In last month's column I introduced the concept of the systems engineering capability maturity model (CMM) and illustrated the value that this model can provide to an enterprise. In this installment I will explain the key CMM concepts and walk through each of the six CMM levels.

There are five key CMM concepts: consistent, repeatable, transferable, quantitative and qualitative. As I discuss these vital concepts I will use the IT task of project planning for illustrative purposes.

When an IT activity is consistently performed, it means that the task is performed much more frequently than it is not performed. For example, if the majority of your company's IT projects use written project plans, this activity would be performed consistently. It is important to note that consistency does not address quality or value of the task. Therefore, some IT staff will prepare written project plans using Microsoft Project, others will use Microsoft Excel and others will write them by hand. Also, the level of detail for the project plans will vary. Repeatable refers to an IT activity that provides value and is followed by a particular project team/group within the company. For example, a data warehousing team may have a standard method for constructing project plans (tool, level of detail, resource naming, etc.). Transferable means that the IT activity is standardized and followed throughout the company. As a result, the success of this task is transferable across groups within the company. For example, all project plans throughout an organization would be standardized, formatted consistently and have the same level of granularity. Quantitative refers to the measuring of an IT activity. For example, the time it takes to construct each project plan would be measured and captured. Qualitative refers to how well a task was accomplished.

The CMM is designed to be an easy-to-understand methodology for ranking a company's IT related activities. The six levels of CMM provide a "measuring stick" for organizations looking to improve their system development processes.

  • 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

Level 0 – Not Performed: Level 0 is common for companies just entering the IT field. At this level, there are few or no best practices. Some IT activities are not even performed, and all deliverables are "one-off efforts." Typically, new applications are built by a small number of people (or one person) in a very isolated fashion.

Level 1 – Performed Informally: At level 1, consistent planning and tracking of IT activities are missing and deliverables are accomplished via "heroic" effort. Heroic effort means that a team might work long hours in order to build a particular application; however, there are very few IT standards and reuse/sharing is minimal. As a result, IT deliverables are adequate. The deliverables, however, are not repeatable or transferable.

As a general rule, the amount of money a company spends on IT applications does not impact the CMM level. The exception to this rule is the move from level 0 to level 1. Typically, a company can move from level 0 to level 1 as a byproduct of elevated IT spending. Moving beyond level 1 is not impacted by money spent. A corporation could be spending much more than $500 million on application development and be at this level. Indeed, the vast majority of Fortune 500 companies and large government organizations are at a CMM level of 1.

Level 2 – Planned and Tracked: Level 2 has IT deliverables that are planned and tracked. In addition, there are some defined best practices within the enterprise (e.g., defined IT standards/documents, program version control, etc.). Some repeatable processes exist within an IT project team/group, but the success of this team/group is not transferable across the enterprise.

Level 3 – Well-Defined: IT best practices are documented and performed throughout the enterprise. At level 3, IT deliverables are repeatable and transferable across the company. This level is a very difficult jump for most companies. Not surprisingly, this is also the level that provides the greatest cost savings.

Level 4 – Qualitatively Controlled: Companies at level 4 have established measurable process goals for each defined process. These measurements are collected and analyzed quantitatively. At this level, companies can begin to predict future IT implementation performance.

Level 5 – Continuously Improving: At level 5, enterprises have a quantitative and qualitative understanding of each IT process. Level 5 companies and employees understand how each IT process is related to the overall business strategies and goals of the corporation.

My next column will apply the CMM levels to data warehousing and provide a mechanism to rank your company's data warehousing efforts.

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