I was talking to a friend whose employer has merged with another company. My friend’s company spent the last 5 years clawing its way to supportable and repeatable processes throughout the company as they build software products. If you are familiar with the 5 levels of the Capability Maturity Model, they had finally reached something close to a level 4.
It was hard and they struggled but development, testing, and documentation had stable processes that supported consistently developing products.
Then the merger happened.
As they bring the 2 companies together, they are also breaking the company into 2 parts, based on markets. The split is not based on previous company affiliation, but rather on the needs of each vertical market both companies sell into. It makes sense to break it up this way, because the products are related but the needs of each vertical are very different.
This could all be very good, except for one thing: the company they merged with has no actual product development processes.
And that could all work if Company A (my friend’s employer) consumed Company B. But that’s not what’s happening. As they break the companies apart and regroup into 2 separate business units, the processes of each company are staying in place. Those people who are moving into the business unit that was Company A get the existing and stable processes of Company A. Those who are moving into the business unit of what was Company B get all the processes of Company B, which is to say, none.
6 levels of the CMM
My friend and I have thought for years there are actually 6 levels of the CMM. We both discovered this level when we ran our own consulting companies. We also learned to identify and then run away when we first met with these potential clients because nothing good ever happened.
The 6th level is negative 1. Working with a negative 1 level will destroy your processes if you are a contracting company providing outsourcing services, like product documentation. Think of it as entropy.
There is a place for the negative 1 level – three people creating some wild new technology in a garage somewhere can actually benefit from this level because it strongly encourages crazy mad ideas that then get tried. These ideas would be shot down any other place because they are crazy mad ideas. But for these people in that garage, it’s a creative environment that works.
The moment these people move into any level of developing the crazy mad ideas into some actual products, level negative 1 will kill them. Perhaps slowly, perhaps quickly, but entropy will have it’s due.
And how do tools fit in here?
Very often, companies with few to no processes decide the problems they’re having are because they don’t have the right tools. If they got the right tools, they reason, this would all be better.
So they build a feature list.
And they buy new tools.
They don’t bother to train anyone, or set up any Best Practices for using the tools. They just buy them, install them, and then continue on the way they’ve been. And nothing changes, except some vendor somewhere got a nice fat check.
New tools are not feature lists
If you (or your company) are thinking about improving how you do the business of what you do, new tools can help a lot. But new tools also require that you look at your existing processes and be brave enough to change what isn’t working. And something isn’t working if you’re looking to get new tools.
Think of purchasing new tools as a time of reflection for your company. Identify what’s not working in your processes and then find tools that support your efforts to make it work better.
Don’t look for new tools based on a feature list – look for new tools based on the business problems you have and the business solutions you need. When you identify the business issues you need to solve, you’re going to be looking at processes as well. You can’t help it.
by Sharon Burton