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CMMI is an abbreviation for “Capability Maturity Model Integrated”. The integrated model emerged in 2001, after a number of maturity model variations surfaced on the back of the original CMM work first published in 1992.

How did it start?

The CMM work was commissioned by the United States Department of Defence. After huge write-offs in IT over many years, they wanted to know what the key traits are that make IT projects perform closer to time / cost forecast. In 1988, this study was commissioned to the Carnegie Mellon University, Software Engineering Institute (CMU-SEI), who published the results in 1992 in the first CMM report.

What did they find?

The real value of the CMMI is that it identifies which software development, project management, and organisational management processes are key to achieve a certain stepped-up time/cost performance.


The CMM/CMMI refers to this as the key process areas (KPAs) needed to achieve a level of capability maturity. In other words, the CMMI tells you which capabilities to address to deliver a step-up in value for money.

How did they establish that?

The research looked at a large collection of projects, distilled the key processes that each exhibited, and sorted the projects by time/cost versus forecast, and processes in use.  From this they established the now well-known stepped capability maturity levels of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. In other words, certain clusters of processes when applied in projects, yield a sudden stepped improvement in time/cost, and variation to forecast, behaviour. They also noted that there is no gradual improvement - when you miss one of the processes in a cluster (level) you drop back to a plane of higher time / cost, and wider time/cost variations (hence the steps). In picture, a bit like this …

So what are these clusters of processes?

In a nutshell, it’s like this:

       To step-up from level 1, “management by heroics” to level 2, and significantly reduce time/cost overruns, you need to adopt and apply key processes like requirements management, project planning, project monitoring, configuration (version) management and others (7 KPAs in total)

       To step up from level 2 to level 3, you need to adopt and apply additional project processes like verification, design, validation, decision analysis. In addition, there needs to be a range of organizational processes in place, like the planning of, creation of, and training of, a defined process, practices, tools, templates, standards etc. (10 more KPAs)

       Level 4 is about quantitative management of projects and processes

       Level 5 is about continuous improvement using quantitative data to forecast, measure and correct, the impact of process changes.

Feel overwhelmed?

Don’t feel overwhelmed by levels 4 or 5 – start with fixing up level 2, then address level 3. It’s not that hard because it is all basic stuff that you probably know of or do mostly already anyway. And note – by taking this step of fixing you’ve just started on Operational Process Focus, a level 3 Key Process Area -  brilliant, keep going.

Suggested further reading

No doubt you may have some questions, or like to know more detail, such as:

       What levels of maturity are there?

       What level to aim for; do we need to go for CMMI certification ? (faq)

       Is there a full list of processes for each of the CMMI levels

►        What exactly do I need to adopt to achieve level 2 or 3


For a complete list of items of interest, please browse the side menu. Happy reading.


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