Monday, February 26, 2007

Little Black Book

We're ramping up for some big training in IT this year. Everyone will go through CMMi training. We're all likely to get re-trained in the program life cycle (PLC, also known as the program/product life cycle). The goal is to reduce all big projects into smaller "chunks" of six months or less. We're not as efficient as we should be and we need to get better at estimating and hitting delivery dates. And having a common language to use for projects and deliverables would be helpful.

This all sounds fine, but it's not clear to me what problem we're trying to solve with CMMi. CMMi isn't a process, and it doesn't teach project management. Perhaps I'll learn better how this will help when I go through the training, but right now I can't really see the connection between the problems we're trying to fix and the actions we're taking. People at most corporations tend to like new things. CMMi is hardly new, but it's new in terms of embracing a way to manage and measure process in IT at Intel.

The PLC training makes sense, and I think most people in IT need to understand it. Despite what you hear about PLC being a planning framework, it's not. It's a series of steps required to get decisions and funding from your management. It basically says you need to do some research to get a clue, turn you clue into an idea, turn your idea into plan and explain why it adds value, then get it appropriately funded. It's really just a check-and-balances process. Once you start to look at it that way and follow the process, you'll start getting more decisions approved. Tip: be sure to use the PLC graphic in your presentations to show where you are in the process. There's and cool new graphic that's identical to the old one in every way except the graphics look more expensive. (They guys who revamped Intel's logo must have had some extra time on their hands.) Middle and senior managers in IT have a Pavlovian response to this diagram and you score points just for using it. And you get extra credit if you actually understand it, although it's not a requirement.

A few years ago in the eBusiness group things were going along fine strategically, but not so well tactically. Projects were missing delivery dates, quality was not good, resource and spending estimates were poor for most programs, and customers were generally not happy. I may get into the details of this in a later post, but for now just assume this is a fair assessment of how things were going. In the midst of what some might have viewed as a crisis the group's ability to meet customer expectations, deliver, the Sr. staff were focused on strategy. In particular they spent a lot of time working in succession planning - figuring out who in their groups could replace them, and who would replace those managers.

The VP had read a book called The Leadership Pipeline and was encouraging her staff to read it, and some of them encouraged their staff to do the same. It's a good enough book. But what I found funny (and a little sad) was the way some managers would leave this book out on their desks, or occasionally carry it with them from meeting to meeting. I sat through many meetings looking at copies of this book wondering why someone had brought it into the room. I never quite figured out why people carried their books around, but I decided that these were likely the same people who wore wore calculators on their belts in college to be easily recognized as one of the clan.

So what the heck is my point? In the middle of a situation where things were going badly, the VP decided that her staff should focus on something they were already doing pretty well. They didn't focus on project management, or estimation skills, or look at who was making program management mistakes and why. They didn't question how to react when resourcing came up short, because the answer was obvious. They didn't question much about the management aspects of delivering technology, just the leadership.

I don't think the IT is going down the same path with CMMi that eBusiness did by focusing on strategy rather than tactical issues. But I think they could be missing an opportunity to fill a knowledge gap in the organization, and to help solve many problems rather than just a few. But I'm going to make you wait for the answer until my next post. I'm guessing many of you know where I'm headed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm with you, dude. InfoTech does not usually develop software, it implements it. But CMMi seems to be the only mechanism that manager-types have to show that they're throwing a rope around us to controll our processes.

Sorry to post anonymously; it's not politically correct to post against CMMi.