Saturday, September 3, 2011

CMMI = Control & Agile = {Collaboration/Cultivation}

Pete Behrens gave a talk on The Culture of Agility @Agile2011 that left me thinking on the topic of my latest posts, the relationship between CMMI and Agile.

In his presentation, he shows a quadrant which contains 4 different types of cultures:

And he defined certain characteristics for each culture. Look the characteristics for a control culture:

This really looks like CMMI, right?. "Policy and procedures are extremely important", "The system is more important than people" (these phrases really sound as the explanation that CMMI gives as to why processes are so important "What holds everything together? It is the processes used in your organization. Processes allow you to align the way you do business. They allow you to address scalability and provide a way to incorporate knowledge of how to do things better. Processes allow you to leverage your resources and to examine business trends.")

Look now the characteristics of a Collaboration Culture:

And the Cultivation Culture:

These really look like Agile, right?

Look now the characteristics of personal and impersonal cultures:

These one's REALLY looked like Agile on the left side and CMMI on the right side. It is clear that CMMI would fit a control culture much better than a collaboration/cultivation culture and , inversely, Agile fits perfectly on collaboration/cultivation cultures. It's clear how Agile is "Personal", while CMMI is "Impersonal".

So what about compatibility. From the perspective of culture, what is the result of combining them?

I can imagine a couple of scenarios. In a collaboration/cultivation culture, applying CMMI would push the organization culture towards a more Control/Impersonal culture. From the other side, a control organization (which may be CMMI certified, as it's totally compliant) and wants to become more Agile may encounter a CMMI an obstacle.

So in the culture context, I see the 2 forces going in opposite directions.

Could this be synergetic or complementary or the effect would be the total opposite? Could this lead to an undefined culture or to an organization where employees are confused on their culture and values?


  1. Federico,

    Thanks for your reference of my culture presentation from Agile 2011. While it is true that CMMI is a more metric/system-based approach to development, it is also a framework of maturity which can be applied to any method or process. Thus, I find that Control and Competence-based cultures can be quite agile, they just are agile in a more systematic way than the Collaborative or Cultivative-based cultured companies (which typically take longer to achieve).

    I do not see CMMI as opposing to agility, rather, I see it as an approach to measuring and managing any process, including agility. In some cases, the Control and Competence-based companies can likely sustain agility better because they build the systems and procedures of agility to support it overtime, versus Collaborative and Cultivative-based companies tend to be more flexible or adaptive and may stray from the discipline which is required for agility.

    So, consider culture as an indicator of how agility might be approached in transition and sustaining rather than a decision of yes/no to use agile.

    Pete Behrens

  2. Thanks for your comments Pete. Your presentation was really awesome by the way (though I couldn't see the end as I had to get back to my venue guide position - I was a volunteer).

    Don't you think that a control culture organization transitioning to Agile would find in CMMI the perfect excuse to keep working the old style? I believe that just by having to comply with many of the CMMI SGs, the company wouldn't be doing things in the best possible Agile way. And the same would happen if we go the other way around. An Agile organization implementing CMMI could lose (just by inserting new processes to comply with CMMI) its collaborative culture because it would lose its focus on people to focus on processes. I see CMMI as tying the organization to processes (control/impersonal) while Agile tying it to people (collaboration/personal).

  3. If a company was already using the CMMI, it would be written towards their existing processes and thus most likely not be agile friendly. Thus, during the agile transition, the CMMI would need to be updated to reflect the agile approach.

    The CMMI is a framework that can be boiled down to "say what you are going to do" and "do what you said you'd do". Thus, if you say you are going to use an agile approach, then following that approach and documenting that you are following that approach would still be agile, even under CMMI.

    I don't see CMMI as being unfriendly to collaboration or cultivativation - in fact, much of the level 4 and 5 of CMMI is about Kaisen learning and growing - the same of what we achieve through the iterative retrospective approach of agile.

  4. So a CMMI-Control company transitioning to Agile, should try to change its culture to a more collaboration-cultivation one or the culture should be respected? I feel that CMMI-Control-Agile is a compromised Agile that won't reach its full potential as it would reach it in a collaboration Culture. Processes would still be over people and self-organization would never take off (as breaking institutionalized processes would be breaking CMMI). This is why I thought that Agile would be pushing the organization towards a more Collaboration Culture, but CMMI would be pushing back in the opposite direction.

  5. IQI consulting provides a standard CMMI rating mechanism for organizations to help analyze and enhance the prime capabilities that accommodate its performance and quality.

  6. IQI consulting provides a standard CMMI rating mechanism for organizations to help analyze and enhance the prime capabilities that accommodate its performance and quality.