CMMI: Good process doesn't always lead to good quality

Having a process such as CMMI in place doesn't guarantee quality software or systems, says Bill Curtis, co-author of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM). You can still have defects.

Bill Curtis, co-founder of the Capability Maturity Model (CMM)
Dr. Bill Curtis, co-founder of CMM & CMMI

 You co-authored the Capability Maturity Model (CMM), the People CMM, and the Business Process Maturity Model. Can you talk briefly about what led to their creation and why?
It started as an idea at IBM, when Watts Humphrey was asked by senior management to find the difference between the great development centers at IBM and the ones that had trouble. He realized the difference was simply that they had a better process. He retired and came to the Software Engineering Institute, which had just been created by the (Department of Defense). The DoD charged the SEI with coming up with a way to evaluate the capability of the software development contractor. That was the beginning of CMM.

He asked me when he retired from the SEI to take over his job. We put together a team to build the standard. Within three years we had data that said it improved productivity, it reduced defects, it helped people hit their cost and schedule targets. [Over time] we would get calls from people using CMM, saying "We found all these process problems, but we also found all these other problems you guys didn't talk about in CMM, like training, career paths, team building. Can you give us a way to deal with them?" I got support from the DoD to build the People CMM, which takes the maturity framework and applies it to workforce development.

Then in 2002 the president of the technology and operations division of Nedbank, one of the largest banks in South Africa, came to us and said, "I've used the CMM in my application development shop, and I've seen 25% productivity just getting to Level 2, but it doesn't deal with the rest of my operation. It only deals with the software development work. Could you build a model that would to apply to the rest of the business?" So we took the framework and turned it into the business process maturity model that's focused squarely on the rest of the business. How successful have organizations been at getting to Level 5?
The aerospace folks have done it, and they were very motivated because they wanted to win DoD contracts. It has had a pretty dramatic impact on the quality of software that sits inside the large DoD systems. The Indians and the outsourcers, many have gotten on to Level 5, [but] you do have to ask the question as to who did the assessment. There are some assessments we've seen that weren't accurate, but in general, and increasingly, the lead appraisers, the SEI, is getting control of people doing the work, so more and more of these appraisals are accurate. The problem is that just because I have a high maturity process doesn't mean I don't have defects. It means I have processes in place. The CMM or CMMI, the successor to CMM, is not a quality standard.

(Read more of our interview with Bill Curtis in "CMM founder: Focus on the product to improve quality.")

How to improve software quality
Read what Bill Curtis says about what development groups need to do to improve software quality in "CMM founder: Focus on the product to improve quality."

Dr. Bill Curtis, a globally recognized expert in software process and quality, recently joined CAST, an automated application intelligence vendor, as senior vice president and chief scientist. Curtis co-authored the Capability Maturity Model (CMM), the People CMMl, and the Business Process Maturity Model. He was co-founder and chief scientist of TeraQuest, a provider of CMM-based services acquired by Borland. And he is a former director of the Software Process Program in the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) at Carnegie Mellon University.

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