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Lead Engineer Shannon Campbell is an engaging game show host, as she gets ready for the next round of Booz Allen Hamilton’s own "Jeopardy!"-style quiz show. The goal? To help teams get comfortable with statistics and process improvement techniques.
In July 2015, Booz Allen had been awarded a $200 million contract with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). And the agency required that the firm’s Systems Delivery Execution organization achieve a higher “maturity level” (ML) rating for software development and quality management from the Capability Maturity Model Integration Institute (CMMI) within a year—or forfeit a portion of the contract.
The process toward higher maturity typically takes 2 years. But because of the CMS contract, we had to get there in half the time.
“Change doesn’t come easily. Just telling someone to do something doesn’t work,” says Shannon, a process improvement expert. “You have to make it fun and interesting, too. Who doesn’t love a little friendly competition?”
“To be certified at maturity level 4 or 5, we had to start being proactive, instead of reactive, with our data. It’s a real culture shift for any organization, and ours was no exception.”
- Kevin Schaaff, Booz Allen’s lead CMMI high maturity appraiser
For more than 20 years, we’ve used CMMI models and we’ve operated consistently at ML 3 since 2005. We could point to our solid foundation—an industry-leading team of data scientists, a robust modeling and simulation capability, and a proven software delivery track record.
But to become a truly data-driven organization meant not just using advanced statistical processes in ongoing projects. It also means proving it—showing and telling how we use data to gauge performance and predict results.
“To be certified at maturity level 4 or 5, we had to start being proactive, instead of reactive, with our data,” says Principal Kevin Schaaff, team lead and the firm’s lead CMMI high maturity appraiser. “It’s a real culture shift for any organization, and ours was no exception.”
Kevin and his team moved into overdrive. They identified existing client projects that Booz Allen could move to high maturity. Each project brought a unique element to the table:
Together, the projects highlighted the breadth of our software engineering, analytical, and quantitative management expertise.
“We set the bar very high,” says Lead Technologist Ryan Bays, a process improvement expert. “We knew it was going to be hard. We had to be brutally honest and expose our software development weaknesses in front of everybody. That was the only way to reach our high maturity goal.”
While each project was different, the people challenge was the same. There was a steep learning curve—some team members had very little understanding of data analytics. In a short time frame, employees needed to learn to use advanced techniques, and feed collective lessons learned and process improvement recommendations back to support the firm’s efforts to optimize processes.
In addition to the "Jeopardy!"-inspired games, Kevin and his team developed innovative training, tools, and mentoring to help people learn statistical concepts. In our Analytical Techniques Workbook, for example, users could find the most popular and useful data techniques, so they didn’t have to figure it out on their own.
Ultimately, team members had to become so conversant in quantitative management that the tools and techniques would become just another part of doing business.
To achieve the maximum possible client benefit, we set our sights on ML5, the highest industry benchmark for software quality. As a result, we were able to enhance clients’ processes, delivering on specific quality and process improvement objectives to improve the overall quality of work for our clients’ products. We were now using data to look forward and predict, rather than simply reporting our results.
In July 2016, the firm's Systems Delivery Execution organization was appraised at CMMI ML 5, making Booz Allen one of only 11 Fortune 500 companies to achieve this rating.
“It’s a quantum leap for us and our clients,” says Kevin. “It’s powerful to be able to see all the pitfalls in near real time when you tweak a specific process. To be able to predict is powerful.”