Are you interested in selling software to the federal government? If so, then you need to start developing a strategy to obtain a Capability Maturity Model® Integration (CMMI) rating.

First, what is CMMI? 

CMMI is a process-level improvement training and appraisal program, which is administered by the CMMI Institute, a subsidiary of the Information Systems Audit and Control Association ISACA.

Second, why is this important? 

Because if you are interested in software development work for the federal government, it is effectively mandatory to be eligible to win federal contracts.

The most common CMMI level requirement is for offerors to have a CMMI maturity level rating of 3 or higher. Organizations that attain a CMMI maturity level rating of 3 or higher are expected to have documented standards, defined processes, and procedures that are repeatable.

The problem with the government’s requirement for a CMMI rating is their assumption that the processes are effective, and consistently applied across the enterprise. However, that is always not the case.

Here are some ways to ensure that your time consuming and expensive investment in CMMI demonstrates your commitment to being the best software supplier to the government, and common misconceptions by federal buyers that you can use to your advantage in both developing federal sales, and responding to proposals:

Program success does not necessarily hinge on a CMMI rating or a CMMI level. While process capability and organizational maturity can be factors for a program’s success, they are not exclusive. Mature suppliers that have capable processes in place on a program can still encounter problems, such as an incomplete understanding of the requirement, program constraints outside the control of the supplier (e.g. unstable funding, schedule slips), and the skills of government personnel, to name a few. The thought behind CMMI, from the government’s perspective, is that it will contribute to program success because it is an improvement over current maturity models and internal processes, and because it integrates both systems and software engineering in a single development framework and discipline.
This thought process is akin to seemingly universal requirements for project management and the role a Project Management Professional certification has on the project manager. Therefore, it is critical for suppliers to demonstrate not only past success, but also how the frameworks and discipline will be used to achieve program success in the future. You do not want your federal customer to be disappointed when the program is not executed at the same maturity level that the has been achieved and advertised, as that normally leads to lost business.

Bait and Switch tactics with CMMI maturity level ratings. Do not be the firm that wins a contract, then does not apply those appraised processes to the new program. One of the advantages of the CMMI maturity level rating, for the government buyer viewpoint, is that it indicates the potential organizational performance, and how the new program could perform, based on a sampling of past and current programs if the appraised processes are applied in the same manner as on the new program.

One of the main reasons that the government prefers a minimum level 3 is that the organizations at this level are expected to employ their organizational processes on new programs. However, that is not always the case. Therefore, during capture, firms should be highlighting their approach to applying processes to new programs, and how they intend to follow that policy through an integrated project management approach. Further, and during proposal development, firms should continue to not only demonstrate their approach and policies for using their organizational processes on new programs, but describe case studies and a history of following that policy to new programs.

Be dedicated to process improvement. Firms give other competitors an opening by not always being dedicated to process improvement. Some firms simply acquire a level 3 designation to be eligible to pursue opportunities, and then not commit to implementing those processes. These organizations, once they have achieved their maturity rating, may not apply the appraised processes, and abandon their processes altogether during contract execution.

Here is an important differentiator. Organizations should highlight how they actively pursue process improvement, and importantly, demonstrate this change history regarding the use of their processes, policies, and procedures. Additionally, vendors can use other supplementary CMMI tools, like Lean Six Sigma, to provide an indication of a commitment to process improvement.

A maturity level rating is not a magic bullet, and only an indication of how the next program could perform, provided other critical success factors remain the same, by using the maturity model and the subsequent artifacts.

Firms must be diligent to assure that once organizational change occurs, the behaviors become institutionalized, and a culture of excellence is created to ensure the investment is not lost. By creating these important differentiators, firms can create new opportunities for future contract success.

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