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Capability Maturity Model: An Introduction

  • August 01 2002, 1:00am EDT

Every corporation wants information technology (IT) systems that are robust enough to meet their current requirements and flexible enough to adapt to their changing business needs. However, most corporations have very poorly designed IT applications. Thus, when these companies need to implement a major enhancement to their existing systems or build new applications, their probability for project failure is exceedingly high: 65 to 80 percent according to most surveys. This failure rate is surprising as the average company spends approximately 5.3 percent of its annual revenue on IT-related activities. The executives of these same companies are trying to understand why their major IT initiatives fail at such a high rate and why seemingly simple changes to their applications are so costly and time-consuming. These executives wanted a technique for comparing their IT development methods with those of other firms. These desires have helped fuel the popularity of the systems engineering capability maturity model (CMM). This column marks the first in an ongoing series on the CMM. Over the next several columns, I will explain what the CMM is, what each of the six CMM levels means, apply the CMM to data warehousing along with metrics for each level, and illustrate why a meta data repository is the most vital application for any company looking to move up the CMM levels.

What is the Capability Maturity Model?

There are many different applications of the capability maturity models. Some of these models target software development, staffing, etc. In this series, I will focus on the systems engineering capability maturity model (CMM). The CMM is service marked by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) of Carnegie Mellon University and was developed by the SEI, the Department of Defense and a host of other entities. For more information about the SEI, please feel free to visit

The CMM is designed to be an easy-to-understand methodology for ranking a company's IT- related activities. The CMM has six levels, 0 through 5 (see Figure 1):

  • Level 0 ­ Not Performed
  • Level 1 ­ Performed Informally
  • Level 2 ­ Planned and Tracked
  • Level 3 ­ Well-Defined
  • Level 4 ­ Quantitatively Controlled
  • Level 5 ­ Continuously Improving

The purpose of these levels is to provide a "measuring stick" for companies looking to improve their system development processes.

Figure 1: CMM Levels

Why is the CMM Valuable?

The CMM is valuable for several reasons. First, it is simple and easy to understand; therefore, it speaks to the executives of a corporation. Many corporate executives are already familiar with this model, and it is probable that your company's executives are also familiar with it. Over the years, I have been able to successfully use this model to illustrate major IT issues/concepts to senior executives. I have found the CMM to be a very valuable tool for obtaining project funding for key initiatives such as enterprise data asset management and meta data repository development; I will talk about these concepts in greater detail as my series on the CMM moves forward. Second, as you view the model, it is intuitive that a company cannot currently be ranked at a level 2 and jump directly to level 4. Instead, an organization must first develop a strategy to elevate it to level 3. Third, many large companies and government institutions are actively using this model to compare themselves with other entities. In fact, many corporations have IT goals centered on the CMM levels. Fourth, the model also gives companies a mechanism to compare themselves with other companies within their industry.

In my next column, I will walk through the six CMM levels and discuss the key themes within each level.

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