Thursday, 15 April 2010

The SPI Manifesto - What's It All About ?

It's election time in the UK, and this week the major parties have all released their manifestos outlining their policies and plans for the next five years should they be elected into government. Earlier this year the SPI Manifesto was published; the work of a group of people who attended a workshop in late 2009 in conjunction with the EuroSPI Conference in Spain. The publication of the manifesto appears to have polarised the SPI community into staunch supporters and those who are rather more sceptical about it. For myself, the manifesto certainly raises more questions than it answers, and in this entry I'll try to explain why. However this is not going to be an in depth analysis of the manifesto - although that may come later!

The Facts The SPI Manifesto is a 17 page pamphlet which is structured as three values and ten supporting principles. The three values are concerned with People, Business and Change, and each consists of a context and problem statement, a section explaining the value and a number of "hints and examples". The values are statements of what the authors truly believe. Four principles support the People value, three support the Business value and a further three support the Change value, and are explained as principles that the authors trust to support the values. Each principle consists of an explanation and an example. The front page summarises the values and principles, followed by an explanation of how the manifesto came into existence and what to use it for, and the final page is given over to the presenters, authors and reviewers.

Manifesto or Manifest ?

The dictionary definition of a manifesto is
"a public declaration of policy and aims, especially one issued before an election by a political party or candidate" 
The word originates from the 1644 Italian word "manifesto" which means a public declaration explaining past actions and announcing the motive for forthcoming ones". My first issue is trying to figure out what this document actually is. It is titled the "SPI Manifesto", but in the description of what it is, it suddenly becomes a manifest which, when used as a noun, is defined as a customs document listing the contents put on a plane or ship. Clearly this isn't one of those! Semantics aside, this is the first of numerous inconsistencies which percolate through the document.

Three Unanswered Questions Despite having read through the document several times and having been in discussions with various knowledgeable colleagues I cannot find the answers to three fundamental questions. Quite simply these are:
  • What is the real purpose of the SPI Manifesto ?
  • Who are the intended audiences ?
  • Why was it thought necessary to create such a manifesto in the first place ?
A basic principle of process improvement teach us that we undertake a change or improvement activity in order to fill a requirement or to meet a need. A second basic principle is to identify the stakeholders impacted by the change or improvement. However, the SPI Manifesto, at no point that I can see, addresses either of these principles. And without these critical issues being addressed, the manifesto is left in a state of limbo. In a real life business environment, such a document would never see the light of day without having a requirement to meet or a defined target audience.

An Academic Exercise ? Given the failure of the manifesto to address the three questions I posed above, can we surmise that the undefined purpose of the document was to purely to complete an academic exercise to see whether such a document could be created? Without wishing to demean the contributors, when I cross-referenced the list on the back page of the manifesto, I wasn't surprised to find the vast majority appeared to be academics rather than practitioners. There is a certain irony in this because the first value regarding People talks about the failure of ivory towers in the drive for successful SPI!

Methinks there may even have been an unstated desire to create something akin to the Agile Manifesto simply because nothing existed in the SPI space. Unfortunately it's probably 20 years too late! It is probably fair to say that most of what is written in the SPI Manifesto is available in standard industry texts on process improvement and change management. It may not be as concise, but it is often written in a more appealing way, better explained and, almost always, with a specified target audience in mind.

Missing the Real Target
When you look around at the attendees of SPI conferences, seminars and SPIN groups, it doesn't take long to realise that most of the attendees are either SPI or Quality consultants or people suddenly faced with the prospect of leading or participating in process improvement initiatives for the first time.

Rarely do you see the CIO, CEO or CFO of an organisation, unless they are sponsors or key notes speakers at the event. In fact it is very rare for any decision making executives to turn out to these events. Clearly, they are busy people and cannot take four days out to attend conference. But these are the very people who we, as an SPI community, should be addressing. If I was a C-Level executive and this came to my attention I'm fairly certain my reaction would be along the lines of "So What?".

The trouble is, even as an experienced consultant and practitioner, my initial reaction to the SPI Manifesto is also pretty much "So What?"...
Print this post


  1. Thanks for drawing my attention to this manifesto (via LinkedIn). I don't think it's too bad, and I write as a quality manager in a small software company who believes in a very pragmatic approach, never academic.

    Sure, it is apparent at a few points that the authors are not native English speakers, but 'so what'? It's very readable and while it might not be 100% original, the examples are clear and thought provoking.

    I would say the audience is pretty obviously anyone involved in PI - why do think this is unclear? It's not aimed at zookeepers, bankers, accountants, users of systems.....

    (Sorry, can't be bothered to create an id on any of the 'comment as' profiles)

  2. Thanks for your comments Paul. I think the comment about the 'native English' was probably meant for the post on LinkedIn but never mind.

    As for your statement that the manifesto is aimed at anyone involved in PI - well sure. But in that case, it's pretty much preaching to the converted, in which case why is there a need to create it. Why not just refer to a text like "CMMI Survival Guide" by Garcia & Turner or "Making Process Improvement Work" by Potter & Sakry?

    By clearly defining a target audience the manifesto could have been so much more.

  3. Well, I am a director of a company who is listed as one of the 7 accredited quality training partners in Automotive SPICE gor German Automotive industry. I left university (was a researcher) 17 years ago. I am one of the authors of the manifesto. Also Thomas Wegner is the quality manager of ZF SACHS as part of ZF Friedrichshafen AG (www.zf.cpom) as one of the largest companies in Automotive with 70000 staff. He is also co-author. And another Co-Author was Kouichi Kishida as a Key Japanese person who is the owner og the largest SW house in Japan. So I cannot follow really the argument that we were academics?
    When I look at your profile you seem to be a CMMI consultant, with UC academic background.
    The SPI manifesto was written by industrial managers of leading industry as well.
    Also the SPI manifesto is promoted by EuroSPI and this yewar e.g. the key notes are KTM Motorsport quality head (winner company of world championships), Magna Powertrain (third largest Automotive Supplier of the world), and JMU (James Madison University (who host NASA research as well).
    So what?

  4. Thank you for your comments - which I am happy to publish here. But it's a shame you didn't take the opportunity to perhaps try and address my three main questions, which I still have not heard useful answers to.

    I still find that the majority of quality and process folk I meet aren't aware of the manifesto and certainly I find very few managers or leaders who are familiar with it. Promotion of the manifesto at EuroSPI is great, but as I said in the post I believe this type of promotion fails to hit the right targets, namely the C-level executives. The manifesto doesn't appear to have captured the imagination of our colleagues in the same way as, for example, the Agile manifesto did for the development community. So my other question still stands - what was its real intended purpose?

    For the record I am a business and software process consultant - not limited to CMMI - and I have been working in IT development and operations since I left university 28 years ago with a degree in Agricultural Science. I have spent the past 18 years as a practising process management specialist in many different companies, industries and countries around the world, which is where I learnt my trade and continue to do so!

  5. I understand your point. To get a manifesto known world wide it needs a network of SPI ambassadors. At the moment in EuroSPI we cover 28 countries and unfortunanetly UK is not part of it. The reason is that our former founding partner from UK side was Qinetiq (UK defense research) and they were restructured in around 2005 and then we lost all our contacts there. We have this year on 5th September 2012 a joint workshop with the BCS (British computer society) in London to discuss and re-establish relationships with UK. This will refer to 2 initiatives, and who both promote and certify the SPI nmanager.
    I suggest that we could meet there. We also offer very experienced SPI professionals (your CV fits) to become ambassadors in their country.

  6. Dear block-readers,

    As the Editors of the SPI manifesto we hereby answer the “unanswered questions”.

    First, the real purpose of the SPI Manifesto is to gather knowledge on how to practice SPI. To do that we invited more than 50 very SPI experienced practitioners to a workshop at the EuroSPI conference that we then facilitated. The three core values and ten principles is the essence of best SPI practice. If you are interested in who the practitioners were you can take a look at the preface to the manifesto.

    Second, the intended audience is of course everyone interested in or practicing SPI.

    Third, we thought it to be both necessary and urgent to create such a manifesto because there is a need for it. Every week we can read about newly failed projects and improvements. Many of the “new” failures repetition of old failures. Hence a number of practitioners truly believed (to use the wording from the manifesto) that we needed to document our common knowledge; and so we did in the manifesto.

    The manifesto is published for free and can be downloaded without any cost from the internet. We explicitly decided against publishing the manifesto in an academic outlet – so in no way is the manifesto an academic exercise. Our aim was to maximize utility.

    Thank you for creating some discussion on the SPI manifesto.

    Jørn Johansen and Jan Pries-Heje

    1. Once again I am happy to publish comments from any of the original creators of the manifesto, and I thank you for your response!

      Again, though, I reiterate my issue regarding the audience. Many initiatives fail because of poor management, leadership and sponsorship not because of poor practitioners.

      The key to successful process management is for sustained commitment and understanding by senior managers and senior executives. If they begin to start appreciating the issues facing the practitioners then maybe our success rate will start to increase.

      How to engage with these senior execs is still one of the biggest issues facing our community!