Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) Lab Receives Level 3 Software Engineering Maturity Rating

The CMM is a model for judging the maturity of an organization's software processes and for identifying the key practices required to increase the maturity of these processes. Its goal is to improve the ability of organizations to develop quality software within budget and on schedule.

The CMM rating puts the Georgia Tech Research Institute (GTRI) ELSYS laboratory among the top 20 percent of software development organizations in the world, said Jean Swank, Quality Assurance and Process Manager in ELSYS. Received June 25, the rating resulted from intensive efforts to document processes, develop standards and meet requirements in the CMM.

Developed and administered by the Software Engineering Institute at Carnegie Mellon University, the Software CMM has become the de facto standard for assessing and improving software processes.

The CMM process includes five increasingly more difficult levels, starting with Level One for organizations that have no defined software processes in place. Level Two processes include requirements and configuration management; project planning, tracking and oversight; software quality assurance and software subcontract management. Level Three focuses on training, organizational process definition and focus, inter-group coordination, integrated software management, peer review and software product engineering.

Though customer requirements led ELSYS to seek the rating, its process improvements have brought additional benefits to the lab, Swank said.

"The CMM helps us be more responsive to our customers, giving them more insight into what we are proposing to do and how we are proposing to do it," she explained. "It makes us more aware of risk reduction, and allows our managers to better understand the status of projects and what the real costs will be."

For instance, the requirement for peer review of a proposed software process during the planning stages helps reduce risks by identifying errors early. The focus on project management provides early warning of unexpected delays, allowing timely modification of a project's scope or schedule, Swank said.

ELSYS began working toward the Level 3 CMM compliance seven years ago. A relatively small organization compared to defense contractors such as Boeing or Lockheed Martin, the lab had to adapt processes to fit its unique needs. For instance, many projects involve just two or three people, imposing management and coordination issues that differ from projects involving dozens of people from different organizations.

"It has taken a lot of dedicated people and a lot of work, but it has been worth it for ELSYS," Swank said. "Our customers expected us to have this rating, and it will help us be more competitive in winning new contracts.

Receipt of the rating does not end the CMM process. ELSYS must now continue institutionalization of the processes and procedures developed during the past seven years and continue improvement efforts to address refinements for current processes and additions as appropriate. The lab has reviewed requirements and has had individuals trained in the requirements for both the SEI Capability Maturity Modeling Integration (CMMI) and the ISO 9001:2000 standard. These models will be evaluated for applicability to the organization.

"We want to be a 'best-in-class' organization," Swank said. "We want to have processes and procedures in which people find value and that can be made part of the lab's corporate culture."

Bill Rogers, director of ELSYS, praised the lab's CMM team and its researchers for their hard work in obtaining the prestigious rating.

"Receipt of this rating is truly a milestone that will help our lab reach its potential as developer of electronic systems for both military and civilian uses," he said. "This could only have been done through the hard work and commitment of the entire laboratory workforce and the long term support of GTRI management. We're very proud of this rating and our customers are already benefiting from the improved management processes it represents."

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