Interview: D Sankararaman – a Consultant-cum-LA’s view of People CMM®

Shankar Photo 1Sankararaman D (Shankar for short) is a consultant and trainer on project management, operational and HR process improvement. He works for QAI. He has published articles and has been an invited speaker at many conferences and institutes. In this interview, Shankar shares his experiences on People CMM®, as a consultant and a lead appraiser for the model.

Q:    Please tell us something about your professional history/ background

A:    I have a chequered journey in terms of studies as well as my jobs. The net outcome of the journey is that I am an engineering graduate and a management student. I have worked in MIS, EDP, Software Development, Pre-sales, support, Software Quality roles before landing up in a consulting career. Most of what has happened to me in my professional career has happened by accident rather than by design. And I have been happy with these accidents .

Q:    What kind of work do you do?

A:    I work with various organizations helping them improve their processes. I also train people on various topics like estimation, project management, and process management. I am a lead appraiser. This means that I am a “level maniac” who goes around attempting to stamp every organization with anything from level -10 to level 42.

Q:    Please let us know the industries for which you have done People CMM® appraisals

A:    I have done for the “usual” suspects 🙂 – IT organizations and BPO organizations. Additionally, I have also been involved in appraisals for Banks, Consulting organizations, and R & D organizations as well. Other than appraisals, I have also done training and consulting with firms in domains like insurance.

Q:    Is the pressure on the “certification” aspect as high in People CMM® as in CMMI®?

A:     No and Yes. First, let me clarify the “No” part. Fortunately, no client or RFP or RFT insists that an organization should be People CMM® “certified” by a particular date. As a consequence, we seldom come across organizations trying to use 10 cars travelling parallel at 100 kms to reach a 1000 km destination in 1 hour. Companies that pursue People CMM® appraisals do it driven mainly by internal triggers and the value of People CMM® perceived by them.
Coming to the “Yes” part of the response. There are a few times, when organizations chase their internal deadlines. In my view, this may not be completely bad. If organizations don’t have a target, then they risk never accomplishing anything. With a target, there tends to be frantic activity closer to the target date. But, that is better than doing nothing.

Q:    Most organization either aim for ML 3 or ML 5 (very rarely ML 2 or ML 4). What are the reasons? And what do you advice?

A:    I believe there is a long legacy and more of informal convention to this rather than a logical basis. The advice depends on the organization’s situation and needs. If one is looking for early results and to achieve some milestones to build momentum, then the organization should undergo a formal appraisal for ML 2.
Organizations that have a strong record of basic HR practices and have validated the same with respect to the People CMM® can pursue an initial roadmap for ML3.
In any case, organizations should ensure that they have implemented, institutionalized, and validated their ML 3 implementation through a formal appraisal before pursuing ML 4 and ML 5.

Regarding ML 4 and ML 5, it is extremely important that organizations have absolute clarity on why they are pursuing the higher levels.  The quantum of the delivery organization / business organization’s involvement in ML 4 and ML 5 goes up manifold. So, CXO level commitment is critical as well.
Organizations that are for the first time journey crossing ML3 should seriously consider completing a ML 4 appraisal before pursuing a ML 5 journey.

Q:    Do you find that organizations get lasting benefits on implementing People CMM®?

A:     Your question is almost like asking “Do you get lasting benefits from the library in your house?” or even worse “Do you get lasting benefits from the gym that you are a member of?” Obviously, it depends on what I do in the library (read, sleep, gossip, gamble, ….) or in the gym (visit a fast food joint after a brief chat session in the gym!). Similarly, it depends significantly on how the organizations approach the implementation of People CMM®. I have seen a number of organizations who have a sustained focus on HR process implementation and they have seen lasting benefits.

To restate this discussion, Can lasting benefits be obtained by organizations through People CMM®? Without doubt, Yes.

Does it depend on People CMM® or the organization? It depends more on the organization rather than on People CMM®.

Q:    Are the benefits higher on implementing ML3 or on implementing ML5?

A:    I would say that the correct question should be “Are the benefits higher on implementing ML3 alone or when we implement ML3 and ML 5. The definitive part is that there are lasting benefits to be had by implementing ML3 in a well institutionalized manner.

The incremental benefits of implementing ML 4 and ML5 require certain pre-requisites. Some of these include: What is the organizational size? Very small organizations may not gain substantially from implementing all the higher maturity practices of People CMM®. In fact, they may face challenges in implementing higher maturity practices effectively. How stable or challenging is the organization’s business situation? Another pre-requisite for harvesting the benefits of ML4 and ML5 is involvement from the business / delivery organization including the executive management. Also, organizations with a strong culture of management using quantitative data for decision making are likely to benefit more by implementing ML4 and ML5.

Q:    What kind of organizations should go for a ML3 appraisal?

A:    In my view, any organization that is serious about its employees and their relevance to the business should implement at least till ML3. It is a different question as to whether they should undergo a formal appraisal. It does help when organizations have first imbibed a basic process culture through implementation of ISO 9001 and / or CMMI ML3. These help faster adoption of People CMM® and that in turn helps sustain these other standards and models.

Q:    What kind of organizations should go for ML5? Shankar Photo2

A:     There are multiple aspects to consider. Any organization with a serious focus on their business performance, employee skills and alignment can benefit from the key themes of  ML4 and ML5 viz.,. aspects like knowledge management, mentoring, and controlled improvement of HR practices.

To implement ML4 and ML5 effectively, I would premise that these organizations have collected data for a long period; they have sustained their competency based practices over several cycles; they are reasonably large (headcount more than 1000 employees) for them to adapt pattern (data) driven decision making and benefit from the same.

Q:    What is the benefit in taking a target level and doing a SCAMPI-A for People CMM®? Why can’t we ignore the formal appraisal and just implement the mode? What will they lose? They will save some time and money and annoying interactions with the LA :-).

A:     I have worked with three variants of organizations. Organizations that have just implemented the model, and not done a formal appraisal. Organizations that have implemented the model and have undergone a semi-formal appraisal like a SCAMPI B. And of course, organizations that have culminated their journey with a formal SCAMPI A and a maturity level.

Curiously enough, we have observed the extent of institutionalization has been strongest in organizations who have culminated their journey in a formal SCAMPI A. May be it is just that organizations who pursue a formal maturity level implement their processes more rigorously than those who don’t.

If the leadership focus and internal intent is there, organizations might as well not go for the formal appraisal. It is just that the data till date indicates otherwise.

Q:    Are there any process areas in People CMM® that are just not worth the effort, as you have observed in many organizations? And these are implemented only for the sake of the appraisal?

A:     In my personal opinion, there are certain parts of People CMM® that are not effectively appreciated in implementation. These include important themes like delegation of authority covered in a process area called Participatory Culture.

There is also the process area called Workgroup Development, and this a subject to various interpretations.

There is a case for looking at re-presenting these process areas and themes in alternate ways for effective understanding and implementation by the user community.

The other perception that we have heard from many of the users is that it is heavy in terms of the language and phrases used. And there are people who have opined that certain themes like communication and coordination have been repeated multiple times in model.

In a sense, there may be an opportunity to simplify the model and make it more compact as well.

Q:    The SCAMPI methodology was created with CMMI® in mind. Is it suitable for People CMM®? Which aspects of the appraisal method are out of sync with the model in your experience?

A: The current version of the SCAMPI method (SCAMPI 1.3) was developed / refined keeping in mind all the constellations of CMMI® as well as People CMM®. So, it is as suitable for People CMM® as it is for CMMI® constellations.

The method also provides the lead appraiser and the sponsor several tailoring options. So, it is up to the lead appraiser to suitably leverage the method and adhere to the method to perform an effective appraisal. In my experience, I have not come across any significant aspects that I would as unsuitable.

Shankar Photo 3Q:    Could you tell us about other frameworks / models in the similar area? How good are they?

A:    The other frameworks that we have come across include concepts like “Investor in People” and Human Resource Excellence Framework. The aspects where People CMM® scores compared to these models and concepts are in terms of adopting a systems approach, promoting institutionalization, and emphasizing on a competency driven approach as a fulcrum for people management

Shankar is a Consulting Partner with QAI where he leads the People CMM® Practice. He may be contacted at or His linkedin profile is here.

Thank you, Shankar, for sharing these useful insights.

Other related posts uploaded on the same blog:


The views presented above represent the personal views of D Sankararaman and are in no manner reflective of the official views of QAI, SEI, or AlignMentor or any other organization, community, group, or association.

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. To get email alerts for new posts, click here to subscribe.

23 thoughts on “Interview: D Sankararaman – a Consultant-cum-LA’s view of People CMM®”

  1. Very interesting read, thank you Rajesh, Shankar. I found the question on relevance of PCMM process areas very interesting..

    Frequent updates and industry involvement keeps CMMI relevant to industry today. PCMM hasn’t been updated for a while now…what are your views on this..

    1. Lakshmi,

      Thanks for your comments.

      It would be indeed good to have the PCMM model updated.

      The PCMM team at SEI had specifically kept a window open for change requests in 2011. While I dont have definitive inputs at this juncture, I hope that this would be taken up in 2013.



  2. The interview has provided ‘in a nutshell’ information about People CMM, the challenges of implementation, areas of improvement in the standard itself and comparison of the People CMM standard with other standards.
    I have two questions for Shankar
    1. Have you seen a continuous improvement in competency baseline in organizations which have implemented People CMM and how the competency improvement is driven for subject matter experts who are expected to be at highest level of competency level?
    2. From your experience, do you feel that automation is important/must for sustaining the practices of People CMM?

    1. Charu,

      Thanks for your feedback. I have given my responses to your queries here :

      1. Yes. There are organizations that have sustained their competency based implementation and who have driven continuous improvements in their competency baseline. We need to remember however, that the improvements targetted and attempted are based on the business needs of the organization.

      Regarding subject matter experts who are the highest level of competency, their competency improvement would be guided and facilitated by the career paths available in the organization. For instance, someone who is at the highest level of proficiency in project management may start developing other critical higher order competencies and so on.

      2. Automation is a definite enabler for sustaining the implementation. Having said that let us not forget the most critical element for sustaining is the organizational intent and leadership commitment.



  3. Without doubt, the highlight of this interview are the pictures. Really enjoyed the rare photos. Good job, Rajesh!


  4. Shankar’s perspectives (as always) provide interesting insights. I liked the analogy of the Library and Gym in particular. That is a good riposte to questions from the cynical (and half cynical) on what benefits a model can offer. And drives home the point that the benefit proposition really depends on what we as organizations do with the model and how we approach the design and implementation (the letter vs the spirit part of arguments).

    On a lighter note, does Shankar change his hairstyles (and I am assuming these are styles by design ) based on the hat he is wearing on a given day /hour (Consultant, Trainer, LA, BD, Guru).


  5. Rajesh,
    You have found the perfect candidate to share his inputs… Shankar’s responses are pragmatic to say the least and profound as always.


      1. It’s a pleasure to know much more about you Shankar. Many thanks for sharing with us. Wishing you many more success in the years to come. You are one of the successful personality with whom we got an opportunity to work with.

        Very happy to know more about you it gives us more confidence and happiness too. Thanks for all your support and guidance shared.

  6. Shankar with the pictures personifies the adorable, and trustworthy advisor. The interview and the pointers are quite helpful. Is there a video recording or a podcast of this session, so that it can be put on the Test Republic Community. It would be certainly a great help to the members who are grappling with the immense challenge of growth and retention of talent in their organizations.

  7. Very interesting interview, Rajesh & Shankar. I also agree with Shankar that Participatory Culture and Workgroup Development were the most difficult areas.. I remember not understanding anything when I read them first..

  8. Its really amazing to note that I know both of you personally and speak so very often; but didnt know whole lot of things which came through this interview … thank you for putting this up… enjoyed the Q and A with Shankar….

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