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Connecting Process Improvement Goals to Business Objectives

Raghav S. Nandyal

General Manager


Intelligroup, Inc.

Methods Tools and Products Division

My Home Sarovar Plaza, Ground Floor, Secretariat Road Hyderabad-500 004


Field experiences from engineering the Software Capability Maturity Model (SW-CMM) and People Capability Maturity Model (P-CMM)[1] frameworks as a prime consultant in diverse work environments, have been drawn upon to provide insights into how to create and sustain a successful process culture. While the primary objective of any business is to make money, in order to stay in business, certain value-added components that are intangible in nature would have to be realized. One of the many intangibles is “process quality” and improvements to it. Improvements to process quality however have to be planned for and incorporated into the very design of the development process and improvement initiatives. It is of paramount importance that, process improvement goals must also meet business objectives. Objectives of process improvement goals must enable or facilitate improving the overall quality without hurting productivity and cycle time. A few of the essential process characteristics that are necessary to connect process improvement goals to business objectives are discussed in what follows. It may be a no-challenge for organizations, which already have a shared vision to achieve high process maturity, but to sustain it needs more than a shared vision. This paper which has been written in conversational style explains how to sustain the process improvement program and keep the business extremely viable.


Capability Maturity Model, Composite Business Process, Process Innovation, Quality


While the question: ”Do we need it?” with “it “referring to process improvements or quality improvements has ceased, what remains is doubts about the claims process improvement initiatives make! An attempt has been made to capture most of the commonly perceived doubts and provide answers to them. I grew up in a highly process intensive company, one of the very few countable level 5’s in 1994. At that time, I was not a big fan of the process, because like everybody else, I thought that it saps creativity. I soon learnt the value of it when I got engaged to work for a level 1 company that was attempting to put together a huge system with complex interfaces with a development philosophy – “We will worry about it when it happens. Just move on”! Ever since, as part of my management function, I have very strongly emphasized and favored the use of structured development initiatives, which is also called an “established process” for development.

When process improvements are introduced in an organization for the first time, there are many doubts in the minds of people. This is because the word “process” or “quality improvement” wrongly connotes more work and a need to change one’s behavior or attitudes from status quo. And since change is a first principle phenomenon, it would require me to change first before anybody else does. And for this change to sustain, it almost always has to begin from the top. Senior management, which is most concerned about business viability, suspects value addition from process improvement because how could more work ever translate to reduced costs and improved productivity? Besides, they have to change first!

Middle management is concerned about having to deal with the real life challenges of change to requirements under the influence of project and business pressures. And they ask, “how can process improvements ever be relevant when we have to put out fires which were started by some body else?” [3]. And at the operational level, process improvement initiatives are viewed with skepticism because the impact of change to status quo would be most perceived at this level. And the concerned people would have to invest time and effort in relearning and often unlearning old ways of doing things. This is particularly true of development initiatives involving emerging technologies where even the technology space is in its infancy and changes by the hour.

The truth is - people resist change. But the truth also is - process or quality improvement does not add to more work, if done correctly. It only gives more flexibility for an organization to manage large work products by breaking it into small chunks of work having small implementation timeframes with excellent project management control. The difference between a CMM level 1 and a CMM level 5 seems to be, that the former is good at managing projects having large gestation periods with questionable software performance. While the latter is good at managing projects with small gestation periods by managing small chunks of available time in proper manner with predictable software performance. Thereby hangs a tale, a level 5 organization is better able to adapt its business and development processes to accommodate real life business requirements of faster, better, cheaper with good program management. With all the associated dependencies to software development being non-defect free, it should be reasonable to expect a level 5 process to produce non-defect free software. What a level 5 can guarantee is a certain sense of confidence level with the use of its wares. Process is NOT a silver bullet, yet.

The Capability Maturity Model Version 1.1 (CMM) [1] and People Capability Maturity Model Version 1.0 [2] have been tried and tested to yield good results in all my process improvement initiatives in several companies.



Identifying and characterizing the several processes at work:

This is the most important activity to be performed by the management before embarking upon the improvement route. Many software development establishments have more than one business process at work. Quite rightly so, all these processes while interacting with one another assist in making a business operation work. When process improvements are planned for say, the software development process, it is important to make sure that associated processes also embark on process improvement initiatives.  One of the most significant processes that require equal attention is the “People Process”. It is the people who will resist change to status quo and not machines or systems they work on. Two of the other processes needing equal attention in the above scenario are the software maintenance process and system support process. When organizations plan to embark on process improvement initiatives, it is very likely that they overlook the significance and importance of introducing meaningful improvements in their people, maintenance and system support processes. Thus, rendering the collective process improvement initiative a farce because, it cannot sustain with a lopsided improvement plan. The reason for the above stems from the fact that the SW-CMM framework is intensive in suggesting improvements only to the software development process.  People-CMM is relatively a new framework that is more intensive and rigorous to scale. There are however, no comparable process improvement frameworks for the other two interacting processes at work. The answer to the question of whether these frameworks can be adapted, is most definitely a NO, because it is difficult to think of these as “one size fits all”. Here, the creative and innovative ideas of a software process re-engineering expert would come in handy. It is important to make sure that all interacting processes have reasonable improvement plans with equal emphasis. This is one of the many ways to ensure that process improvement initiatives will tie in with the overall business goals of an organization. The business goal of an organization is most definitely not “software development”. Software development is only a means to an end. And the end quite naturally would be the sustenance of the business and its ability to make money.

Improving interrelationships of the processes at work:

Interrelationships are like interfaces between modules in a software system. It is important to make sure that there is harmony in the interrelationships between interacting processes. In order to enable improvements to the interrelationships, it is important to make sure that the processes define their expectations from interacting processes. Process improvement initiatives must then make sure that while fulfilling the requirements of a process maturity framework like the CMM, they do not jeopardize internal cohesion and this mutual support requirement of interacting processes.


Bringing pilot processes under the control of process improvement:

It is a good idea to try process improvement initiatives on a few pilot projects to make the initiative a success. Taking small but measured steps is useful in the beginning. The overall magnitude of process improvement is better managed when pilots are conducted, reactions to improvements observed & studied, alternate strategies are innovated and process improvement tracked using a tracking system. When results are beneficial to the overall business goals, the scope of the process improvement initiative can be expanded. This is because a certain sense of repeatability of the improvement initiative and self-sustenance is obtained at a micro level on the pilots. This appears to be a very good way to introduce process improvement initiatives at an organizational level.

Making Process Improvement Cost Effective

When process improvement is made effective using the above measures, cost advantages can be realized. In order to make process improvement cost effective, risks associated with process improvement initiatives have to be minimized using the above mentioned techniques [5]. Cost effectiveness can be derived from ensuring that improvement activities are not duplicated in the same cycle. All participating teams can be pooled and collectively advised on process improvement activities during an implementation cycle. Examining the benefits of process improvements in pilot studies goes a long way in learning how organizational culture and business dynamics work. For a consultant who has no clue about the organizational culture and business dynamics, in order to cost effectively conduct process reengineering or redesign, a pilot study would be extremely useful. In a composite business process environment having a multitude of processes in interplay, the CMM addresses software development issues. But for the remaining processes, whatever makes business sense, is the best way to model the process environment. The process improvement must now target the modeled process environment to get the best business value from improvement initiatives. The process improvement must not target the software development process in isolation. This is one of the many ways to make process improvement cost effective and sustain. When the improvement initiative can sustain, we naturally get the dual advantage of cost saving.

Reducing Cycle Time for Implementing Process Improvement

Pilot studies can throw light on what makes a process improvement tick. Oftentimes, best practices emerge when a small group of interrelated pilot processes are targeted and process innovation is performed on them. The composite business process might have its own contribution to make in devising process improvement programs, which would be much better controlled when pilots are used. Spreading best practices and success stories within an organization would help to expand the scope of sponsorship. Many organizational processes would be “processes-in-waiting”, when process improvement initiatives are kicked-off in an organization. These processes-in-waiting would derive much help and support if successes on pilots can be demonstrated. Expanding the scope of process improvement would be systematic in such cases. Creation of Process Action Teams and SEPG are two organizational restructuring techniques with proven ways of establishing and sustaining sponsorship. Nevertheless, the role of champions and change agents is extremely significant to reduce cycle time for any process improvement initiative [4].


Sustaining the momentum on process improvement initiatives

Organization Structure

The organization structure definitely influences the creation and sustenance of a successful organizational process culture. A corporate layer for policy making and strategy innovation for software process helps to send the right supportive message to the project teams belonging to the operational layer. The operational layer can then, put to practice policies for software process in a way that would suit their business. This is an ideal way to sustain the process culture. The corporate layer would help to define the boundaries within which the operational teams can define their practices. It is found that violations and nonconformance to organizational process would be minimal when this happens. In fact, there is a blessing from this arrangement. Operational Practices emerging within the confines of an organizational corporate policy can be nurtured at both the levels to enable innovation of both policies and practices. It is important to keep both the policies and practices fresh and current. This two layered structure, corporate layer for policies & strategies and operational layer for implementing practices within the confines of the policies & strategies is one of the surest ways of ensuring the creation and sustenance of a successful organizational process culture. Both these layers must have the requisite resources to effectively function.

Organizational Process Forces

In this two layered structure, the organizational process forces coming into play are corporate and operational forces. In order to strike an effective balance between corporate process forces and reluctance of the operational process forces against it, it is important to ensure that the organizational process is mentored with able and capable individuals at both the layers. The corporate layer process forces, assume credibility if people behind it are authorities and a good sense of their wisdom comes from having lived with and used the process at the operational layer. Enabling a healthy discussion on process deviations in a periodic manner, encouraging a debate on incorporating best practices emerging from teams, proactive involvement of all functional areas of the business to contribute to process improvement initiatives and providing funds to sustain the above activities are positive organizational process forces. When organizational processes emerge in the corporate layer as policies and strategies, it is important to percolate them down into the project teams with an intensity strong enough to see an upward percolation of practices from the operational layer. When practices from the operational layer don’t surface up to the corporate layer, then two inferences can be drawn:

1.       The policy or strategy is not understood well enough at the operational layer. So, an enforcement of this policy cannot be made without an impact on the organizational process culture. A classic example could be a quality policy statement to the fact that all the operational teams will institutionalize a zero-defect software program. Without elaborating and defining the scope of the program, this policy cannot be translated to practice. 

2.       The corporate layer policy may be right, but practices to support this policy might require operational layer maturity. Here, the corporate layer must facilitate emerging practices by funding the program appropriately. A classic example in this category is institutionalizing a measurement program without defining the key metrics that will govern this program.

Personal Process Forces

No matter how authoritative the corporate layer be, there is always an individual urge at the operational layer to resist change and go against the organizational process culture. This is primarily because of old habits developed in another organization or process culture. When personal process forces work in opposition to the organizational process, a negative synergy sets in affecting the whole process culture and improvement initiatives. It is very important for both the corporate and operational layers to participate in timely remedial measures. One of the most useful remedial measures is to institutionalize an effective induction program. This training program on the organizational process would help to inculcate the organizational culture as well. Lack of necessary training on the software process is detrimental to effectively creating and sustaining a process culture. Training program during induction, detailing the software process that would be adopted for software development in the organization will actually help to set the right mental framework in newly inducted individuals. This will also help to preserve the organizational process culture.

Quality and Process Improvement Initiatives at Intelligroup Inc.,

Process Improvement begins at home

Ever since we got certified as an ISO compliant company in 1998, we have been on the quest for continuous process improvement. Taking up CMM based process improvement initiatives came very naturally for us. We established a need, based on an analysis of strengths and weaknesses of the process.  And obtained the necessary senior management sponsorship to ensure that we build a self-sustaining process improvement program in our Advanced Development Center in Hyderabad. Let me say this up front. We are not in the game of chasing levels. Level 5! So what? Would be our question! Does a CMM level 5 mean anything to us? Of course, it does. Provided there is value addition to all concerned stakeholders at the end each day. Our attempt has been to build a self sustaining process improvement model based on concepts in this article. We have adopted both the transition approach to change (do it right) and the hammer approach (do it fast), when needed. We have resorted to the former in defining our operational processes and the latter with the senior management and corporate processes. Where in lies our secret for bringing about rapid change in the corporation.

Our attempt at building a rock-solid Defined Process at a level 3 on the SW-CMM was successful in October 1999. Our current attempt is at laying the foundations for People-CMM level 3 by the second quarter 2000. Our attempt is also to convert the collective learning experience gained from building self-sustaining and lasting process improvement programs into a core competency.


Field experience in implementing process improvement initiatives are drawn upon to highlight the significance of identifying and characterizing pilot processes before large scale process improvements are undertaken. Ideas contained in this article have been put to practice with good results to measure up. Many advantages such as voluntary sponsorship, commitment to make process improvements work, cooperation among otherwise competing processes to share best practices and overall reduction in risks with significant cost advantages are reported to result.

In order to create and sustain a process culture it is important that, to begin with a mature development process exists. For benefits to result from using such a process, the organization structure must facilitate process innovation and practice. Both, organizational and personal process forces together constitute an organizational process culture. For this culture to be created and sustained there must obviously be a common meeting ground for both of these forces. The organizational structure must facilitate such a meeting point for these forces. In this article, influences affecting and fostering the organizational process culture have been described.


[1] “Capability Maturity Model for Software, Version 1.1”, Paulk et al. CMU/SEI-93-TR-24 ESC-TR-93-177. February 1993

[2] “People Capability Maturity Model, Version 1.0” Curtis, B., et al. CMU/SEI-95-MM-002, ADA 300822. 1995

[3] R.S.Nandyal, "Living with changing requirements", First Asia Pacific Motorola Software Symposium, Singapore. 1994.

[4] R.S.Nandyal, "Cycle Time Reduction: A Survey of Solutions", Software Engineering Symposium, Motorola, Chicago, Illinois. 1994.

[5] R. S.Nandyal, "Risks Involved for a High Maturity Organization to work with a Low Maturity Organization”, Software Engineering Process Group Conference, SEPG ’99, Bangalore, India. 1999.

[6] IEEE Standards for Software Engineering

[7] Gordon Schulmeyer, "Zero Defect Software”, McGraw-Hill, Inc. 1990.

[8] G. Upton et al., “Statistics”, Oxford University Press. 1996

[9] Brian Marick, “The Craft of Software Testing”, Prentice Hall, 1995

About Raghav S. Nandyal

Raghav Nandyal is a General Manager heading Corporate Research & Development at Intelligroup Asia Pvt. Ltd. He has 12 years of software engineering and management experience in both research, and software development environments. He is an alumnus of Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago where he graduated with a Master of Science degree in Computer Engineering. He is a donor alumnus of the Indian Institute of Science where he worked as Research Associate in the VLSI CAD Laboratory.

He has held several positions ranging from software engineer to senior manager in prestigious organizations worldwide. He began his professional career with Motorola India Electronics Pvt. Ltd., one of the very few CMM level 5 companies in the world where he developed several innovative software tools with an attempt to automate the software development life cycle. He worked for NYNEX Science and Technology Asia (P) Ltd., in their Bangkok and New York locations as senior manager. He held several management positions at LG Software Development Center (India) before joining Intelligroup Asia Pvt. Ltd. He was also the driving force behind implementing a CMM Level 2 process infrastructure in one of the LG affiliates in South Korea in eleven months.

He has published and presented several papers in international conferences. His current research interests are in mitigating software risks and building self-sustaining software process improvement program in development environments working with emerging technologies-Intelligroup being one such fertile implementation grounds. Implementation of the Software CMM and People CMM initiatives are vested with the corporate research & development. He was the driving force behind implementing a CMM Level 3 process infrastructure in the Advanced Development Center, Intelligroup, Hyderabad in nine months.

His URL is:


About Intelligroup, Inc.,

Intelligroup, Inc. is a global professional services firm that helps its clients improve their business performance by building and supporting innovative Internet-based solutions and enterprise applications. Intelligroup solutions break down barriers across clients' organizations, sharing information with their customers, suppliers, partners and employees alike, building relationships within and among these constituencies, increasing sales, cutting cycle times, improving service and reducing costs.

Intelligroup provides a continuum of services throughout the client's solutions life cycle. These services comprise management consulting, solutions design and implementation, integration of best of breed enterprise and legacy systems and enterprise sourcing services. Intelligroup has been publicly traded on the NASDAQ National Market (ticker ITIG) since September 1996. Visit Intelligroup on the Internet at  

[1]  ® Capability Maturity Model and CMM are registered in the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office

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