Do you have someone backing you up?

Do you have someone backing you up?

Audio Version on SPaMCAST 143

I asked many of my colleagues what they thought were the precursors to beginning a CMMI change program. Almost to a person, they began their list with senior management support, which makes sense as the CMMI has become the top-down process improvement framework of choice, and a prominent attribute of top-down change programs is the need for explicit senior management support.

Deciding whether your process improvement program is best pursued from a bottom-up or the top-down perspective is not a throw-away question. The method you are using changes as it matures over time.  I have heard that during early days of the SEPG conference  there were numerous presentations on how the CMMI could be implemented as a grassroots change program.  Presentations on the pursuit of the CMMI using grassroots techniques are now few and far between, however if you go to an Agile conference you will still see presentations of this type.

Given the importance of senior management support, you need to ensure you have it BEFORE you start any top-down improvement program using a framework like the CMMI.  There are six things to consider when determining whether you have senior management support. They are:

  1. Assigning the right people
  2. Being visible
  3. Organizational change management support
  4. Providing required resources
  5. Enforcing the processes
  6. Having a constancy of purpose

Assigning the right people: Start by assessing whether your top performers and leaders are assigned to staff your CMMI change program. Assigning the best and brightest serves multiple purposes. Top performers tend to demand and draw respect from the staff.  Secondly, assigning the best and brightest is a show of determination by the organization.

Being visible:  Do members of the senior management team attend training classes or status meetings?  Do they stop people in the hall and ask about the program?  Being visible is a convincing approach to proving that the CMMI program is important and success is personnel. Tom Szurszewski said, “The Senior Management/Sponsor should attend the “Intro to CMMI” class, along with the individuals who were being charged with “making it happen.” Participating in training ensures an equal level of understanding and a very public show of visibility.

Organizational change management support: Making the changes needed to support the CMMI tends to require organizational nips and tucks. Only senior management can grease the skids to make organizational changes.  Nanette Yokley stressed the need for an Executive Sponsor that “ideally … understands what they are getting into related to changes needed and long-term process.”

Providing the required resources:  Resources can include budget, tools, space, training classes and others.  Without the right resources, change programs will struggle. Trying to apply the CMMI on the cheap is usually a prescription for problems.  Paul Laberge went to heart of the matter with one of his comments saying, “management must ensure the availability of a resource (or more) to maintain the process improvement program and documented processes.”

Enforcing the processes: When implementing any process changes, using the process can’t be optional. When push comes to shove (and it will), management can’t hand out free passes. Management must enforce the process or risk the failure of the program.

Constancy of purpose:  W. Edward Deming felt so strongly about the need for constancy of purpose that it was the first of his famous fourteen points. Lasting change requires a focus that goes past the first problem or the next quarter. If the CMMI is perceived to be the change “flavor of the week,” the overall degree of difficulty for staying the course will be higher than expected.  Dominique Bourget talked about measuring “the will of the upper management to improve.”  Frankly, that will say a lot about staying power of any change program.


  1. Review each attribute. Can you honestly say that your senior management team (usually more than one) is delivering on each attribute?
  2. Answer each with a yes or no.

If you answer five or more yes you are in good shape. If you can answer yes to less than five, it is time for a serious conversation with your senior management on how to handle remediating the problem and to build management support.