Pragma tool furthers trend toward certification

Suite of templates aims to help organizations reach CMMI Level 2

As agencies and industry become more interested in various types of certification, tools intended to help organizations earn certification are finding a market.

Pragma Systems is one firm that is taking advantage of the trend. Its processMax offering — recently upgraded — provides templates, policies, procedures, forms and other resources intended to help organizations reach Level 2 of the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), a commonly used measure of processes.

CMMI, developed by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, is a measure of the degree to which processes are standardized and documented. The scale ranges from 1 to 5, with 5 being the most advanced. However, SEI discourages organizations from pursuing specific levels, preferring they focus instead on thoughtfully improving processes.

That hasn’t stopped Pragma from developing a market for processMax, which Donn Milton, the company’s executive vice president, said can reduce an organization’s time to earn Level 2 from two years to less than nine months.

Government demands are driving the need, he said. “We’re seeing [requests for proposals] all the time requiring CMMI compliance, and we’re seeing them from both the military and civilian sectors.” In addition, the government is more often seeking certification of agency processes. About one-third of Pragma’s buyers are agencies, he said.

That can allow agency leaders to manage projects rather than outsourcing the leadership function. “To the extent that the agency is not compliant, there’s a greater need to outsource,” he said.

The new release of processMax includes an automated measurement system that collects data continually, and a version of the product suitable for CMMI Level 3 is almost ready for release, Milton said.

“There’s a lot of Level 3 [principles] in there right now,” he added. “When you buy processMax, you’re already institutionalizing an agencywide process, and that itself is a Level 3 concept.”

Some critics of tools like Pragma’s say they prefabricate what should be a subject for thought and consideration. Milton disputed that concern, saying the point is to adapt the materials Pragma provides to an organization’s specific circumstances.

“As you use them, you’ll be able to modify them, but you’re starting with processes that are known to be compliant,” he said.

Mike Phillips, director of special programs at SEI, said the CMMI program has grown far beyond expectations. For example, Web site visits — one possible measure — grew from 4,000 a day in 2002 to 12,000 now. In addition, almost 50,000 people have taken a three-day training course in performing CMMI evaluations at a cost of about $1,000 each. And about 1,500 organizations have had formal appraisals.

CMMI evolved from older CMM efforts, including one that covered software development. CMMI goes beyond software and systems engineering to cover other processes that organizations may have.

“Because it’s about process improvement, I don’t think it should be limited in any way,” Phillips said.

Tools such as those Pragma offers can be helpful, but Phillips warned against using them as a substitute for carefully thinking through the processes an organization uses.

“We don’t worry about the time associated with [achieving a particular CMMI level] because it’s about process improvement, not about getting a score,” he said. The rating system has “been turned into something that becomes a marketing tool as well. That’s neither good nor bad, but when someone comes to say, ‘Here’s a way to get to your level faster,’ that’s not necessarily good. The idea is to make sure you’re thinking through what you do.”

However, small organizations, particularly those unfamiliar with CMMI, can benefit significantly from such tools, said Eugene McGuire, president of ProcessWorks, a firm that evaluates organizations for CMMI compliance.

“For companies that are starting off on that road and don’t have a lot of internal resources, all of that stuff is right there in the tool,” he said. “Pragma’s view is that it’s good for anybody. My experience is that it’s the smaller place that gets the most out of it.”

The concern that organizations might simply go through the motions and duck the more important questions hasn’t materialized in McGuire’s experience, he said.

“Ideally, where it’s most successful is [when] the company wants to do it for self-improvement,” he said. “The reality of the marketplace, though, is that it is in almost every RFP that comes out now. It’s a driver.”

CMMI factsThe Capability Maturity Model Integration assessment of an organization’s processes and process improvement efforts is a versatile system with many applications. Here are some statistics.

  • As of January 2006, 1,264 CMMI appraisals under Version 1.1 of the standard had been conducted among 1,106 separate organizations.

  • Government contractors accounted for 30.2 percent of the CMMI assessments performed, with 334 organizations involved. Government agencies and military branches made up another 4.2 percent, or 46 organizations. The rest (726 organizations) were commercial firms.

  • About half of the organizations sought CMMI appraisals for both systems engineering and software development, and another 34.7 percent for software development alone.

  • Source: Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University. Numbers reflect appraisals reported to SEI as of January 2006.

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