What is the Capability Maturity Model? (CMM)

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Last updated on
16th May, 2022
09th Feb, 2013
What is the Capability Maturity Model? (CMM)

Capability Maturity Model (CMM) broadly refers to a process improvement approach that is based on a process model. CMM also refers specifically to the first such model, developed by the Software Engineering Institute (SEI) in the mid-1980s, as well as the family of process models that followed. A process model is a structured collection of practices that describe the characteristics of effective processes; the practices included are those proven by experience to be effective.

CMM can be used to assess an organization against a scale of five process maturity levels. Each level ranks the organization according to its standardization of processes in the subject area being assessed. The subject areas can be as diverse as software engineering, systems engineering, project management, risk management, system acquisition, information technology (IT) services and personnel management.

CMM was developed by the SEI at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. It has been used extensively for avionics software and government projects, in North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, South America, and Africa.Currently, some government departments require software development contract organization to achieve and operate at a level 3 standard.


The Capability Maturity Model was initially funded by military research. The United States Air Force funded a study at the Carnegie-Mellon Software Engineering Institute to create a model (abstract) for the military to use as an objective evaluation of software subcontractors. The result was the Capability Maturity Model, published as Managing the Software Process in 1989. The CMM is no longer supported by the SEI and has been superseded by the more comprehensive Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI).

Maturity Model

The Capability Maturity Model (CMM) is a way to develop and refine an organization’s processes. The first CMM was for the purpose of developing and refining software development processes. A maturity model is a structured collection of elements that describe characteristics of effective processes. A maturity model provides:
a place to start

the benefit of a community’s prior experiences

a common language and a shared vision

a framework for prioritizing actions

a way to define what improvement means for your organization

A maturity model can be used as a benchmark for assessing different organizations for equivalent comparison. It describes the maturity of the company based upon the project the company is dealing with and the clients.


In the 1970s, technological improvements made computers more widespread, flexible, and inexpensive. Organizations began to adopt more and more computerized information systems and the field of software development grew significantly. This led to an increased demand for developers—and managers—which was satisfied with less experienced professionals.

Unfortunately, the influx of growth caused growing pains; project failure became more commonplace not only because the field of computer science was still in its infancy, but also because projects became more ambitious in scale and complexity. In response, individuals such as Edward Yourdon, Larry Constantine, Gerald Weinberg, Tom DeMarco, and David Parnas published articles and books with research results in an attempt to professionalize the software development process.

Watts Humphrey’s Capability Maturity Model (CMM) was described in the book Managing the Software Process (1989). The CMM as conceived by Watts Humphrey was based on the earlier work of Phil Crosby. Active development of the model by the SEI began in 1986.

The CMM was originally intended as a tool to evaluate the ability of government contractors to perform a contracted software project. Though it comes from the area of software development, it can be, has been, and continues to be widely applied as a general model of the maturity of processes in IS/IT (and other) organizations.

The model identifies five levels of process maturity for an organisation. Within each of these maturity levels are KPAs (Key Process Areas) which characterise that level, and for each KPA there are five definitions identified:

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



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