Capability Maturity Model Integration


Survey of the SEI/Carnegie Mellon CMMI framework


John Powell





Capability Maturity Model Integration(CMMI)


                Of the many standards and practices implemented across organizations, CMMI differentiates itself as a comprehensive approach to process improvement through a systems view of documented methods for managing quality, costs, and time for projects.  Where a standards based approach lends a minimum standard level of quality, the CMMI approach offers a continuous improvement model.  For large scale organizations managing large military projects to small scale teams, CMMI can be leveraged to reduced costs of quality, while reducing the variances in project completion time and costs. In this paper, I will explore the structure of CMMI framework, what types of organizations implement and common paths to implementation, and then discuss the types of outcomes that can be expected as a result of implementation.

CMMI Model Overview:

CMMI stands for Capability Maturity Model Integration.  It represents a set of best practices identified within an organizationís existing procedural framework that are used to continuously improve upon business processes.  It is based on the widely held assumption that the quality of the process has a direct correlation to the quality of the product.  While many business quality standards and initiatives tend to focus on the product, it is widely held that ďThe quality of a system is highly influenced by the quality of the process used to acquire, develop, and maintain it.Ē (Carnegie Mellon, 2007)  Enhancing the quality of the processes is at the heart of the CMMI process management system developed by the Software Engineering Institute and Carnegie Mellon, based on a model originating from research by the US Department of defense.   The model was originally conceived as a method for evaluating governmental software vendors.   Though initially developed as a software development process improvement methodology, the approach has since evolved and has been applied across many industries where procedures are leveraged to increase the likelihood of a product or service being delivered as promised, on time, and within budget.

                CMMI is an evolving model; at its core is a systems approach to process improvement designed to accommodate various industries, as well as the changing needs and refinement of business practices over time.  It is not a certification or a standard, but a model that once implemented, is assessed by CMMI trained auditors.  It should be noted that while standards such as ISO offer base levels of attainment, CMMI is a systemic framework tailored to a line of business with the goal of continuous and measured improvement over time.  There are three different branches of CMMI that are known as constellations, and are uniquely tailored to the business area of interest; development, acquisition, and services.  They are all based on a similar core set of activities or template, called the CMF; the CMMI Model Framework.  These activities are identified as process areas identified to be the core foundations in which to build a model upon to evaluate and improve business processes.  The CMMI process can be utilized by and scaled across an organization, or scoped to the team, project, or division level. There are five levels of maturity(figure 1) organizations can achieve as they model their processes after one of the constellations. 


Figure 1 Five Levels of CMMI Maturity


The level attained correlates to the degree of adherence to the adherence to the goals outlined in the key process areas under each maturity level. Level 1 is the base maturity level and represents the immature business, as it relates to the control of the business as applied to process management.  The key process areas are goals which an organization formulates a framework around, based on the CMF, and acts as a template for which to design documentation outlining the practices, training, and validation requirements to achieve.  Key process areas defined at each maturity level are assessed and the ratings are aggregated to determine the maturity level.  Companies then have the option of publishing their results on SEIís published appraisals. 

The appraisal process consists of internal or external appraisers trained in administering the Standard CMMI Appraisal Method for Process Improvement (SCAMPI). (Carnegie Mellon, 2012) The SCAMPI is designed to assess the level of adherence to the developed key process areas for each maturity level.   It is the formal method of benchmarking process improvements made in accordance with the maturity level key processes and goals.

Figure 2 Maturity level 5 appraisal for Northrup Grummanís GMD Systems program:


Characteristics of companies that implement CMMI:

Achievement of maturity level 5 can be an expensive and time consuming prospect.  While it is possible to adapt the model to smaller organizations, due to the high level of documentation, training, and associated expense, larger organizations with a history of well documented practices are more likely to implement CMMI.   Based on the published appraisals on the SEI website, most companies listed are larger multi-national organizations, and those involved with government and the military industry. (Carnegie Mellon, 2012)  The SEIís listing of organizations weighs heavily on the military/government sector:

While it tends to be the case that larger companies are more likely to implement CMMI, the improvements CMMI adds to software quality and productivity in smaller companies in emerging nations is surprisingly greater than larger companies. (Saulo BarbarŠ, Valle, & Mahler ClŠudio, 2010)  This is attributed to the lack of structure of small businesses in emerging countries, and the greater potential to see gains from increased structure when organizational standards are adhered to.


Implementation path:

There are many paths to implementation depending on the line of business and level of maturity sought.  SEI outlines three broad steps to implementation: 1) determine current state as compared to CMMI process improvement goals, 2)identify gaps between the current state and the CMMI maturity level(s) desired,  3) perform appraisal.   SEI trains and certifies appraisers to use the SCAMPI appraisal process. (Carnegie Mellon, 2012) Appraisers can be trained internal employees or contractors.  There are full service SEI partner and vendors with SCAMPI trained appraisers ready to certify organizations to a maturity level.

The success of implementation is also shown to vary based on the level of support across the organization as well as the existing culture of the organization. Four factors influence potential for implementation of level 5 CMMI to improve software development quality, cost, and timeliness. (Adler, McGarry, Irion-Talbot, & Binney, 2005) These factors are the organizationís strategic priorities, level of participation, managerial commitment, and the culture of the organization.  Therefore, the implementation success is dependent upon the level of support from the top management down, and employee buy-in is essential to success.



While businesses in some governmental sectors find it a necessity to have CMMI maturity level appraisals in order to negotiate and win contracts, other businesses realize economic and other benefits as a result.  SEI touts that benefits of implementation include decreased costs, improved on-time delivery, productivity, quality, customer satisfaction and increased return on investment.   I will examine the ways in which research supports these assertions. (Carnegie Mellon, 2012)

The first example supports the reduction in cost variance as maturity level increases. (Marsh & Vigier, 2003)  Figure 3 shows the increase percentage to projects with a lower deviation of costs from the mean as companies moved from maturity levels 1-3.

Figure 3

Success is often measured by the amount of money that is saved or gained.  As it is demonstrated that successful CMMI implementation is dependent on upper management level support, it is often necessary to quantify the gains realized based on financial terms.  Some examples (Carnegie Mellon, 2007) of reported returns on investment for CMMI implementation cites:

         Lowest ROI 1.7 : 1

         Median ROI 4 : 1

         Highest ROI 27.7 : 1

         6:1 ROI in a CMMI level 3 organization Raytheon Corporation had a

         5:1 ROI for quality activities (Accenture)

         13:1 ROI calculated as defects avoided per hour spent in training and defect prevention (Northrop Grumman Defense Enterprise Systems)



According to SEI, 65% of costs associated with software projects are simply to address quality issues.  Implementation of CMMI stands to reduce the level of quality issues.  Improvements in quality will then serve to leverage the reclaimed resources previously expended resolving quality issues to re-allocate to further the goals of the organization in other ways more productive.  Decreasing cost of quality not only results in the increased productivity, but also a higher demand for the higher quality product in the market, both factors increasing the organizationís leverage in the marketplace as in figure 4.

Figure 4


Employee Satisfaction:

Contrary to the notion that more processes in an organization means more work for employees and less satisfaction in the workplace, Adlerís study of Computer Science Corporationís level 5 CMMI attainment (Adler, McGarry, Irion-Talbot, & Binney, 2005) showed the satisfaction and ease of adoption is dependent on how CMMI is implemented in the organization.  Based on their research of Computer Science Corporationís CMMI implementation, they conclude ďdiscipline can be enabling; it does not have to be coercive and burdensome.Ē     And furthermore, another study found employees and managers in software industries implementing CMMI in Brazil, China, and India believe CMMI resulted in increased software quality, with reduction in cost and time. (Saulo BarbarŠ, Valle, & Mahler ClŠudio, 2010)



CMMI has a proven track record and wide level of acceptance across many industries.  While it is a complicated and often burdensome task to achieve implementation, the returns for this investment are demonstrated to outweigh the expense of implementing, when implemented correctly.    This is shown to be the case for large and small organizations, as well as for organizations in developed and developing countries.  Research shows that when implemented correctly, managers and the managed agree that there are improvements in the quality, time, and costs associated with completing projects.  The process of formulating the maturity levelís key processes and goals, identifying and integrating industry proven best practices into the procedures and culture of organizations can differentiate mature organizations from the rest, while making the organization more productive with its resources.   One noteworthy study used a metaphor for the comparison of the business organization to the human and the health of the organization similar to the mind, body and spirit as it relates to the implementation of CMMI. (Prasad & Kesav, 2008)This research considers the teachings of the Hindu scriptureís(Bhagavad-Gita) devotion to changing the human spirit, and being similar, organizations as a living organism, their excellence is dependent on investments in the systems of mind, body and spirit.   The CMMI approach is definitely a whole body approach in itís thoroughness when implemented correctly.  And even when implementation is less than perfect, demonstrated  improvements to software development projects can usually be realized.  (Gefen, Zviran, & Elman, 2006)



Works Cited

Adler, P., McGarry, F., Irion-Talbot, W., & Binney, D. (2005). ENABLING PROCESS DISCIPLINE: Lessons From the Journey to CMM Level 5. MIS Quarterly Journal , 4 (1).

Carnegie Mellon. (2007). Capability Maturity Model Integration Version 1.2 Overview. Retrieved 11 11, 2012, from SEI:

Carnegie Mellon. (2012). CMMI Appraisals. Retrieved 11 11, 2012, from SEI:

Carnegie Mellon. (2012). CMMI Benefits. Retrieved 11 11, 2012, from SEI:

Carnegie Mellon. (2007, March). Library-Abstracts. Retrieved 11 11, 2012, from SEI:

Carnegie Mellon. (2012). Published Appraisal Results. Retrieved 11 11, 2012, from SEI:

Gefen, D., Zviran, M., & Elman, N. (2006). What Can Be Learned From CMMI Failures? Communications of the Association for Information Systems , 17.

Marsh, C., & Vigier, P. (2003). Getting Started with Process Improvement Using the CMMI. Thales Research & Technology UK.

Prasad, V. C., & Kesav, V. N. (2008). Systems Approach for Adoption of Innovations in Organizations. Systemic Practice and Action Research , 283-97.

Saulo BarbarŠ, d. O., Valle, R., & Mahler ClŠudio, F. (2010). A Comparative Analysis of CMMI Software Project Management by Brazilian, Indian and Chinese Companies. Software Quality Journal 18.2 , 177-94.