by Sarah K. White

What is CMMI? A model for optimizing development processes

Jun 01, 2021
DeveloperIT Governance FrameworksIT Strategy

The Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) helps organizations streamline process improvement, encouraging a productive, efficient culture that decreases risks in software, product, and service development.

What is CMMI?

The Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) is a process and behavioral model that helps organizations streamline process improvement and encourage productive, efficient behaviors that decrease risks in software, product, and service development.

The CMMI was developed by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University as a process improvement tool for projects, divisions, or organizations. The DoD and U.S. Government helped develop the CMMI, which is a common requirement for DoD and U.S. Government software development contracts. The CMMI is currently administered by the CMMI Institute, which was purchased by the ISACA in 2016.

CMMI model

The CMMI is designed to help improve performance by providing businesses with everything they need to consistently develop better products and services. But the CMMI is more than a process model; it’s also a behavioral model. Businesses can use the CMMI to tackle the logistics of improving performance by developing measurable benchmarks, but CMMI can also help create a structure for encouraging productive, efficient behavior throughout the organization.

Evolution of CMMI

The CMMI was developed to combine multiple business maturity models into one framework. It was born from the Software CMM model developed between 1987 and 1997. CMMI Version 1.1 was released in 2002, followed by Version 1.2 in 2006, and Version 1.3 in 2010; V1.3 was replaced by V2.0 in March 2018.

In its first iteration as the Software CMM, the model was tailored to software engineering. Following versions of the CMMI became more abstract and generalized, allowing it to be applied to hardware, software, and service development across every industry. With the release of V2.0, the process has been streamlined — the CMMI previously addressed three areas of interest, including product and service development, service establishment, and product and service acquisition, but they have all been merged into one standalone model.

Every iteration of the CMMI aims to be easier for businesses to understand and use than the last, and each model is designed to be more cost-effective and easier to integrate or deploy. It encourages businesses to focus on quality over quantity by establishing benchmarks for vetting vendors and suppliers, identifying and resolving process issues, minimizing risk and building a corporate culture that will support the CMMI model.

CMMI Maturity Levels

The CMMI model breaks down organizational maturity into five levels. For businesses that embrace CMMI, the goal is to raise the organization up to Level 5, the “optimizing” maturity level. Once businesses reach this level, they aren’t done with the CMMI. Instead, they focus on maintenance and regular improvements.

CMMI’s Maturity Levels are:

  • Maturity Level 0 – Incomplete: At this stage work “may or may not get completed.” Goals have not been established at this point and processes are only partly formed or do not meet the organizational needs.
  • Maturity Level 1 – Initial: Processes are viewed as unpredictable and reactive. At this stage, “work gets completed but it’s often delayed and over budget.” This is the worst stage a business can find itself in — an unpredictable environment that increases risk and inefficiency.
  • Maturity Level 2 – Managed: There’s a level of project management achieved. Projects are “planned, performed, measured and controlled” at this level, but there are still a lot of issues to address.
  • Maturity Level 3 – Defined: At this stage, organizations are more proactive than reactive. There’s a set of “organization-wide standards” to “provide guidance across projects, programs and portfolios.” Businesses understand their shortcomings, how to address them and what the goal is for improvement.
  • Maturity Level 4 – Quantitatively managed: This stage is more measured and controlled. The organization is working off quantitative data to determine predictable processes that align with stakeholder needs. The business is ahead of risks, with more data-driven insight into process deficiencies.
  • Maturity Level 5 – Optimizing: Here, an organization’s processes are stable and flexible. At this final stage, an organization will be in constant state of improving and responding to changes or other opportunities. The organization is stable, which allows for more “agility and innovation,” in a predictable environment.

Once organizations hit Levels 4 and 5, they are considered high maturity, where they are “continuously evolving, adapting and growing to meet the needs of stakeholders and customers.” That is the goal of the CMMI: To create reliable environments, where products, services and departments are proactive, efficient and productive.

For a deeper look, see “CMMI Maturity Levels: A guide to optimizing development processes.”

CMMI Capability Levels

The CMMI also has capability levels that are used to appraise an organization’s performance and process improvement as it applies to an individual practice area outlined in the CMMI model. It can help bring structure to process and performance improvement and each level builds on the last, similar to the maturity levels for appraising an organization.

The capability levels are:

  • Capability Level 0 – Incomplete: Inconsistent performance and an “incomplete approach to meeting the intent of the practice area.”
  • Capability Level 1 – Initial: The phase where organizations start to address performance issues in a specific practice area, but there is not a complete set of practices in place.
  • Capability Level 2 – Managed: Progress is starting to show and there is a full set of practices in place that specifically address improvement in the practice area.
  • Capability Level 3 – Defined: There’s a focus on achieving project and organizational performance objectives and there are clear organizational standards in place for addressing projects in that practice area.

Updated CMMI V2.0

The latest version of the CMMI, Version 2.0, focuses more heavily on performance and how performance impacts business and how to understand an organization’s performance needs. There’s information on how to establish performance goals and then track those goals to make sure they’re achieved at all levels of business maturity.

Version 2.0 also integrates better with agile and Scrum processes, with a focus on safety and security. If you already have an agile practice in place, the CMMI V2.0 will help you work around or improve established processes that already work for your business. The CMMI V2.0 also aims to lower the overall cost of appraisals and shorten the time it takes to appraise and organization. The CMMI V2.0 also cut back on the amount of technical knowledge included, so it’s easier for those outside of the tech industry to read and understand. There’s also an online platform where users can build and design a model that suits the organization’s specific needs.

The CMMI Institute also included more information on how to demonstrate ROI, so leaders can get other executives on board. Performance benchmarks and goals outlined in the CMMI can help businesses ensure all projects and processes are cost-effective or profitable. The latest version is also easier to deploy throughout an organization with less technical language and updated user-friendly and customizable online platforms and tools that will provide guidance for adopting CMMI or transitioning to V2.0 from V1.3. It’s also available in several translated languages.

CMMI certifications

CMMI certifications are offered directly through the CMMI Institute, which certifies individuals, appraisers, instructors, and practitioners.

The CMMI Institute offers the following certifications:

  • CMMI Associate: The CMMI Associate Certification demonstrates your commitment and abilities when it comes to capability and performance improvement. The certification validates that you have the skills and knowledge to connect the CMMI model to business value and to participate as an Appraisal Team Member (CTM).
  • CMMI Professional: The next level of certification is the CMMI Professional certification, which demonstrates your ability to apply the CMMI model in an organization structure through road maps for performance, team coaching, organizational change management and fostering a culture of improvement.
  • Certified CMMI Lead Appraiser: As a certified CMMI Lead Appraiser, you will be qualified to appraise organizations to determine their capability or maturity level as outlined in the CMMI model. Applications are reviewed by the ISACA Appraiser Application Review committee, who will evaluate your qualifications for the certification.
  • Certified CMMI Instructor: The Certified CMMI Instructor certification enables you to lead instructional courses on CMMI. You’ll need a sponsoring organization that also is an ISACA partner and that is licensed for use of the CMMI product suite to qualify for the exam.

For more on CMMI certifications, see “CMMI certifications: A complete guide.”

CMMI tools

The CMMI Institute authorizes third-party organizations to sell CMMI tools and services, the list of approved vendors is extensive, and you can search by product, location, and language on the CMMI Institute website. 

The type of CMMI tools that will work best for your organization will depend on your business’s needs. Following the CMMI, you’ll identify the best tools during Maturity Level 2 or 3; at this point, your CMMI consultant will offer recommendations or help you design customized tools based off extensive research. The most common category of tools that you’ll need to consider includes:

  • Project and document management
  • Bug tracker
  • Estimation
  • Requirement and design management
  • Decision and analysis tools
  • Metrics tools
  • Integration application

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