14 February, 2007

The Dirty Little Secret of CMMI-Level 5

There are a-many things that I think are great concepts but tend to fall apart in the real world; for instance "always tell the truth", "turn the other cheek", "fat-free desserts"...sure, they are great ideas on paper, but when practically implemented they leave you with a black eye, two bruised cheeks, and a mouthful of what tastes like damp sawdust.

The first time I heard about the CMM-level assessment concept I thought what a great idea. Have an independent assessment of your companies strengths and weaknesses, identify an action plan to strengthen your weakness and strive for an even stronger level of capabilities by reaching for the next ladder rung and just work your way to the top. Hey, it was authored by a character from CMU, a notable university, it must be good.

I won't speculate on what might have been, but this concept took a downward spin the day that the Department of Defense decided that all defense contractors have a deadline to achieve level-5 or risk loss of program funding (sigh). Since that wise and ever-so-informed decision (wink) it's been every defense contractor's ambition to make it up to the last rung as quickly as possible. I've witnessed some of the most unethical behaviors in pursuit of this highly acclaimed prize that I only wish I never again see. Contracted independent assessor findings bought and paid for, the hand-selecting of individuals that will mindlessly tout from the Book of Process, and 9th inning e-mails identifying the expected questions assessors will be asking and the proper response (with emphasis on stating only the defined answer and directing to say no more). I ask you, in the pursuit of all contractors achieving level-5 how greatly has it reduced the cost of development programs? Not a dime, it has instead increased program costs.

Sorry for the short rant, the validity of CMMI assessments isn't the subject I wanted to write about, but is directly related. See, now that most defense contractors have fully embraced CMM there is an underlying tone that comes with the price of admission. Assets are all interchangeable; this is the basis of CMM, take a development process and define enough paperwork and instructions such that any monkey that can read can follow it to success (hearty laugh). In recent history employees somehow lost loyalty to their employers and as a result the employers suffer high turn-over. How do you fix this you ask.....well let me tell you.......CMMI level-5(tah da). This magic elixir will allow you to lose an employee, snag an innocent pedestrian off the street, strap a cubical 'round them, hand 'em your defined process and procedures and not miss a beat. Employees are one-size-fits-all and are replaceable at a moments notice.

While I've always speculated that this is how the Mahogany Row muckety mucks looked at their underlings it became obviously apparent as I spent 4 1/2 hours in process training this morning. When asked how the company selects teams for a newly defined program he all but said pick who is available. "How do you find candidates with the proper tool, development methodology, domain experience and such" I asked. "I don't know" he replied. So what you're saying is that there is no way to establish my skill sets nor career interests in hopes to be recognized as a candidate for a new exciting program. What you are saying is that their is no way to align my career aspirations, nor technical experiences, or interests with the companies goals? So even though I accepted a position at company X because they were working in an interesting domain Y and I have expertise in Y when that program is completed there is no way for me to be selected for a new project in Y? Are you kidding?

My point is, I'm still young, ambitious and still love working on 'interesting problems'. I hired into my current company because they have 'interesting problems' and a boat-load of dull ones. Looking at me as a cog and not taking into account my experiences and technical desires you risk losing me when you blindly move me to a position not in line with my individual goals. Treating me like a replaceable cog will increase the likelihood that I'll leave and only increases your turn-over which was the reason you adopted CMMI. The solution becomes the problem.

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