Section 3.6. Choose Your Model (or Not)

3.6. Choose Your Model (or Not)

"Choose your model" means now is a good time to select one of the existing process models (preferably one of the proven ones) upon which you can structure the process program you're about to build. For most people in the field of technology development, this means ISO 9001:2000, Capability Maturity Model Integration, or Six Sigma. In coming activities, you and your team members are going to begin looking at the organization from a process design perspective: looking at what process areas to address, deciding what process components to build, and choosing how to build them. If you know a model that will work for you, you'll want to begin tailoring your decisions to that framework so that it and what you build will fit well together. That's the gist of "Choose your model."

Of course, you don't have to choose a process model at all. You don't need to look at ISO, CMMI, Six Sigma, or any of the others in order to create a good process program for your shop. You might decide to create a purely customized process approach, one you build based solely on internal parameters. If that's the course you'd like to go with, go right ahead.

I don't mean that facetiously. I am a firm believer in the three programs I present in this book, and I am a vocal advocate of their use in technology shops of all kinds. But I'm also the first to say that a big part of process success comes from the program's ability to serve your organization well. And if a purely custom approach gets you there, then you've met the spirit of process improvement embedded in ISO, CMMI, and Six Sigma.

Most people working in process improvement today, usually working on highly visible process initiatives, are likely to draw on one of these three established models. But there's a Fire-Ready-Aim issue here I'd like to mention here, and it comes not with how the choice is made, but rather when it's made.

Choosing a process model can be the step where many people begin their process programs. I attend a lot of trade shows, seminars, and symposiums on quality management and process improvement, and invariably I'm approached by someone who says, "We know we need a program, but we're torn between Six Sigma and ISO 9000. Which one do you think is right for us?" Or, "Our systems managers say CMMI is the right way to go, but we've got a couple people in-house now who have already used ISO at previous jobs. So doesn't it make sense to go with a known quantity?" I also hear this, "The CIO says we have to be CMMI Level 2 by next year or no performance bonuses."

It's ironic, but in the world of technology developmenta discipline that requires deep planning, strategic positioning, and the capability for abstract thoughtI hear lots of statements like those. The topics of process improvement and quality management are cool these days, and discussions of the three leading programs buzz around conventions and process gatherings. People have heard of ISO 9001:2000; they know about Capability Maturity Model Integration, and they've read all the success stories concerning Six Sigma. But somewhere along the line, the popular concepts of these programs have blurred. They've begun to merge together. They've fallen into a common category labeled "process solutions," as if the answer lay in simply deciding which one to pick off the shelf.[*]

[*] ISO 9001, CMMI, and Six Sigma are the dominant process improvement methodologies for use in technology development organizations, but there are other process models for use in different realms of IT and technology management. These other frameworks include programs like ITIL, OPM3, and CobiT.

The original title for this book was ISO 9001, CMMI, Six Sigma: Which Is Right for You?. I wanted to write a general guide that would help clear up this homogenous misconception, to help people understand what these approaches have in common, how they are different, and even how they might best be used together. I wanted to show people how they could use these programstogether or in partsto further their process goals.

The point is that, in the realm of process improvement, it's important to move into operational management and control with a comfortable degree of management and control working on your side. As you begin a process initiative, you may not have all the detail in mind, but you're likely to have the big picture in place. The problem with moving before you're ready, with selecting a solution to an unknown equation, is that you're likely to end up bending the equation to fit the answer. But in process improvement (in fact, in any model-based work), the solution does not lie in the model; it lies in the way you use the model to link process to business. So it's best to understand the basic shape of the business problem before you move on to the solution.

Note: Part 2 of this book presents general summaries of the ISO 9001:2000 Standard, Capability Maturity Model Integration, and the methodologies behind Six Sigma. These descriptions are designed to give you a high-level understanding of each of these programs, or at least an understanding that's adequate for evaluating their structures, strengths, requirements, and potentials for use. (It's also a way to give you a core of knowledge without having to buy three more books.) However, this book is not designed to replace publications dedicated to in-depth explanations of ISO 9001, CMMI, or Six Sigma.

When you set about choosing a model, treat the effort not so much as a hunt for the Grail; treat it more like a piece of investigative journalism. Be prepared to devote time to fact findingread, talk to people, get in touch with expertsthen assimilate your understanding in light of your business objectives. Finally, you can formulate an answer that, even if not perfect, will probably take you in the direction you want to go.

Let's briefly look at three tips to keep in mind when you set about choosing a model that may work for you.

3.6.1. Study Alternatives

You don't have to be a process model expert to shape a successful process program. But it pays to know what's out there, what programs have worked for other people, and what the industry as a whole has found to be successful. The main alternatives focused on in this book are ISO 9001:2000, CMMI, and Six Sigma. For the business of technology development, these three are the most widely used models. And each has established the kinds of track records to show they can work very well. Given that, there are lots of other models available. So take time at this point in your process initiative to look at what's out there.

You can find lots of books that describe the ISO 9001:2000 Standard. You can purchase the Standard itself from the ISO web site. The same holds true for CMMI. There's a good selection of books and articles on implementing this framework. As an added plus, the official CMMI specification is available for free download at the web site for the Software Engineering Institute, the governing body for CMMI. You'll find that there's a wealth of free CMMI information at this site: white papers, proposals, studies, techniques, and so on.

There may be more information available on Six Sigma than on the other models. That may be because Six Sigma is not managed by a central governing body. Anyone can write about it and promote it. Because of Six Sigma's "openness," you need to be a little careful about what sources of data you plug into. Two that are naturally very reliable are the web sites for Motorola and General Electric. Motorola and GE are the two companies most responsible for developing the concepts embedded in Six Sigma. They offer a lot of information about this model.

Another good way to get a feel for what's available in these alternatives is to talk to people in your industry. I have found in my own experience that the professionals who work in process improvement are usually very willing to take time to discuss what they've learned, offer advice, and provide general counsel. The good ones rarely seek to promote a specific agenda. The same holds true for people who work under these process programs. In fact, they may be the best source of ideas, advice, and information.

3.6.2. Focus on Function, not Form

Most process models have a forma paradigmbuilt into them. ISO 9001 organizes its requirements into a series of distinct sections: Quality Manual, Management Responsibility, Product and Service Provisioning, and so on. CMMI is a collection of 25 Process Areas and, in its staged representation, organizes them along five Maturity Levels. Six Sigma employs a methodology called DMAIC: Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve, Control. All of these implementation modes are valid; they provide a handy framework for you to hang your efforts on. But when you're initially looking at these programs, don't concentrate too much on these formats. It's convenient to be able to say, "We're going to be operating at Level 2 in nine months," but it's more crucial to know exactly what that means.

When evaluating potential models, look to function instead of form. The strength of each of these models is that they are built upon a series of sound practices that have proven themselves over time in the technology industry (and in other industries as well). These practices represent the core activities you'll be shaping for your process team and for the organization's working groups. And it's through understanding these practices that you'll be able to select the model that is most appropriate for their needs.

You'll find that ISO 9001, CMMI, and Six Sigma are distinctly different in form, but they share a lot of similarities in function. For example, all three support configuration management. They all define requirements for measuring performance. All three call for detailed planning. But they tackle these topics in different ways, from different perspectives, giving different weights to each. Look to the focus of these programs, how they define and emphasize their functionalities, and see which provides the closest match to your view of process improvement and the needs of your organization. By focusing on function instead of form, you'll be able to identify the key components of these models that translate into effective process improvement actions.

3.6.3. Borrow at Will

When you choose a model, when you find one that seems to fit your approach to process improvement, you shouldn't feel that you have to discard other choices. You're not wed to a single option. It's actually a good ideasound and validto select one model's framework and then fill it with practices that you've found from other sources. So feel free to borrow at will. Bruce A. Brown, the CIO at T-Mobile, reminded me of this not too long ago when we were talking about the general wealth of knowledge floating around in the process improvement industry. Bruce communicates to his people the value in interpreting, selecting, and internalizing those portions of CMMI, ISO, and Six Sigma that line up with the needs of his different divisions. The key, he tells them, is to take those selected parts and then shape them to fit the organization. That's good advice.

Another executive I know, Linda Butler, Director of Telco IT Delivery for BellSouth Telecommunications, echoes that thought:

The advantage of process models like ISO 9001 and CMMI is that they can be referenced as a set of proven best practices, tried and true over time. They give you the benefit of what other people have learned. But it's important to take them simply as tools. They are there to help you build your program. They are not the program itself. The smart approach is to look at one, determine how it can help you, and then borrow from it those elements you find useful.

This idea of free association among models is actually endorsed by most of the sponsors of these models. I have personally worked with people heavily involved in the evolutions of CMMI and Six Sigma, and all of them have said to me that the idea behind these process improvement programs is process improvement, not program allegiance. So borrow away in the best way it helps you.

Note: The idea of setting yourself free to borrow assumes one freedom we should briefly address: the freedom to shape your process program the way you want to. In my consulting practice, that's the way I like to promote. That way almost always ties more closely to the business objectives of your organization than the formal, regimented ways. But in the real world of business, we don't always have that freedom.Often you'll find that the industry you're in dictates which model you need to implement, and even how you ought to implement it. Or you may have an important client who will do business with you only if you follow a certain methodology. Or maybe your management has already made the model decision for you.When you find yourself in this situation (and it's all to common), you probably will have to select one model, implement it in full scope, and tailor it as you go so it fits well in the organization.

Views from the Top


"In organizational development you'll typically see a hierarchy of quality. Early on, processes will be developed within working groups, designed to address specific jobs with a specific focus. At this stage the groups are learning how to do their jobs. Later on, as the organization becomes more mature, you'll find that working groups develop processes to help coordinate how different teams work together. By this time the teams know how to perform their individual jobs. Now they are focusing on mid-level integration and coordination. Finally, with high maturity, the whole organization is able to operate against a common set of standards, one that steers the full enterprise. At this point the enterprise is operating cross-functionally."

Bruce A. Brown, Senior Vice President and CIO, T-Mobile USA

Process Improvement Essentials
Process Improvement Essentials: CMMI, Six SIGMA, and ISO 9001
ISBN: 0596102178
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2006
Pages: 116

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