Extreme Process Tailoring and Mapping – How much is reasonable? (Story of a Pizzeria)

Last Friday I decided to go to the neighborhood pizzeria for lunch. I was sure of what I wanted to eat, and knew it would cost me around 300 rupees (INR)1. I took my usual place, and was greeted by a grinning waiter. After the standard “how are you, sir?” (someday I plan to actually narrate all my woes, but I was not in the mood to do so on that day :-)), he says, “We have the standard combo meal at a very special price, just 99 rupees.”

“And what can I get in the standard combo meal?” I ask.

“Well you can start with a soft drink, and…,” he says.

“I am not really interested in drinking colored sweet water that is gassed. Skip the combo, let us start with some tomato soup, regular size”.

Soft Drik with SoupThe waiter would not give up on his combo order. “In the combo, I can substitute the soft drink with a soup, no problem.” Off he goes to get the soup.

After the soup arrives, he is ready to get the next dish. “Sir, shall I get the garlic bread?”

“Don’t you know that burnt flour has no nutritional value? Please get me a garden fresh salad instead – a regular portion,” I say.

Garlic Bread with SaladHe goes to check, comes back and says, “Sir, I can do only a small portion of salad instead of the garlic bread.” After some more discussions he agrees to serve a regular portion of the salad. He also says something about reducing the ice cream that comes at the end of the standard combo.

I manage to substitute the pizza with a pasta, and also wrangle a cup of tea instead of the reduced ice cream portion. I get the meal I wanted at 99 rupees (instead of the 300 rupees that I should have spent). Maybe the waiter also achieved something by selling one more “standard combo”.

Manu MapIf at the end of the day, the pizzeria tries to reconcile the billing data with what was produced in the kitchen, here is what they would have come up with, for my transaction.

(In reality the situation was much more complex, since I was with my wife. So the dishes we got should have been mapped to 2 standard combos. In the interest of the reader’s sanity, I have used “blogetic license” to simplify the situation :-)).

A process auditor/ reviewer would have been aghast – this was extreme tailoring (later justified by extreme mapping), violating all principles of reasonableness.

In typical organizations, there are often situations where one set of processes need to be mapped to another set of processes or some framework. Here are some of them:

  • A new process standard (or is new version) is adopted and we need to identify the gaps in our processes with respect to the new standard
  • Our customers would like to confirm that our processes satisfy some requirements of the customers’ standard
  • Our process team wants to make sure that the customer imposed processes still continue to meet the requirements of our standard process, and
  • Post an acquisition, we need to prove that our processes do meet our new owner’s standard processes

And it is in some of these contexts that we sometimes find unreasonable distortion- driven by the need to seem conforming while continuing to do something totally different. Over the years, expertise has been built in the industry and there seems to be a community of practice calling themselves X!reme Mappers2:-).

Excessive tailoring, if it is all-pervading in the organization, actually defeats the purpose of having a standardized process, and can prevent an organization from reaching maturity level 4/ 5 of the CMMI®/ People CMM®.

So maybe it is time someone defined limits of reasonable tailoring and mapping.

Any thoughts on how much tailoring is reasonable?

Other related posts uploaded on the same blog:

1-      Rupee/ INR is the Indian currency. As per the current exchange rate (Feb 2012), 1 US$ is roughly = 50 Rupees. However, if we factor in the purchasing power in India, the rupee is much more powerful than what is indicated by the exchange rate. For example, in India you could buy 3 Kilograms of ripe bananas for 50 rupees – but one can’t live on bananas alone 🙂

Mysterious_Eyes2-      X!reme Mappers. According to the Processpedia (Volume 6 draft v23.4), X!reme Mappers is a shadowy guild, and is affiliated to the Society of Dark Process Arts. They can be hired only through word of mouth and have the motto “We can map anything to anything. You continue doing your thing, while we take care of the mapping.” More information on X!reme Mappers can be found in the draft version of Processpedia.


I am Rajesh Naik. I am an author, management consultant and trainer, helping IT and other tech companies improve their processes and performance. I also specialize in CMMI® (DEV and SVC), People CMM® and Balanced Scorecard. I am a CMMI Institute certified/ authorized Instructor and Lead Appraiser for CMMI® and People CMM®. I am available on LinkedIn and I will be glad to accept your invite. For more information please click here.

24 thoughts on “Extreme Process Tailoring and Mapping – How much is reasonable? (Story of a Pizzeria)”

  1. Hello Rajesh,

    I would love to go that pizzeria with you, when in Bengaluru :).

    Here, in the situation you explained, the tailoring seems unreasonable wherein no items taken by you were not actually present in the original combo offered. It is like you asked for a x and you got x which initially was costing y but you got at y-z. Assuming that this “may” have affected the business objective negatively it is never advisable to go for tailoring to this extent.

    Alternatively, as this blog gets publicity, there may be a case that the volume growth is anticipated and extreme tailoring provided to you will not be much required as people with such specifications could be low in number. Also, Customer satisfaction may have been far more important as you are a regular customer!

    Again, it may be a case where either a new service offering is piloted or tested, or there may excesses of the items you were looking for, waiting for their expiry!

    Anyway, I believe that the tailoring of processes should also be analyzed & checked to see if the business objectives are met or not after checking the need of the project/service requirement. I think this can be the maximum limit for deviation, and if the deviation is repeated you may have new service offering/life-cycle at hand.

    Thanks & Regards,

    Prabhakar

  2. Excellent one! I like the way you tailored the menu that was supposed to be standard!

    Yes, this is the reality and I like that way as, one should focus on what the client actually needs than push a set of packaged stuff. Once the client gets used to it, then standardize those menu items. ON the standard processes. What is it actually? I feel we must standardize the process elements [fairly low level] and allow a combination of these process elements to be packaged. Thats why I like the new SPEM 2.0 based Process architecture where we can construct Capability Patterns in RMC [Rational Method Composer] and allow building Delivery Cycle Patterns as opposed to making processes for the sake of satisfying Process Areas.

  3. In my view any tailoring which does not violate the spirit and intent of the process should be OK. However the artifacts which provide information that get rolled up at org. level database should not be tailored as far as possible for e.g. lessons learned template, data collection template which is used for creating PPB, project status template which gets consolidated at Program/BU level for PMO review etc.

    1. Hi Gopi,

      Thank you for your comments.

      The problem with excessive tailoring (done just for the sake of immediate convenience) creates problems in multiple dimensions:

      1) Baselines cannot be constructed, because there arn’t enough instances where the standard process was used
      2) There is actually no standard process used (because it exists only on paper)
      3) The standard process cannot be improved.

      Any tailoring done should either be because the standard process is just not suitable, or the we are piloting a new process for evaluation, or there is some contractual requirement, where we need to diaviate. Otherwise with excessive tailoring, the organization ends up being ML2 (with the facade of ML3+), with only project specific processes.

  4. In my version of Processpedia (draft v23.5:), X!reme Mapping is an allowable liberty exercised by the life time members of the Society of Dark Process Arts when they get tired of reasoning with organizations (and their own band of non believers and process “con-artists”) who argue incessantly about how their organizational “construct and context” prevents them from applying anything of a “standard” nature; but how the same constraining context demands a “Maturity Level 3 and beyond” label in the shortest possible time.

    And with demanding and impatient customers (like you at the Pizzeria), one person’s view of a “standard” may become another’s perception of “rigidity”. And that is where innovators like X!reme Mappers are more likely to be in business.

    1. Prakash,

      Some quick and direct questions – are you a member of the Guild of X!reme Mappers? Are you one of their office bearers? Now that your membership has been exposed, what will the Guild do to you? 🙂

  5. Rajesh,

    Members of the Guild of X!reme Mappers are under oath not to disclose their identities. And they move about in their own mysterious ways, governed by their own unwritten (un- documented?) code of process conduct and drawing upon their reserves of lateral and bi-directional thinking (to ensure traceability to practices that determine the organization’s fate come appraisal day).

    And they cannot be easily spotted either. They change their spots from being extreme purists to a ruthless “tailors” based on the circumstances they find themselves in and the level of influence they are able to bear.

    I would object to you referring to them as “shadowy”. I would rather look at them as unsung heroes who fight all odds and keep their chin up to help steer organizations through the muddied waters of a process improvement journey, making sure in the process that such organizations gain incremental benefits in some of their core areas, while going relatively light on others.

    So though puritanical by heart, they are sometimes forced to ply their tools of trade in conjuring up a process alchemy that might meet the letter but not (all the time) the intent of all the laws governing maturity levels.

  6. Tailoring can be done as long as the objective of the process is not compromised. One issue I see very regularly is that while tailoring happens regularly its most often not tagged for later identification.

    In fact a regular tailoring analysis is required to continually improve the processes.

    At maturity level 4 (of CMMI) when we want to show the process performance this tagging help immensely as these are the alternate methods which will have different baselines and will be the potential alternate methods that the project can use to do compose or build their life-cycles (whether to follow the standard process or one of the tailored versions).

    Also at the highest maturity level of the CMMI, when we do project or organizational level process improvements (we are changing the standard process in these case), till they are made part of the standard process, they are tailored versions of the process whose implementation and performance is formally monitored. Again here the process has undergone extreme tailoring but has not lost its basic objective, and the tailoring is done under controlled conditions.

  7. Tailoring is something which can be applied in multiple dimensions.
    However, mostly a restricted usage of the concept is practiced by projects in day to day usage.
    Mostly I have seen projects using the concept, to do some changes and tweaks on the released standard templates which have been defined by the organization.
    They also use it to replace the organizational standard templates with the customer templates.

    This concept can also be used to deploy alternative methods and frameworks like automation, rapid application development frameworks which have never been practiced or followed by the organization in past.

    The scope of tailoring is very vast and may trigger instances that can help organizations to improve processes, adopt changes and obtain returns of those process changes and improvements.

    There are a few queries which always bother practitioners:
    • What is the need of tailoring?
    • Is tailoring of standard processes good or bad?
    • To what extent tailoring is good?
    • Will tailoring not bring in a lot of inconsistencies in the system that have been followed for a long time which are now quite stable?
    • Will tailoring require a lot of time, efforts, involvement and documentation?
    • Will it result into NCs during the audits?
    • How will we measure the performance of the standard processes?

    Before tailoring a process, analysis should always be performed to evaluate the need and potential effectiveness of the tailoring and understand the subsequent impact of the tailoring on the other process and sub-process elements.
    Tailoring a process definitely increases inconsistency in the system which should be managed as a risk and proper mitigations should be planned and taken.

    Tailored process should be monitored frequently to gauge the stability and performance of the changed process. In case the returns and benefits of the changed/ tailored process are good and the intent as well as expectations are fulfilled, it should be deployed across other projects and can be made a standardized across organization or can be provided as an alternative method for the same process.

  8. Hi Rajesh,
    I would like to give a small analogy.

    Processes getting tailored at times tend to lose their essence. We could, instead of adding vegetable oil, add diesel to a fire, to keep it burning. The purpose is to add fuel. However, pouring water in the name of liquid would put out the fire.

    There has to be a combustible organic fuel added and not a fire retardant in the name of liquid (processes).

  9. Hi Rajesh,
    I would like to just point out my experience here and anology of how it does not do justice when the intent is lost.
    When you changed/tailored the combo to meet your specifications, it become a new combo that the the pizzeria can use to sell…..only if the occurrences are more. As mentioned in the earlier comments, the analysis on tailoring is not a common practice in the IT industry.

    Companies at ML3, mandate the QMS (standard process) to be followed, and the quality facilitators just know to use a checklist to record the compliance….and when a tailoring is requested, it is not thought upon like the waiter did, serving you in the pizzeria. The waiter knew (understood the tailoring), that the cone can be replaced with few items you had changed in the combo. This elimination was fine, as long as it met your needs and the pizzeria needs (saving of a cone and customer satisfaction).
    The quality facilitator in the organization must be able to identify the tradeoffs within the processes defined, that will fulfill the org needs and the project needs.

    1. Hi Lakshmi

      Thanks for your comments.

      However, in my case at the pizzeria, I never wanted the combo, and was ready to pay the menu card rate for the dishes I ordered. It was the waiter who converted it into the combo (I still don’t know why, other than the fact that he may have had a daily target for selling combos). I thought it was unnecessary conversion and then finding equivalents (I don’t understand how (garlic bread + half ice-cream) = (regular sized salad); it does not match is calorific value, nor price on the menu card, nor the type of the dish). The pizzeria lost money, I was no more satisfied than if I had paid the standard rates without all the discussions on substitutes. So, the unnecessary discussions sort of offset the reduced price.

      My point is, we may be doing unnecessary tailoring (similar to the case above) and later justifying by extreme mapping to prove that the tailoring was valid.

      1. Hi Rajesh,

        I completetly agree with you, i just wanted to point out when it comes to actual tweaking of process, its not done with the right intent, and understanding (which i did not think through in my earlier case).
        Ya, the pizzeria did loose money, however the pizzeria is not aware yet (which is why i guess the waiter might have been given daily target for selling combo). So the waiter was able to do give you the required meal, as a combo. Now you know that you can keep modifying the combo 🙂
        – which is not healthy for the pizzeria. Same holds good for any organisation. Very true to your last point.

  10. Hi Rajesh,

    Good topic for a discussion!. If tailoring helps acceptance and usability then it should be considered. I have many years of P-CMM experience and think there is definitely a need for tailoring – either by the SEI or by process improvement professionals.
    From an architecture and goals perspective the model is great and really can help achieving sustainable improvements. However, because of the formal process jargon a major target audience (HR / Organizational Development professionals) are not connected, they don’t speak that language. Which means that not tailoring inhibits the adoption and hence the potential benefits.
    I found tailoring e.g. necessary in the “Institutionalization” Practices: by keeping ONE common set of Commitment/Ability/Measurement/Verification for all PAs the model gains clarity (like was done in the CMMI models). And there are more practices with a lot of correlation and redundancy. The more the model is tailored to a simple and intuitive tool the better the acceptance and hence succes. In many cases a formal P-CMM assessment will not be the objective but a pragmatic organizational improvement. A dogmatic anti-tailoring position will lower the potential of this great model. Maybe that’s why the P-CMM pizzeria doesn’t attract many new customers at the moment…

    1. Dear Herman,

      Thanks you very much for visiting the blog and sharing your views.

      I fully agree that the model must be customized for each organization to make up the organizational processes/ policies as easily undertood by them.

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