Years ago we put a program in place at home to help make it more livable. We instituted an allowance program based on participation and results (we were young and naive then … what can I say?). One aspect of the allowance program was a monthly inspection of the kid’s bedrooms to verify they are being kept clean. Our goal for the inspections was to instil a sense order and cleanliness. What actually happened was 1-2 days before the inspection there would be a mad panic to ensure the room would pass. For the other 28 days in the month … chaos and disaster zones!

CMMI. OMP3. ISO. COBIT. ITIL. There is no shortage of programs to help your organization prove they are supposedly doing a good job. Unless there is a requirement to follow such a program my recommendation would be to not even go there. If you’re unfortunate enough to require such a program then be careful how you implement it. In the quest for proving your alignment with such a program too many companies create a large amount of waste.

The problem is many companies institute these programs using the same standards my kids use in their rooms. When audits are booked a mad scramble happens to ensure the deliverables exist to allow for a passing grade. The mad scramble sometimes even happens at the expense of the real & valuable work needing to be done.

Scrambling at the last minute serves little purpose and is just wasteful! The deliverables of the scramble are questionable and often incomplete. At the most extreme I know of one group who would copy & rename documents to give the illusion a deliverable exists … check mark! (they knew the auditor never looked at content).

A certification program should never be used in conjunction with compliance! Instead of creating a compliance program, why not create a continuous improvement program. Use the certification program to verify your progress towards the target/required level. Using the results identify the areas of your organization which could use some attention. Those are the places you should focus your improvement efforts. Work iteratively in this  way until you reach the level of maturity you are after.

When it comes to changing how work is done there’s a distinct danger in using a waterfall approach. For me this is the root cause of a culture of compliance. When complete the people are given a check list of deliverables, processes and templates to work with. Then they threaten them with audits to verify their compliance with the new program. The end result is a lot of CYA while people don’t want to be visible for being non-compliant.

To succeed at reaching a maturity level in a valuable way you need a different approach. You need to change the culture of the company so doing the right things is just how work gets done. Some of things to consider are:

  • Have a vision – walking around saying “we’re going to be CMMI level 3” is NOT a vision (it’s a directive). You need to give people vision so they understand what outcome you seek in exchange for the investment. Stating the level you’re striving for shouldn’t even be a part of the vision statement. Give them something they can internalize and be a part of!
  • Teach them! – Often teams do not understand the program they are supposed to align with. Leaning about one of these programs is not exciting so don’t expect them to do it on their own. Host a series of lunch-n-learns to help people learn more about the program.
  • Involve the whole team – doing this will ensure everyone has a stake in the outcome. This doesn’t mean everyone is on every aspect, but give everyone the opportunity to participate as they will have some great ideas!
  • Manage with a visual tool – kanban, scrum and other approaches provide great ways to visualize and manage work. Manage the areas requiring improvement on a kanban board.  If you have a MS-Project Chart it may be a sign your certification program will be all about compliance
  • Self organize – Management’s focus should be on populating the kanban backlog with areas requiring change. Let the people who know the work best self-organize and pick up the next item from the backlog.
  • Create powerful discussion – I really like the approach of Lean Change for working on transformations. A visual canvas provides a powerful platform for discussing a change. This is followed by defining real activities you will manage on a kanban board.
  • Discourage last minute cleaning – no one should EVER be disciplined or fired due to the results of an audit. The results should feed into the improvement program. If there are issues identified in the audit, then they should be considered for future improvements.  Don’t forget to do a root-cause analysis to determine why the issue even exists.

The ideal state in our house would be where our kids’ rooms would always be kept clean. The ideal state in your company is the right activities are happening naturally to deliver valuable quality results. There should be no mass panic of activities as the audit approaches. If you see the panic happening I’d be questioning the amount of waste being generated.

I’m not an expert in any of the certification programs, but I do see the amount of waste created by the mishandling of them. Much like my kids keeping their rooms clean make sure you create a culture providing the outcome you’re after. Your customers are only interested in quality, reliable and cost effective products. Even if they require one of these industry certifications don’t let them down by making it all about compliance!

Building Great Teams

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