they continue to reduce defect rates and the resulting rework. At the managed level, the benefits start with predictable results, knowledge of factors that causes variance, and reuse. At the final level, optimizing, the CMM`s benefit is continuously targeting improvements required to meet business objectives. (LeVasseur, 2008)

Besides having the positive aspects, the CMM also has negative aspects.

For one thing, the Capability Maturity Model mandates the waterfall life cycle model, however; it does not specify, nor even imply, to organizations that the waterfall life cycle model is to be used. Another negative aspect is that the CMM requires bureaucracy and wasteful paperwork. The CMM usually states to perform an activity according to a documented procedure, and this requirement might seem overwhelming to some organizations. The next negative aspect of the CMM is that some organizations may see the maturity model as a quick fix for short-term problems. When organizations adopt the CMM, it does not mean it automatically will double their productivity or take away their unsightly defects in a short period of time. In fact, it takes time to incorporate improved practices into organizations’ current development processes. Finally, the Capability Maturity Model requires a lot of hard work and detail during the process of applying it to organizations, and may be misunderstood in several areas. For instance, at the initial, level one, organizations are on the low end meaning they are undeveloped according to the CMM. However, some organizations may be at the initial level and still have profitability, market share and customer satisfaction. Therefore, Wiegers (1996) stated that “The CMM is only concerned with organizational process capability, and it does not pass judgment on the performance or capabilities of individual software practitioners.” The repeatable level, level two, is all about software engineering activities that require analysis, design, coding and testing. At this level, unless organizations establish a foundation of disciplined project management, the CMM would not work at all. The defined level, level three, can only be accomplished after the repeatable level is completed successfully. It is also the same way with level three. Organizations must fully complete each level to be able to see the benefits of the CMM in their organizations, and this requires a lot of hard work. At the managed level, level four, quantitative measurement of software products is addressed and processed. However, organizations may not know that measurement is a part of the Key Process Area at every maturity level. Moreover, as organizations move to higher levels of the CMM, metric is being used more often to monitor progress and manage projects proactively. At the optimizing level, the final level, organizations may expect to be certified by Software Engineering Institute. However, there is no certification associated with achieving a specific CMM maturity level. The CMM-based process is not “audits,” where certain audits may result in certifications after completing the process (Wiegers, 1996). In fact, Wiegers stated that “The SEI maintains a database of accumulated results from formal process appraisals, but it will not divulge the results for any specific organization.”

Before applying the Capability Maturity Model to small and large organizations, it is important to distinguish between these two types of organizations. For one thing, large business workforce is bigger than the small-business workforce. Secondly, small organizations are often younger or startups compare to large organizations which have already established their existence. The third difference is that small-businesses have lower economies of scale such as services compared to large organizations. Fourth, large organizations hire more educated workers than small organizations (Headd 2000).
Another difference is that large businesses usually undertake more in-depth research and have greater technical capacity than small businesses. Also, small businesses do not employ enough people and do not spend enough time on market research compared to large businesses (Armstrong, Fogarty, & Dingsdag, 2007).

It is important to evaluate the Capability Maturity Model in small organizations to evaluate whether the maturity model is adequate in these businesses. There are few positive aspects of the model in small organizations. First of all, small organizations can be surprisingly innovative and productive during the CMM. The second positive feature is that small firms use small teams, and usually small groups are more productive than large teams since they adjust to each other faster and there are not as many communications problems as in large group projects (Paulk, 1998). Another positive aspect of the CMM in small organizations is the cost of getting the new processes implemented and used by the intended scope of the organization which costs less and the operation can run faster. Small companies need to find ways to reduce the cost of the assessment and infrastructure in order to run the CMM successfully (Heinz, 2004).

In contrast to the few benefits, there are many negative aspects of the CMM in small organizations. First of all, the number of roles proposed exceeds the number of employees since small organizations do not have a large workforce. The second negative aspect is that the responsibilities and tasks, which were mentioned earlier are too many and rigorous to small organizations that only have a few employees. Third, small organizations` primary objective is to survive. It is hard for these types of organizations to decide where to find the resources and assign responsibility for process improvement while maintaining the company`s financial health. Fourth, small organizations may lack full-time Software Engineering Process Group (SEPG) as mandated by the CMM, to take responsibility for improvement of explicitly assigning and monitoring projects. Another negative aspect of the CMM in small organizations is the affordability of subject matter experts, plus implementation and appraisal costs. Lastly, when applying the CMM to small organizations, negative aspects may be lack of handling requirements for generating documentation, managing projects, allocating resources, measuring progress, conducting reviews, and providing training (Paulk, 1998).

A good example of how the CMM may not work for small organizations comes from the US Air Force. Persse (2008) has stated, “The US Air Force sponsored research within the Department of Defense software development community to determine the applicability of the Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model (CMM) for software to small businesses and small software organizations.” This research showed that small organizations are faced with a lack of resources and funds required to implement many of the practices stated in the Capability Maturity Model. Also, the model’s tasks process improvement initiatives affect practices that do not apply to a small business and small software organization.

It is also important to evaluate the Capability Maturity Model in large organizations to evaluate whether the maturity model is adequate in these businesses. There are several positive aspects of the CMM in large organizations. For one thing, the CMM requires very large programs, and large organizations can easily provide these programs since they usually have good capital. Secondly, when the CMM requires geographically distributed projects, the large organizations can handle this distribution since there are many managers involved in large organizations (Paulk, 1998). The third positive characteristic of the CMM is that large organizations have an advantage in the areas of cost appraisal and the cost of infrastructure, since the cost of these two areas are a small percentage of their overall revenue (Heinz, 2004). Another positive aspect is that large organizations have a lot of departments such as the human resources department and technical department. The CMM provides a great link between these departments by suggesting a common language about workforce issues, and this helps teams talk about workforce issues in a more collaborative way that takes measurements on how the organization’s practices are working as well using the measurements to improve predictability and take inventory. The next positive aspect of the Capability Maturity Model in large organizations is the fact that these organizations have large workforces, and the CMM helps them determine who will be retiring soon to transfer the knowledge that these people have to the people who will remain in the organization (Couturiaux, 2008).

Also, another characteristic of the CMM in large organizations is qualitative in nature because of large organizations` workforces. The CMM requires organizations tie their workforce improvements to both their strategic plans and their operational plans. Thus, these organizations get a much clearer coupling of what their workforce does in terms of the plans and directions of the organization. This improvement makes it easy for people who are in charge of an organization to see how each person’s knowledge, skills, and process abilities support the organization’s operational and strategic plans (Couturiaux, 2008).

A good example of a large organization that the Capability Maturity Model’s positive aspects apply to is Boeing Corporation. For one thing, Boeing reported that they have been managing their projects better, in terms of getting the work delivered, they started using the CMM. Secondly, Boeing reported a decrease in voluntary employee turnover and an increase in employee satisfaction by applying the CMM in their organization. Third, Boeing stated that they had an increase in productivity from using the CMM to manage and develop their workforce. The CMM accomplished this by helping Boeing IT Services and World Headquarters Support, which has been assessed at Level three, to integrate their activities with companywide CMM activities. The result reported was a 15% increase in the Boeing employee satisfaction index, a 50% reduction in post-release defects, and a 50% reduction in rework ratio (Couturiaux, 2008).

In contrast to the benefits, there are few negative aspects to the Capability Maturity Model in large organizations. For one thing, managers in large organizations may treat the CMM as a fixed process or they may follow the instructions as strict rules when being implemented in the workplace. These managers may regard the model as a series of laws, and they may work to twist the way their organizations do business to fold it under the banner of the model. Secondly, the CMM does not place much emphasis on whether the organization`s processes start out being good or not. This means that the CMM ignores a large organizations current situation whether it is good or not. Rather, it focuses on their improvement, making them better at what they do (Persse, 2008).

In the final analysis, there are several conclusions that can be drawn about the Capability Maturity Model and whether the negative aspects or positive aspects of the model outweigh the most. For one thing, after the research, the CMM shows that the model provides more positive aspects than negative aspects to organizations such as being simple and easy to understand; therefore, it speaks to the executives of corporations. Also, the research shows that large corporations, such as Boeing, actively use the model, and compare themselves with other organizations. The second conclusion is the research paper shows that applying the Capability Maturity Model to small organizations does not seem a wise choice due to the model’s overall negative aspects outweighing its positive aspects. On the other hand, when the CMM is adopted by large organizations, the result is more positive than negative. This means that the CMM`s positive characteristics outweigh the negative characteristics in large organizations. Nevertheless, the Capability Maturity Model has constructive and destructive parts when applied to organizations, and it seems like Watts Humphrey was aware of the CMM being more useful and beneficial to large organizations.

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