Capability Maturity Model (CMM): Brief History and Applications in Agile Project Management

Capability Maturity Model (CMM): Brief History and Applications in Agile Project Management
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Defining the CMM

The Capability Maturity Model (CMM) is a model that is based upon real-world data. The CMM has been used, originally by software development engineers, to improve business processes in a variety of fields including risk management, information technology, resource management, project management, software engineering, and more.

While many argue that CMM should focus on technology or process improvement, others argue that using CMM for people is a useful resource. CMM is based upon a collection of descriptors for a company’s maturity levels. The CMM contains the following five structures:

  • Features in Common
  • Key Practices
  • Levels of Maturity
  • Goals
  • Key Process Areas

Each process is rated according to its level on the CMM continuum. This then provides a basis for improvement of processes in the future.


The history of the Capability Maturity Model is a product of military research funding. Carnegie-Mellon’s Software Engineering Institute received an assignment from the U.S. Air Force to create a model for evaluating software engineers. During the 1970s, when computer use became more commonplace in organizations, the need for software development grew due to demand. However, because computer engineering was a new field, it lacked a consistent model for evaluating business processes and practices. In order to solve a problem occurring in the military with software development running over-budget and slower than expected, the study was commissioned.

In 1986, Watts Humphrey joined Carnegie-Mellon’s Institute. Humphrey had already been using what was called “Process Maturity Framework” for the U.S. Department of Defense. He took his framework and combined it with an earlier work, called the Quality Management Maturity Grid developed by Philip B. Crosby in Quality is Free. What he came up with was an approach demonstrating that an organization’s processes mature in stages based upon problems they must solve. This process maturity measurement system became known as the Capability Maturity Model in 1988. Since then, the model has been reworked into The Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI), a process improvement methodology providing organizations with a defined structure and practice.

When Is It Implemented?

The CMM is used when evaluating the processes of companies to determine the level of maturity the organization possesses. The five stages of the CMM are:

  1. Initial - This is where all new processes start. Processes are chaotic and often ad hoc.
  2. Repeatable - This happens when a company has developed a process to produce repeatable outcomes.
  3. Defined - At this point, the process is defined and has been chosen as a standard business process.
  4. Managed - Someone manages the process according to metrics defined during stage three.
  5. Optimized - The management procedure includes process optimization.

The CMM is used whenever a company wants to create predictability and effectiveness in its processes. As the company’s processes move from level one to level five, the predictability and effectiveness of a company’s processes increase. Each of the aforementioned levels contains five definitions:

  1. Goals
  2. Commitment
  3. Ability
  4. Measurement
  5. Verification

These five definitions are the Key Process Areas.

Finally, it is important to realize that companies cannot skip levels. This means there is no hopping from level one to level four. Instead, a company must progress through each of these levels to reach level five and to function at the highest level of productivity and efficiency.