5 CMMI misconceptions in the agile community

Posted on August 6th, 2010 in Agile, CMMI by siddharta || 12 Comments

Many people new to agile have misconceptions about agile. The same way, many people in the agile community have misconceptions about CMMI. In this post I want to highlight five of these misconceptions.

Misconception #1: CMMI is prescriptive

The truth is that CMMI prescribes very little. Talk to a high maturity lead appraiser and they will say that CMMI is descriptive, not prescriptive.

For example, CMMI says that you should have a requirement document, but does not say anything about what it should look like. Should it be in-depth and in-detail? Should it be lightweight? The choice is yours. Can a product backlog satisfy this requirement? Sure! As long as it meets the need of your project.

You decide what is appropriate for you. CMMI just says that you should follow whatever you decided on.

Misconception #2: One process cannot work for all projects

A lot of people in the agile community have the misconception that CMMI mandates a single process across all projects. This is not true.Yes, CMMI Level 3 asks for an organizational standard, but that does not mean a single process for every project. The organization can have a multiple standard processes that can be applied to different types projects. So you can have an agile as a standard for certain types of projects, and kanban for other types of projects, and a traditional model for still other types of projects.

Furthermore, each process can be tailored for the specific project through tailoring guidelines – so that each project ends up with a distinct process that is suited to the project context.

Also, the standard is expected to continuously evolve. When you have a project that needs something different, that learning should go back into the tailoring guidelines so that other projects in the organization can learn from it.

Misconception #3: CMMI has high overheads

CMMI actually asks for very little. Most (well run) agile projects generate much the same documentation that CMMI asks for. Where overhead comes in is during the appraisal process, where you need to keep lots of “indirect documentation” like meeting minutes as evidence for the appraisers. If you just want to improve your process and don’t have any need to get appraised, you can get rid of these documents and cut your overheads. (I believe this requirement for indirect documentation will be going away later this year.)

Misconception #4: CMMI means waterfall / CMMI means following a plan rather than changing the plan

CMMI lets you choose any lifecycle model. You can choose an agile model if you want to – it’s perfectly compatible with CMMI. You are also not tied up to the plan. You are in fact expected to change the plan when something fundamental changes.

Misconception #5: CMMI values process over people

Valuing people is a property of the organization culture. CMMI doesn’t tell you not to value people :) There is no conflict between CMMI and valuing people.

The bottom line

CMMI gets a bad rep in the agile community because a lot of companies apply CMMI for getting appraised without really buying into what they do. This leads to a dysfunctional process implementation (just like ScrumBut).

Properly understood, there are good principles in CMMI, and many parts of it are actually well aligned with agile principles.

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12 Responses to “5 CMMI misconceptions in the agile community”

  1. toolsforagile Says:

    [New Post] 5 CMMI misconceptions in the agile community – http://toolsforagile.com/blog/archives/4… #agile

  2. flowchainsensei Says:

    RT @silvercatalyst: [New Post] 5 CMMI misconceptions in the agile community – http://toolsforagile.com/blog/archives/4… #agile

  3. ruckiand Says:

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  4. pascalpinck Says:

    RT @silvercatalyst: [New Post] 5 CMMI misconceptions in the agile community – http://toolsforagile.com/blog/archives/4… #agile

  5. israelsantiago Says:

    RT @silvercatalyst: [New Post] 5 CMMI misconceptions in the agile community – http://toolsforagile.com/blog/archives/4… #agile

  6. janpiano Says:

    RT @silvercatalyst: [New Post] 5 CMMI misconceptions in the agile community – http://toolsforagile.com/blog/archives/4… #agile

  7. Hillel Says:

    Although the spirit of this blog post is correct, some of the examples are also misconceptions (or oversimplifications).

    1. CMMI does not require a requirements document.

    2. CMMI Maturity Level 3 does not expect an organizational standard for processes as much as it expects the organization to provide, maintain, and make available many different types of process assets for the projects and the organization to use. It’s still up to the projects to manage their own processes.

    3. You do not need to “keep lots of indirect documentation” for the appraisal. First of all, indirect *evidence* is supporting content, not decisive. Although the post is correct that NO evidence should ever be kept just because the appraisal expects it — if you’re not interested in being appraised.

  8. Scott Says:

    Although its not CMMI’s fault for the perception, the implementation is often not conducive to Agile practices. Yes it does not mandate processes and offers “tailoring” as a means to adjust processes.

    But in my experience there are often processes in place to change another process. Depending on the length of a project, this makes it extremely challenging to adapt within the typical 2-3 “sprints” when being Agile.

    Also often the CMMI practioners come from manufacturing backgrounds and simply do not understand software development processes, let alone “being agile”.

  9. perlausten Says:

    RT @silvercatalyst: [New Post] 5 CMMI misconceptions in the agile community – http://toolsforagile.com/blog/archives/4… #agile

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