Management Solutions Group is a hands-on consulting firm who work along side our clients to teach them the best ways to approach quality and project management processes – using their everyday work as examples to study.

Process Improvement SPICE, ISO 15504, CMMI & SCRUM

Tuesday, December 29, 2009 · 0 comments

Most people do not realize the complexity of developing software. Many current companies are producing software that is embedded in hardware. This software has grown exponentially over the past several years and while these same companies have the experience of building the associated hardware for many years, the embedded software processes are not as mature.

As the software has become more complex, many of the processes of requirements analysis and testing has, in many cases not kept pace. This results in a process of developing software that is not well controlled and leads to inconsistent results.

Some recent projects we have been working on have been to help companies improve their development processes for software and in achieving SPICE & CMMI Level 2 and Level 3.

While much of this article and examples are specific to software processes, the project management and control described below contains approaches and lessons for most companies and organizations.


Companies approach process improvement typically in two ways and most times a combination of both. One is a drive to improve processes to eliminate issues that reoccur and cause significant pain within the organization. The second is to meet requirements placed on the organization by their customers and contracts.

In either case a company should begin by addressing the process areas that are the bottlenecks and factors that limit the efficiency, effectiveness, and quality of their end product.

The areas we have been focusing on recently come from the Automotive SPICE Scope:

System requirements analysis (ENG.2)
System architectural design (ENG.3)
Software requirements analysis (ENG.4)
Software design (ENG.5)
Software construction (ENG.6)
Software integration (ENG.7)
Software testing (ENG.8)
System integration (ENG.9)
System testing (ENG.10)
Quality assurance (SUP.1)
Configuration management (SUP.8)
Problem resolution management (SUP.9)
Change request management (SUP.10)
Project management (MAN.3)

Most of the projects we are working have a capability of between Level 1 and Level 3. The Levels are (With my descriptions in parenthesis):

Level 0: Incomplete (You may perform many, but not all the required items)
Level 1: Performed (You do the all of the required items)
Level 2: Managed (You plan and do the required items)
Level 3: Established (You have a formal standard process established that you apply to all projects and you measure the performance)

Since to achieve a level 2 or 3 project planning and management is so important, we will discuss this first.

To achieve the intended process outcomes in this area, all work must be planned. There must be specific resources assigned and these resources must not be completely overloaded.

Many of the standard project management skills and tools are used to meet this requirement. Especially with software and other technical projects, the project management function is typically a responsibility of technical staff that have responsibilities for a significant portion of the tasks in a project. When a project management is overloaded, the first thing typically omitted is the project management activities which can drastically affect the project later.

There are many methods to address this challenge and we have specifically worked with several.

We have recently been experimenting with the SCRUM software development process, within the overall product development process driven by customer deliverables, with a great degree of success. We are finding resource and timing issues much earlier in the project, which allows for faster and more effective project adjustments. Additionally software bugs and testing issues are detected earlier.

The SCRUM process also breaks down the project into smaller “Bite” sized chucks which can be more easily managed.

However, there still has to be a focus, plan and measures toward the next deliverable and beyond. Without this, the resources may not be making progress at a rate to meet the required dates with the agreed software completion milestones. This key item must not be overlooked.

Here is a excerpt from an article about Windows 7. Do you see any of the SPICE process focus items as a reason for the improvements over the Vista project?

“Ballmer claims to have learned something from Vista: It's no longer advisable to try a "big bang" rollout — i.e., completely reimagine a product as sophisticated and interconnected as Windows.
So he hit control-alt-delete. He brought in a new taskmaster, Steven Sinofsky, to oversee the engineering. Sinofsky became known for hitting deadlines while overseeing the Office group from 2000–07. …..," he says. "What we did was [give] the development team a clarity that was probably missing." With Vista, teams worked on features simultaneously without an awareness of other schedules. When separate features came together, they were often incompatible. "The goal was to produce a plan for features, but not just a plan — also the motivation, the business rationale," the executive says.
The entire set of requirements in SPICE focuses on ensuring that the items mentioned, as well as others, are managed and successful.

Like many quality and management system requirements, this is one tool to help drive improvement. It must be established and implemented properly or the result is inefficiency with only a partial quality improvement.

The overall key in any process improvement project is to understand first what is working well within a group as well as the issues and challenges. The next step is to build on the strengths and address the weaknesses at the same time.

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The purpose of this blog is to write and post articles with respect to our work as consultants in the areas of quality, process and project management.

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About Me

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Grand Rapids, MI, United States
I have worked with hundreds of companies in a wide range of industries during the past eight years as president of MSG. In addition to building a successful business, I have facilitated the implementation of ISO 17025, ISO 9001, ISO 14001, APQP, CMMI & SPICE. I have also trained on Project Management, Time Management and Lean Concepts, and more recently implemented and trained on AS 9100 and AS 9006 as well as DO178B requirements.