Friday, May 01, 2009

Chikka: CMMI Level 5 Philippines Story

In the Philippines, there are few software development outsourcing, industry, and information technology companies that have embraced CMMI or Capability Maturity Model Integrated - a process improvement approach.

One of the few is Chikka - the first mobile applications developer in the world to become recognized as a CMMI Level 5 organization.

I'm very glad that Chito Bustamante, CEO of Chikka, granted this interview and share to blog readers their CMMI story. For a long time as chief operating officer (since 2002), Chito has stayed on top of both engineering and product development departments, the heart and soul of Chikka. He has led Chikka thru its ISO and CMMI Maturity Level 5 certifications, giving "a method to the madness" or the frenzy that characterized product development, marketing, quality assurance at Chikka, and making sure it could sustain the same even as the company pursues an aggressive international roll-out.

Janette: When did Chikka started with its CMMI journey? What prompted the company to pursue it?
Chito: Chikka launched its first services (Chikka Text Messenger, Bidshot online auctions and Crushcow Mobile Matchmaking) in 2001. In 2002, the company began pushing a frenetic product development program that saw the company experimenting, designing, developing and launching various services that sought to “mobile-enable” every conceivable aspect of life in these parts. A prolific line of mobile messaging-based products ensued including:
  • mobile corporate promos
  • a text to email solution that was a veritable “poor man’s blackberry” at the time
  • mobile versions of Internet Relay Chat
  • text hotlines
  • various games and polls
  • a Catholic mobile portal with the blessings of the Church.
By 2003, Chikka had completely diversified into the content (SMS, MMS, Ringtones and logos), corporate solutions, and communications businesses. It was also already experimenting with m-commerce. Furthermore, the company started fixing its eyes on an international rollout for any and all its services.

This is the complete backdrop for the Chikka’s quest for the highest certification standards. Beginning with the ISO standards for Quality Management, Security, and Technology Management which it hurdled and validated from 2002-2004. But already eyeing CMMI Maturity Level 5 for which it finally opened itself to actual audit in 2005.

In sum, what prompted the Chikka to benchmark its processes with the highest standards especially CMMI was:
  1. “the Pace and the Space” – much of what we were doing was groundbreaking and highly competitive globally (there was a race on virtually every front, to “mobile enable” virtually everything, not just IM). Before ISO and CMMI, we felt that there was a strain in product development and software development with too much going back and forth especially between these two departments and so much competition, internally, for resources. We believed that the process standards would provide “a method to the madness.”

  2. “Manila as Global HQ” – by 2005 with one or more services live in over 10 countries and tens of network operators, this is what Chikka had become, a global hub for mobile applications development, and a Global Headquarters providing support and direction to various country operations. We believed that CMMI especially would help us support this expansion which was proceeding as rapidly as product development itself.

  3. “Opening Doors” - CMMI was a standard recognized worldwide. It would help open doors and gain the immediate recognition of potential business partners around the world. Like speaking the same language.
Janette: How long did Chikka went through the process?

Chito: Chikka didn’t take that long to adopt the CMMI standards since prior to CMMI, Chikka was already ISO 9001; 27000; 21000 certified. All these standards contributed to the easy adoption of the CMMI requirements. The work that needed to be done was on the calibration of semantics and the adoption of other policies deemed necessary for the level 4 and 5 processes.

Jantte: What went well in the process? What were the challenging parts?

Chito: What went very well was that people embraced it, and we mean everyone down the line, understood the need and the importance nay, the urgency of getting certified, and what it meant for ones own work, and the business side of things, making less mistakes, and recovering quickly if there are any, being very efficient - even as we remained tenacious in seizing opportunities.

It was going to allow us to be more tenacious – which is the original culture of Chikka that we wanted to preserve -- tenacity and resourcefulness -- the loose translations for the value and culture everyone in Chikka embraced and simply called – diskarte. And Chikka wanted to continue winning.

The challenging part has always been there and that is to stick to the discipline. A certification is never a guarantee. Everything was still up to management --- how we would use the tools that have been learned and that we keep validating.

The challenge was further to blend CMMI with the culture for that would have meant to us, perfection. Having the rigid and rigorous disciplines of documentation, along with the culture of speed, and tenacity, and winning.

Janette: When did Chikka got its CMMI level 5 confirmation?

Chito: In February 2006, Chikka hurdled the assessment, becoming the first mobile applications developer in the world to become a CMMI Maturity Level 5 organization.

Janette: What does being CMMI level 5 mean to Chikka? How about to its software engineering process group (SEPG) members?

Chito: For Chikka, being a CMMI Level 5 organization means that our operations are conducted to the highest level of IT standards. As an IT organization, this means that we raised the bar for competition in our space. We have literally lived the promise of CMMI for efficiency and productivity.

As for SEPG members, this presents a new exciting horizon for them --- a chance to make a difference in the organization, being in-charge of facilitating new and exciting changes that will help better the organization.

Janette: How is Chikka adjusting to the new policies being done in conjunction with CMMI that now requires regular audit?

Chito: Well, we acquired the services of a consultant; who was previously Head of our QA team. He maintains liaison for Chikka’s change requirements --- from the adoption of the new policies, to training new personnel.

Janette: What advice can Chito give to entities who are considering to invest in CMMI? (in terms of target budget on hand, sepg team, transition to new processes, the audit process, and maintenance)

Chito: Large or small, a company would like to pursue CMMI for all the advantages it would give in terms of business development and marketing but most importantly to be able to rest on correct analysis, as the basis for decision making, and ultimately action and execution. This is true more so in highly volatile industry and business environments, such that we all face now. You know, those things can make or break a company.

And should one decide to pursue, to get the commitment of the entire company, to aspire for and then to embrace CMMI as intrinsic to ones culture.

Invest, believe, but don’t expect miracles. CMMI is a long term improvement process. Benefits are gradually felt as you embed its policies in the organization’s culture.

Get help. Getting a consultant helped us and reduced our cycle time in understanding the changes on the new policies. Be vigilant on the audits. Ensure that things are set into the open, not kept in the dark. Real change can only happen when there is acceptance. And lastly, become the change.

(If you like to share your company's CMMI story, just contact Janette.)


  1. This is a wonderful interview and an awesome subject. Pleasantly surprised to learn that we now have a CMMI level 5 company. Thank you. May I include your blog in my Facebook link? Thanks.

  2. I thought Dennis Mendiola is still the CEO of Chikka.

  3. Nick - sure!

    Tyrone - Dennis is now the Chief Imagination Officer.