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27 February 2007

Make CMMI easier and more effective

By Andrew Clifford

IT process management initiatives like CMMI and ITIL can be made easier and more effective by including formal reviews of system quality.

System reviews, like this sample review, quickly identify the management issues on a current or proposed system. They show what needs to be done and who needs to get involved, without needing everyone to review every document. This lets you focus process management work on making the core processes really efficient, and only include specialist assistance or less common processes on an exception basis.

Process management is a great way of spreading knowledge and skill and enforcing consistency, but it can be inflexible to change. If you have a big change like a merger, formal system reviews let you quickly enforce common management objectives across the new IT landscape before all processes have been brought together. Reviews give you back control when you have outsourced your processes.

Reviews let you capture issues that process management does not touch. Reviews catch lapses where processes have not been followed. Reviewing systems annually identifies the issues that need to be managed to stop gradual decline into unsupportable legacy.

System reviews need a standard template that looks broadly across all aspects of your IT, but only goes just deep enough to identify where there might be issues. The template must be detailed and unambiguous, so that reviews are rigorous and consistent and can be validated. Each item on the template needs a well-defined grading system which gives no wriggle room. A simple check list is useless.

System reviews need to focus on outcome, and not process. For example, system capacity criteria should not ask, "Has the DBA been consulted on database size?" because this just enforces a bureaucratic process. It should instead ask for an explanation of why the capacity is considered adequate. It should provide gradings that cover all possibilities: capacity has been formally calculated; capacity is not changing; capacity is trivial; capacity has been roughly estimated; capacity is unknown. These grades provide triggers for additional processes, without having to include everyone all of the time.

Reviews can be applied in the early stages of projects, to identify issues with the planned work. They should be repeated at the end of design as a quality control, and when a system goes live to give a baseline. Reviews can be applied annually to running systems to identify and stop gradual decline, and to keep systems in step with evolving objectives.

The review templates and review processes need to be formalised. This lets you use the reviews to capture and pursue new management objectives, and lets you fine tune the reviews to mesh seamlessly with your core processes.

When I started working on system governance, I saw it as an alternative to IT process management. But as I work with organisations with rich and mature processes, I have seen how system governance is complementary. Formal system reviews address some of the limitations of managing through processes alone: they cut bureaucracy, and fill gaps that process management can not reach. Processes and reviews work together, and build quality through repeatability, auditability and continuous improvement.

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