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We have two-ish weeks left in this re-read, which means it is time for the poll. I have added the second and third place finishers from the last go around to sweeten the pot.  Please let me know what you’d like to see in the next Re-Read segment. 

This week we tackle Chapter 8, titled The Hero In The Age of Checklists.  Heroes are a big deal; pick up any newspaper and you will see how much the cult of hero is celebrated.  Checklists and methods are viewed by many as diminishing the role of the hero, which sows the seeds of resistance to change.  What role does the hero play in a disciplined process? If the hero is core to how we view ourselves and our society, do tools like checklists run the risk of being met with hostility?  Chapter 8 dives directly into the deep end to address these topics. (more…)

In week 4 of re-read of The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande (use the link and buy a copy so you can read along) we tackle Chapter 3, The End Of The Master Builder.  In Chapter 3 Gawande identifies the scenarios in which checklists have an impact. Checklists provide value even in complicated scenarios. (more…)

Preparation is key to reaching your goals.

Successful and efficient planning of any sort represents the confluence of preparing the work to be planned and proper logistics. Earlier in this series on planning, we reviewed the basic logistics needed for a planning event and defined a simple checklist.  While both are important, preparing the work to be planned requires more effort.  Preparing the work for planning requires knowing the capacity of the team and grooming the work items (stories, requirements, support tickets and/or defects). (more…)

Are you ready to build change?

Are you ready to build change?

Many times an organization or individual will start a change program because they deem it necessary for survival. But change is never easy. Survival and pain avoidance, while powerful, can lead to pursuing change as a reaction to pain rather than as pursuit of value. Pain avoidance and generation of business value both are necessary pieces of knowledge as the intellectual benefits persuade, while pain avoidance sells. In order to ensure that both sides of the change are addressed a framework can be useful to generate focus. The simple CMMI Readiness Checklist can be used for any major change initiative, but is tailored toward the testing whether the requirements for implementing a framework like the CMMI have been addressed.

I have broken this checklist into three categories: resources, plans and attitudes.  Each can be leveraged separately; however using the three components will help you to focus on the big picture.


The simple checklist can be used as a tool to evaluate how well you have prepared for you CMMI journey using the questions as evaluation criteria.  To use the checklist, evaluate each question on a scale of high, medium, low and not present (with one exception). Each question will potentially contribute points toward the total that can be used to evaluate preparation.

Section and Question Weights:

Resources: Forty-two total points. Each component contributes up to 7 points (7, 3, 1, 0).

Plans: Eighteen total points. Each component contributes up to 6 points (6, 3, 1, 0).

Attitude: Forty total points. Each component contributes up to 8 points (8, 4, 2, 0).


Resources are the raw materials that you will consume on your journey.  As with any journey having both the correct resources and correct amount of resources will make the journey easier.  Just think of trying to canoe from New York to London for a meeting; the wrong resources can make the trip difficult.

Management Support

Support from management is critical as we have discussed in past checklists, but so is support from your peers and from the teams that will be using the processes.


7 – Senior management is actively involved in guiding and using the outputs of the CMMI.  Senior managers stop people in the hall to discuss progress and recently process implementations. Discussion of progress is an agenda item at all managers staff meetings.

3 – Senior and middle managers attend formal CMMI informational meetings and talk about the need to support the CMMI initiative.

1 – Senior managers attended the kick-off meeting, then relocating in mass to Aruba, leaving the middle managers in charge.

0 – The change initiative is a grass-roots effort.


Change costs money. Costs can include consultants, training, travel and an odd late-night pizza or two.

7 – A reasonable budget has been established and the implementation team can draw from the budget for planned expenditures.  Emergency funding can be attained to handle issues.

3 – A reasonable budget has been established and approved; however, access must be requested and justified for all expenditures.

1 – Any time that money is required funding must be requested and approved.

0 – Donations are sought in the organization’s lunchroom on a periodic basis (consider a PayPal donation button on your homepage).


Even if you have bales of cash, developing and implementing processes will require effort. Effort will be required from many constituencies including the process-improvement team, management and from the teams using the process, just to name a few.

7 – A reasonable staffing plan has been established and the change program is the only project the assigned resources have been committed to.

4 – A reasonable staffing plan has been established and the change initiative is the highest priority for the assigned resources.

1 – All resources are shared between the change initiative and are also assigned to other projects with high priority.

0 – You have all the effort you need after 5 PM and before 8 AM and during company holidays.

Change Specialist

Organizational change requires skills that are not generally found in an IT department. The skills needed include sales, marketing and communication.

7 – An organizational-change specialist has been assigned as a full-time resource for the project.

3 – An organizational-change specialist is available within the organization and works on many projects simultaneously. The specialist may or may not have had experience with IT change programs.

1 – Someone on the team has helped craft an organizational change plan in the past.

0 – Organizational change websites are blocked and your best bet is buying a book on Amazon using your own cash.


Change requires something to impact.  The organization needs to have a consistent flow of projects so that changes are not one-shot attempts.

7 – Projects are constantly beginning that will provide a platform for implementing process changes.

3 – There are numerous projects in the organization; however they typically begin early in the year or on some other periodic basis that makes waiting a necessity if you are not ready exactly on time.

1 – The organization does only a small number of projects every year.

0 – The organization does one large project every year.

Calendar Time

Calendar time is a resource that is as important as any other resource. Severe calendar constraints can lead to irrational or bet-the-farm behaviors which increase risk.

7 – The schedule for implementing the CMMI is in line with industry norms and includes time for tweaking the required processes before appraising.

3 – The schedule is realistic but bare bones. Any problems could cause delay.

1 – Expectations have been set that will require a compressed schedule; however, delay will only be career limiting rather than a critical impact on the business.

0 – The CMMI implantation is critical for the organization’s survival and is required on an extremely compressed schedule.


A deep understanding of the CMMI (or any other framework for that matter) will be needed to apply the model in a dynamic environment.  Experience is generally hard won. “Doing” it once generally does not provide enough expertise to allow the level of tailoring needed to apply the model in more than one environment. Do not be afraid to get a mentor if this is a weakness.

7 – The leaders and team members working to implement the CMMI have been intimately involved in successfully implementing the framework in different environments.

3 –The leader and at least one of the team members have been involved in implementing the CMMI in the past in a similar environment.

1 – Only the leader of the CMMI program has been involved with implementing the CMMI in another environment.

0 – All of the team members have taken the basic CMMI course and can spell CMMI assuming they can buy a vowel.


Planning for the implementation of change can take many forms — from classic planning documents and schedules to backlogs.  The structure of the plan is less of a discussion point than the content.  You need several plans when changing an organization. While the term “several” is used this does not mandate many volumes of paper and schedules, rather that the activities required are thought through and recorded, the goal is known and the constraints on the program have been identified (in other words the who, what, when, why and how are known to the level required).

Scale and Scoring

Plans: Eighteen total points. Each component contributes up to 6 points (6, 3, 1, 0).

Organizational Change Plan

The Organizational Change Plan includes information on how the changes required to implement the CMMI will be communicated, marketed, reported, discussed, supported, trained and, if necessary escalated.

6 – A full change management plan has been developed, implemented and is being constantly monitored.

3 –An Organizational Change Plan is planned but is yet to be developed. .

1 – When created, the Organizational Change Plan will be referenced occasionally.

0 – No Organizational Change Plan has or will be created.


The backlog records what needs to be changed in prioritized order. The backlog should include all changes, issues and risks. The items in the backlog will be broken down into tasks as they are selected to be worked on.  The format needs to match corporate culture and can range from an Agile backlog to in a waterfall organization, a requirements document.

6 – A prioritized backlog exists and is constantly maintained.

3 – A prioritized backlog exists and is periodically maintained.

1 – A rough list of tasks and activities is kept on whiteboard.

0 – No backlog or list of tasks exists.


Any change program requires resources, perseverance and political capital. In most corporations these types of requirements scream the need for oversight (governance is a code word for the less friendly word oversight). Governance defines who decides which changes will be made, when they will be made and who will pay for the changes. I strongly recommend that you decide how governance will be handled and write it down and make sure all of your stakeholders are comfortable on how you will get their advice, counsel, budget and in some cases permission.

6 – A full-governance plan has been developed, implemented and is being constantly monitored.

3 –A governance plan is planned, but is yet to be developed.

1 – When created, the governance plan will be used to show the process auditors.

0 – Governance . . . who needs it!


When you talk about attitude it seems personal rather than organizational, but when it comes to large changes I believe that both the attitude of the organization and critical individuals are important.  As you prepare to address the CMMI, the onus is on you as a change leader to develop a nuanced understanding of who you need to influence within the organization. The checklist will portray an organizational view; however, you can and should replicate the exercise for specific critical influencers.

Scale and Scoring

Attitude: Forty total points. Each component contributes up to 8 points (8, 4, 2, 0).

Vision of tomorrow

Is there a belief that tomorrow will be demonstratively better based on the actions that are being taken? The organization needs to have a clear vision that tomorrow will be better than today in order to positively motivate the team to aspire to be better than they are.

8 – The organization is excited about the changes that are being implemented.  Volunteers to help or to pilot are numerous.

4 – Most of the organization is excited about most of the changes and their impact on the future.

2 – A neutral outlook (or at least undecided) is present.

0 – Active disenchantment with or dissension about the future is present.


The view that the simplest process change that works is the best is important in today’s lean world.  In many cases heavy processes are wearing on everyone who uses them and even when the process is okay today, entropy will add steps and reviews over time, which adds unneeded weight.  Score this attribute higher if the organization has a process to continually apply lean principles as a step in process maintenance.

8 – All processes are designed with lean principles formally applied.  Productivity and throughput are monitored to ensure that output isn’t negatively impacted.

4 – All processes are designed with lean principles formally applied; however, they are not monitored quantitatively.

2 – All processes are designed with lean principles informally applied.

0 – Processes are graded by the number of steps required, with a higher number being better.


A learner is someone that is learning understands that they don’t know everything and that mistakes will be made. They understand that when made, mistakes are to be examined and corrected rather than swept under the carpet. Another attribute of a learner is the knowledge that the synthesis of data and knowledge from other sources is required for growth.  In most organizations, an important source of process knowledge and definition are the practitioners — but not the sole source.

8 – New ideas are actively pursued and evaluated on an equal footing with any other idea or concept.

4 – New ideas are actively pursued and evaluated, but those that reflect the way work is currently done are given more weight.

2 – The “not invented here” point of view has a bit of a hold on the organization, making the introduction of new ideas difficult.

0 – There is only one way to do anything and it was invented here sometime early last century.  Introduction of new ideas is considered dangerous.

Goal Driven

The organization needs to have a real need to drive the change and must be used to pursuing longer-term goals. The Process Philosopher of Sherbrooke once told me that being goal-driven is required to be serious about change.  In many cases a good, focused near-death experience increases the probability of change, but waiting that long can create a negative atmosphere. A check-the-box goal rarely provides more than short-term localized motivation.

8 – The organization has a well-stated positive goal and that the CMMI not only supports, but is integral to attaining that goal.

2 – The pursuit of the CMMI is about checking a box on a RFP response.

0 – CMMI is being pursued for no apparent purpose.


Belief in the underlying concepts of the CMMI (or other change framework) provides motivation to the organization and individuals.  Conviction creates a scenario where constancy of purpose (Deming) is not an after-thought but the way things are done. Implementing frameworks like the CMMI are long-term efforts — generally with levels of excitement cycling through peaks and valleys.  In the valley when despair becomes a powerful force, many times conviction is the thread that keeps things moving forward. Without a critical mass of conviction it will be easy to wander off to focus on the next new idea.

8 – We believe and have evidence that from the past that we can continue to believe over time.

4 – We believe but this is the first time we’ve attempted something this big!

2 – We believe  . . . mostly.

0 – No Organizational-Change Plan has been created.


Sum all of the scores and apply the following criteria.

100 – 80   You have a great base; live the dream.

79 – 60   Focus on building your change infrastructure as you begin the CMMI journey.

59 – 30   Remediate your weaknesses before you start wrestling with the CMMI.

29 –   0   Run Away! Trying to implement the CMMI will be equivalent to putting your hand in the garbage disposal with it running; avoid if you absolutely can!

I spend lots of time in airports.

I spend lots of time in airports.

I get around.  Once upon a time in my life that might have been an epithet, but now reflects a wide exposure to what works, doesn’t work and what is clearly a cop out.  There are five requirements for a successful process improvement program or five attributes that give a program a chance of success.  They are:

  1. The best and brightest
  2. Understanding of change management
  3. The wish to change
  4. A commitment to change in dollars and cents
  5. Recognition that implementation matters

The best change programs are staffed by people that have a solid track record of success both technically and in business terms. The right candidates will have a high follow-ability quotient. Follow-ability is combination of a number of attributes; including, optimism, successful, collaborative, vision and leadership.

Change management is a structured approach to shifting/transitioning individualsteams, and organizations from a current state to a desired future state.  It requires planning for selling and promoting ideas, then supporting the nascent changes until that have achieved critical mass.  Make sure your process improvement group has someone trained in change management. Skills will include sales, promotion, branding, communication and organizational politics.

I have observed many change programs that were created to check a box.  There was no real impetuous within the organization to change.  The organization must want to change; to become something different or the best a change program can do is to put lipstick on a pig.

Having a commitment to change in dollars and cents is critical.  I suggest funding the process improvement program by having each of the affected groups contribute the needed budget. The word contribute means that they can choose not to renew funding if they do not get what they need. The funding linkage ensures that the funding groups stay involved, and at the same time makes sure the process improvement team recognizes their customer.

Finally the recognition that implementation matters is the capstone.  Process changes, unlike spaghetti, cannot be tossed against the wall to determine if it is done.  How a process change is implemented will determine whether it sticks.  An implementation plan that integrates with the organization change management plan is part of the price of admission for a successful change.

Right knife? Check!

Hone the backlog!

In Backlog Grooming Revisited: What, When and How Much we described backlog grooming as an important technique to ensure stories were well formed, the right size and had acceptance criteria. While most formal backlog grooming sessions have their own specific agenda and cadence, I have found that these are the typical set of tasks.

Formal Grooming “Things to Cover” Checklist

  • Break Stories Down: Large stories or epics need to be broken down into smaller stories (each delivering working software – Rule 1). When a time-boxed Agile methodology is used, a story must be able to be completed during the time box.  For example if Scrum is being used, a story must be able to be completed during the sprint. A rule of thumb that I use is that the story should be able to be completed 2 or 3 days of effort if it was the only thing on the team’s plate. One reason small stories are better is due to the “stuff happens syndrome.” If a small story gets stuck (something goes wrong) other stories can be substituted and completed ensuring that progress continues. Alternately, if the sprint backlog is just a few larger stories and anything goes wrong with one it is unlikely that a new item can be substituted and completed maintaining the anticipated rate of progress.
  • Hone the Stories: During the grooming session the participants should review how the story is worded.  Make sure it makes sense and that it conveys what is really needed. If the story is not understandable or is incorrect, what gets built will not be what anyone wants.
  • Add Acceptance Criteria (if missing): Acceptance criteria expresses how the team will understand if they have met the story’s business need. The acceptance criteria, not only provides a set of test cases, but also provides additional definition to the user story.
  • Add User Stories (if needed): New stories can come from many angles.  As stories are broken down new stories will be naturally created.  The process of grooming generates a significant level of data sharing which will cause the participants to discover new stories.  New stories need to be added to the backlog.
  • Initial Estimates: The grooming participants should take an initial cut at an estimate for the story.  I generally ask the participants to take the first cut at size either in story points or quick and early function points. The initial size gives the product owner information that can help with prioritization of work for the next sprint.
  • Educate: Data sharing, discussion and communication provide a platform for the participants in the grooming session to gain an understanding not only of the stories being discussed but also the direction of the project. The knowledge that the grooming session participants gain can later be communicated to the larger team so that everyone’s knowledge base is enhanced.

User stories are the currency of an Agile project. Grooming sessions are an important tool for ensuring the stories are ready and that participants in the grooming session have a deep understanding of the work they about to plan and accept into a sprint.

For all undertakings (home improvement as well as measurement programs) make sure you have resources, a plan and the right attitude.

For all undertakings (home improvement as well as measurement programs) make sure you have resources, a plan and the right attitude.

Part of the Simple Checklist Series

Beginning or continuing a measurement program is never easy. The simple Measurement Checklist is a tool to help generate a discussion about the attributes that are important to be successful either as you implement a measurement program or when you have shifted into support mode.  The tool has been broken into 3 categories: resources (part 1 and 2), plans, and attitudes.  Each can be scored and leveraged separately. However, using the three components will help you to focus on the big picture.


The simple checklist can be used as a tool to evaluate how well you have prepared for your measurement journey.  As a reminder, each question in the survey is evaluated as a multiple-choice question.  The scale is high, medium, low and not present (with one exception), and each response is worth a point value (some are negative).  Scoring a question with a response that has a 0 or negative value is usually a sign that your program faces significant issues; in which case, proceed with caution.

Section and Question Weights:

Resources: Forty-two total points. Each component contributes up to 7 points.

Plans: Eighteen total points. Each component contributes up to 6 points.

Attitude: Forty total points. Each component contributes up to 8 points.


Sum all of the scores from each of the three categories.

100 – 80  You have a great base. Go live the dream.  Use techniques like continuous process improvements and retrospective to make improvements to your program.

79 – 60   Focus on building your measurement infrastructure.  Use focused improvement projects to target weaknesses in your measurement program.  The changes will be bigger than the changes that are meant to be identified in a retrospective.

59 – 30   Remediate your weaknesses immediately.  If you have not started your measurement program, focus on the problem areas before you begin.  If you have begun implementation or are in support mode, consider putting the program on hold until you fix the most egregious problems.

29 –   0   Run Away! Trying to implement a measurement program will be equivalent to putting your hand in the garbage disposal with it running; avoid it!  In this case consider significant organizational change initiatives.