Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Check Out the CMMI Diary

You just have to love the CMMI for Services!

But... I have other things to write about. Like "development," or even how the CMMI applies to (*gasp*) life itself! So, like a phoenix rising from the ashes, I'm now finally back to blogging. Please check out my CMMI Diary at:

Have fun!


The CMMI Diary contains entries related to both the CMMI for Development and the CMMI for Services. As a result, this CMMI for Services Diary will no longer be maintained. I really hope you enjoy my new blog!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Project. Service System. What's the Difference?

In the CMMI-SVC, are a project and a service system essentially the same thing? (Submitted via e-mail.)

They're certainly related, but they're also very different. Kind of like my brothers-in-law.

A project is executed over time. It has a beginning (and often an end), a plan that guides it, a schedule, a budget, and so forth. Some are even successful.

A service system is a set of resources. Ultimately, you hope to use those resources to deliver value to customers, which I admit makes it sound a bit like a project. However, a service system is typically something you have in place before you start executing a project, and the same service system in fact may be used by multiple projects.

Confused? I'll tell you how I interpret them for what my company does; hopefully that'll help.

I do public training, which means I rent space, promote classes, and deliver these classes to rooms packed full of students who are eager to learn the CMMI. (Okay, even I have to admit that sometimes that last part is wishful thinking.) I teach two different classes in a public setting: the SEI Introduction to CMMI and the SEI Services Supplement for CMMI. I teach each of these publicly once every six weeks or so. This makes for about 8 of each class per year, or 16 classes total.

Here's a quick quiz, then. How many different services do I provide? How many service systems do I use? Finally, how many projects do I have?

Well, it could be claimed there are no absolutely right or wrong answers here. But here's what works for me: 2 services, 1 service system, and 16 projects. (If that's what you also said, then "Wow!" -- because it took me weeks to be able to answer that question comfortably.)

Services. My 2 services are the Introduction to CMMI course and the Services Supplement for CMMI course. Each has its own unique description in what the CMMI-SVC would call my service catalog. (Follow the hyperlinks in the previous two sentences for descriptions of each service in the "catalog.")

Service systems. My 1 service system is public training delivery. Although I do deliver two different courses, the delivery commonalities are such that I've found I don't need two separately defined service systems. Instead, it's one system that can accommodate the small delivery differences between the two courses.

CMMI-SVC tells us that service systems are composed of service system components. For public training delivery, these components include a way for people to enroll (my website), a set of qualified instructors (typically me), a facility for the training events, standardized course materials, and so on. Importantly, many of these components are used by multiple projects.

Projects. I treat each of my 16 training events for the year as a project. Although each one uses the same training delivery service system, each also has its own unique budget, income projection, schedule, risks, etc. For example, my next Introduction to CMMI class is May 18-20. That project's "start date" was April 10, because that's when I began running ads. Its "end date" will most likely be sometime in late May, when I receive confirmation from the SEI that all students from the class have been entered into the SEI's training database. And along the way, there are milestones such as the dates by which I need to order various types of supplies, when I need to get enrollment numbers to the catering people, and when I need to begin pestering people for money.

Does that mean I have a separate project plan for each of my 16 instantiations of these classes? Yes. Each plan is contained in an Excel spreadsheet, with most of the key schedule dates automatically generated once I enter the start date of the actual training event. Anyone expecting a Microsoft project schedule or a 20 page project plan would be sorely disappointed! I document the minimum that I need in order to make sure I do things right.

(Note that I consider the project plan template to be a part of my service system. Once it becomes an actual plan, though, it's part of the project.)

Reasonable people can quibble with the details. Some might insist I really should have two different service systems, one for each class. To which, I would answer, "Whatever…" As in, "whatever" works for you and your business! Part of the beauty of the CMMI is its flexibility. Ultimately, the important thing is that you're using it to improve your efficiency and effectiveness. You're the best judge of how to do that for your business. Not me. Not a Lead Appraiser. And definitely not this guy.

If you need more clarification, browse through the Service System Development (SSD) PA, which describes how a service system may be developed. This should further emphasize that a service system is indeed a different animal than a project.

I hope this helped.



Friday, April 9, 2010

Is This "Superior Service"?

So, I get a phone call the other day. A mysterious voice asks "This Introduction to CMMI class you have scheduled for April 13-15 -- is it actually going to happen?"

I'm a bit perplexed, because I'm wondering to myself why I'd intentionally schedule a class only to then cancel it. Seems like "rework," which of course the CMMI itself largely exists to help us avoid.

I reply that yes, of course it's going to happen. Unless I'm in the hospital or something.

Now desperately wanting to get pictures of a half-dead me out of my head, I say "Why do you ask?"

Well, it turns out this individual had enrolled in a very fine, reputable organization's Intro to CMMI class. He made his travel arrangements, and then all of a sudden -- boom! -- one day he got a message saying the class is canceled... due to low enrollment. "Sorry" they said, helpfully.


He then called another organization who had an Intro to CMMI class scheduled in the same timeframe. He asked if they were actually going to hold the class, which was only a week away. The answer was "We're not sure."

Seriously? The class is a week away, and you're "not sure"? Ever consider investing in calendar software extending beyond five days, Organization ABC?

(Warning: I'm about to jump up onto a soapbox here. Or maybe you've sensed I already have.)

Before I go much further, let me come out and say that I honestly don't relish bashing the competition -- because the SEI and its Partners are playing in this sandbox together, and your competitor today could be your teammate tomorrow. So even though I know which organizations he contacted, I'm not about to name them here. (Besides, I learned a long time ago never to pick on people who are bigger than you, or you could get beat up. But enough about the Great Jamie Peterson Incident of 1974...)

Seriously, though... is canceling a class due to low enrollment -- especially after people have put time and money into making travel arrangements -- a good idea? Obviously, some organizations think so. They're concerned about "break-even" points. **I get it.**

But if you happen to have your CMMI for Services book handy, take a good look at the subtitle: "Guidelines for Superior Service." Given that, are these companies practicing what they preach? You decide.

So, what would I expect these organizations to do? Teach the class and lose money? Unquestionably... yes. You've made a commitment to your customers. Now follow through. If you're losing money by doing so, that's really your problem -- not your customers'! Then, assess your future plans and consider not holding any further public training classes -- before people sign up for them. (At least, not until you're better at figuring out how to build an audience.)

I realize this is simply my opinion. And if corporations prefer to chase short-term profits rather than build long-term relationships, then hey go ahead and join all the other companies in America who have a similar focus. Meanwhile, the part of me that has to worry about feeding Buddy and Koko silently says "Hmmm... those students you're abandoning will have to go somewhere..."

I'd be interested in knowing what others think. If you knew you'd be losing money by holding the class, would you cancel it?

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Chance Encounters Are Sometimes the Best

#1 in a series of blog posts from the SEPG NA Conference in Savannah, Georgia.

So I check into the Westin, and I'm in my room looking out the window at what I think is the Savannah River. But wait a second, it ends. The river, that is, actually stops. No, not by flowing into something bigger, which is what I'd expect from any landmark whose last name is "River." Instead, it just sits there looking like a river-shaped lake. A river-lake. Huh? And honestly, it's not all that impressive. I could easily swim across it, if it weren't for the gators. And I just know they're there, because it looks exactly like the kind of place I would live if I were an alligator.

And here's the thing. I've heard there's plenty to do "on the other side." But the other side looks like... um... well... weeds!

Bummed out by the river-lake, but still inspired by the beautiful day outside, I head downstairs in search of an exit. As an experienced traveler, I realize that most hotels are equipped with a way to get out. Except for maybe the one in the Eagles song where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." But I'm in Georgia, not California, so there's gotta be a way to leave, if only for a few hours.

Now I lurk the lobby, silently assessing which door will get me to this "river" the fastest. And I'm not even sure why I feel driven to go there and get to the other side. Remember, it's just weeds! Okay, maybe some cattails. But for whatever reason, the Eagles are now joined by the Talking Heads in my brain. "Take me to the river..."

That's when I hear someone say "Hi Bill!" I look over and see Heather Oppenheimer checking in at the front desk. I've met her once before, at last year's SEPG Conference in San Jose. We chat for a minute, and she eventually agrees to accompany me across the river. Cool! Because if I'm going to be walking through a swamp, I'd at least like somebody to chat with. And maybe to help pull the leeches off afterwards. If we survive the crocs.

Stepping outside, the day is indeed glorious. Sun bathers abound, and I realize that my all-black outfit doesn't quite... blend. But there it is in front of me -- the Savannah River! Big and bold, with what appears to be lots of civilization on the other side! Where are the weeds?

Heather politely informs me that what I saw from my window was simply a wetland, not the actual river.


So we take a ferry across and it's obvious I'm with the right person. Heather has much more of a plan in mind than me, which I appreciate. Truthfully, I never had much of a plan other than to cross that river. We browse some nifty little shops, I buy a little wire sculpture of an Alien/Predator dude, and we end up eating at a place called Kevin Barry's Irish Pub. And we talked and talked and talked. About the CMMI for Services and Miami Beach, about SEI training and aging parents. The conversation flowed, just like the river. (I guess wetlands flow too, just not so fast.) I discovered much more about a person who had previously just been a very casual acquaintance. We even found out enough about each other and our businesses that it wouldn't be ridiculous to think of working together on something in the future. (At least, that's my perspective; I can't necessarily speak for her!)

When I got back to my room later that evening, I realized this is a key part of what SEPG is all about. Sure, there are plenty of planned activities. There are presenters to hear and booths to visit and even a gala to attend. But the unplanned can sometimes be even better. Who knew?

I look forward to the rest of the week at the Conference. And I have a hunch I'll be crossing that river a few more times, too!

Bill Smith
CEO, Leading Edge Process Consultants

Friday, March 19, 2010

Live Blogging from SEPG NA!

The SEI's largest conference of the year, SEPG North America, kicks off this Monday, March 22. I'm one of a handful of people asked by the SEI to blog LIVE from the proceedings. (Doubtlessly they used a chimpanzee, a dartboard, and a six-pack of beer in their selection process!) Please check out the Official Conference Blog at:

It should be insightful to have the varying perspectives of three or four different attendees.

I'll at least try to write some interesting and maybe even gently irreverent copy, posted at least once daily. My entries will appear here, in the CMMI for Services Diary, as well as in the official conference blog. (The conference blog will, of course, have the added insight of the other bloggers. Definitely a bonus!)

I also plan to tweet from the Conference several times daily. My tweets regularly appear in the left column of this blog. (Or http://twitter.com/CmmiRox.) If you're truly inspired, you can follow everyone's Conference tweeting by doing a twitter search, like this.

I'm definitely looking forward to the Conference, as I do every year. If you'll be there too, please let me know. I'd love to get together!



Thursday, October 15, 2009

Upcoming Presentation: "Creatively Applying CMMI-SVC in a Very Small Consulting Firm"

The NDIA CMMI 9th Technology Conference and User Group is coming up next month (Nov. 16-19, 2009) in Denver, Colorado. If you can get past the extremely long name, it could be a worthwhile place to go if you want to learn more about the CMMI. And, to hear industry experts. Or me.

Maybe they chose their presenters by using a dart-throwing monkey, because somehow they chose me to give not one, not two, but THREE talks there! One of these will be about my company's process improvement efforts using the CMMI for Services as a model. Because you, the public, demand it --- or perhaps because I'm too lazy to write a real blog entry right now -- here's an abstract of the presentation I'm working on at this very moment:

The CEO of a small consulting company invites you to listen to how practical and creative application of the CMMI for Services (CMMI-SVC) has measurably improved his organization’s bottom line.

In January 2009, Leading Edge Process Consultants began applying portions of the CMMI for Services to its business. Instead of pursuing a maturity level rating, though, we’ve been obsessed with using the CMMI-SVC for real process improvement. Because we lack the time and money required for a highly formal, comprehensive, internal improvement initiative, we’ve adopted a more flexible (and yes, sometimes “agile”) approach. Our simple but effective strategy has been to (1) decide on an area of our business that most needs improvement, (2) address that area by using relevant portions of the CMMI-SVC as a guide, and (3) repeat as needed. This approach has successfully mitigated the risk of biting off more than our limited resources can chew, and has virtually guaranteed that that our process improvement effort has bottom-line relevance. Although much work remains to be done, we’ve already realized sizable gains.

During this presentation, we’ll discuss some of the keys to our success so far: creative selection of the services most in need of improvement; just-in-time process improvement and as-we-go process documentation; laser-beam focus on our biggest problem areas; emphasis on capability level 1; and success measured by net income rather than maturity level attainment.

Attendees will walk away with an understanding of how practical, creative application of the CMMI for Services (CMMI-SVC) has been used to generate real business value in a small consulting company.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Measureable Net Income Gains with CMMI-SVC

My last blog post was April 1 -- no fooling. By my count, it's been over half-a-year since then -- a stunningly long gap, exceeding the slightly more famous missing 18 1/2 minutes on the Watergate tapes by several orders of magnitude. Sure, you thought the blog was dead; from time to time I've even thought the same thing. But now, like a zombie kitten, the blog emerges from the dead! So, the big question that both of my readers out there might have is --- why? Why the gap? Laziness? Lack of discipline? Too much time playing Guitar Hero? Umm... yes. But other than that?


I say that cautiously, because I don't want to come across as big-headed, and I also don't want to jinx it. But... the CMMI for Services has been working for me -- phenomenally. So much so that with the increase in business, I simply haven't had the time to blog! Sure, I can tell you about the CMMI best practices I've implemented in my company -- and I probably will, in future blog entries. Instead, at least for this zombie/phoenix entry, let's focus on results. Specifically:
  • My company's net income through September 30 of this year is about seven times what it was all of last year.
Seriously, can you think of any better measure of performance? Did you really expect me to say something like "I'm Maturity Level 2?" (If so, you have some catch-up to do with this blog. At least read my January 6 entry.)

Now, do I honestly attribute all of our income gain to the CMMI? Well, probably not. Some of it may simply be normal business growth; after all, last year was our first full year in business.

On the other hand, we grew as the economy tanked. Something happened, other than simply "momentum." As I resurrect this blog, I'll tell you about it, and I'll try really hard to not wait six more months until my next entry! In fact, next week's entry will give you the 30,000 foot overview of what we've done.

(Wait a second... did I just commit to another blog entry next week!!? Gulp.)