As I noted earlier, CMMI and Six Sigma offer differing approaches to improvement endeavors. Immediately below I have included my earlier definition for “Approaches”.

[learn_more caption=”Approaches”] CMMI is designed to provide a “what to do guide” or “road-map” on a per discipline basis.

Six Sigma primarily provides techniques and tools for measuring tracking and validating improvement efforts. Again to quote Investopia on Six Sigma:” [it is a] quality-control program [that was] developed in 1986 by Motorola. Initially, it emphasized cycle-time improvement and reducing manufacturing defects to a level of no more than 3.4 per million. Since then, Six Sigma has evolved into a more general business-management philosophy focused on meeting customer requirements, improving customer retention, and improving and sustaining business products and services. Six Sigma is applicable to all industries.”[/learn_more]

CMMI, unlike Six Sigma, provides a path or macro-level roadmap for improvement.  The path basically is presented or communicated using two major views.  Overly simply stated, these views represent ways of looking at specific improvement options or approaches; one is refered to as staged, the other as continuous.

Warning: For those CMMI linear-thinking “attorneys” who may be reading this posting, I recommend you skip the next three paragraphs or so. Better yet, you might wish to skip to a different article or posting.

Truth be told, the views or representations of the CMMI are neither truly staged nor continuous; more accurately to my mind, they have historically been “constageuous”.  The staged view providing a roadmap across maturity levels; and the continuous representation providing maturity definitions within the process areas themselves.  Two roadmaps.

As an economist (which I guess my Economics degree qualifies me as) I would say the CMMI views/representations are similar, or analogous,  to macro and micro economics.  However with the advent of version 1.3, that analogy weakens greatly… and the continuous view today seems, to me, to add much less value than it did earlier. Excepting to say, it continues to emphasize that organizations can improve where they want, by process area, and that the process areas are now rated more similarly across both CMMI representations.

Be that as it may, the 1.3 release of CMMI continues to provide a clear, albeit not very concise, roadmap for organizations to build their improvement programs upon.  The provided roadmap is something of a checklist (a really big checklist) highlighting what processes ought to be implemented and validated first, second, and so on.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that far too many people use the checklist without ever bothering to develop an adequate understanding of business context and needs- this is where Six Sigma comes in (more on that later). When the CMMI checklist folks get all revved up, they begin using the CMMI as a union work to rule document and build all manner of confusion, inefficiencies, and frustration into the systems they are supposed to be improving. Not good! But this happens with undeniable frequency and goes a long way to explaining CMMI’s reputation as being ponderous and bureaucratic. However in fairness to the authors of the CMMI, these problems are user problems, not model design problems.

Six Sigma on the other hand does not provide an equivalent roadmap or checklist set of functions.  What it does provide is an outstanding set of methods, tools, and techniques for gaining an understanding of a business process, measuring it, and validating the success of the effort.  It is worth noting that the CMMI offers no similar tool set; although, it does discuss some of the approaches and techniques integral to Six Sigma.  As practitioners of Six Sigma are aware, these tools and methods can be invaluable in gathering information about how work is being performed, modeling its as-is and to be states, establishing success criteria and measuring the effectiveness of the implemented change(s).

The down-side of Six Sigma is that without a CMMI-style roadmap, organizations run the risk of addressing sophisticated process improvements for which there is inadequate infrastructure to support or sustain the improvement(s).  Without a roadmap, improvements can be uneven and isolated.  Infrastructure can be ignored.  Improvements can even become counter productive when viewed in the enterprise context.

The bottom line is that Six Sigma practitioners can and do benefit from roadmaps such as those provided by CMMI. CMMI practitioners can and do benefit from excellent tools and methods such as Six Sigma. I guess that could be called synergy.

Again, as I noted at the outset of this series, should you have any queries, concerns, or items you wish to see discussed, please use our contact page to let me know, or leave a comment.

Mark Rabideau

Mark Rabideau is a Management Mentor/ Coach with over 40 years of Engineering and Management Experience. He is a CMMI Institute SCAMPI High Maturity Lead Appraiser and Six Sigma Master Black Belt. He is also licensed to teach both the CMMI-DEV and SVC constellations' courses. You may contact Mark directly by using the PEP contact page.