A maturity model can be viewed as a set of structured levels that describe how well the behaviors, practices and processes of an organization can reliably and sustainably produce required outcomes.
A maturity model can be used as a benchmark for comparison and as an aid to understanding – for example, for comparative assessment of different organizations where there is something in common that can be used as a basis for comparison. In the case of the CMM, for example, the basis for comparison would be the organizations’ software development processes.
The model involves five aspects:
Maturity Levels: a 5-level process maturity continuum – where the uppermost (5th) level is a notional ideal state where processes would be systematically managed by a combination of process optimization and continuous process improvement.
Key Process Areas: a Key Process Area identifies a cluster of related activities that, when performed together, achieve a set of goals considered important.
Goals: the goals of a key process area summarize the states that must exist for that key process area to have been implemented in an effective and lasting way. The extent to which the goals have been accomplished is an indicator of how much capability the organization has established at that maturity level. The goals signify the scope, boundaries, and intent of each key process area.
Common Features: common features include practices that implement and institutionalize a key process area. There are five types of common features: commitment to perform, ability to perform, activities performed, measurement and analysis, and verifying implementation.
Key Practices: The key practices describe the elements of infrastructure and practice that contribute most effectively to the implementation and institutionalization of the area.
There are five levels defined along the continuum of the model and, according to the SEI: “Predictability, effectiveness, and control of an organization’s software processes are believed to improve as the organization moves up these five levels. While not rigorous, the empirical evidence to date supports this belief”.
Initial (chaotic, ad hoc, individual heroics) – the starting point for use of a new or undocumented repeat process.
Repeatable – the process is at least documented sufficiently such that repeating the same steps may be attempted.
Defined – the process is defined/confirmed as a standard business process, and decomposed to levels 0, 1 and 2 (the last being Work Instructions).
Managed – the process is quantitatively managed in accordance with agreed-upon metrics.
Optimizing – process management includes deliberate process optimization/improvement.
Within each of these maturity levels are Key Process Areas which characterise that level, and for each such area there are five factors: goals, commitment, ability, measurement, and verification. These are not necessarily unique to CMM, representing — as they do — the stages that organizations must go through on the way to becoming mature.
The model provides a theoretical continuum along which process maturity can be developed incrementally from one level to the next. Skipping levels is not allowed/feasible.
Level 1 – Initial (Chaotic)
It is characteristic of processes at this level that they are (typically) undocumented and in a state of dynamic change, tending to be driven in an ad hoc, uncontrolled and reactive manner by users or events. This provides a chaotic or unstable environment for the processes.
Level 2 – Repeatable
It is characteristic of processes at this level that some processes are repeatable, possibly with consistent results. Process discipline is unlikely to be rigorous, but where it exists it may help to ensure that existing processes are maintained during times of stress.
Level 3 – Defined
It is characteristic of processes at this level that there are sets of defined and documented standard processes established and subject to some degree of improvement over time. These standard processes are in place (i.e., they are the AS-IS processes) and used to establish consistency of process performance across the organization.
Level 4 – Managed
It is characteristic of processes at this level that, using process metrics, management can effectively control the AS-IS process (e.g., for software development ). In particular, management can identify ways to adjust and adapt the process to particular projects without measurable losses of quality or deviations from specifications. Process Capability is established from this level.
Level 5 – Optimizing
It is a characteristic of processes at this level that the focus is on continually improving process performance through both incremental and innovative technological changes/improvements.
At maturity level 5, processes are concerned with addressing statistical common causes of process variation and changing the process (for example, to shift the mean of the process performance) to improve process performance. This would be done at the same time as maintaining the likelihood of achieving the established quantitative process-improvement objectives.