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Global Development Institute

Analysing the Organisational Risk and Change of CMM Software Process Improvement in a Nearshoring Firm

Martha Marcias-Garza and Richard Heeks


Nearshoring and offshoring of software work to developing countries is an activity with high uncertainty. Developing country firms have tried to reduce uncertainty by adopting software process improvement initiatives - such as ISO 900X and CMM - that lead to appraisal or certification. Relatively little, though, is known about the organisational risks and change involved with such appraisal in developing countries. This paper provides a case study to address this issue: the attempt by a Mexican nearshoring software firm - Softtek - to attain CMM's highest level of quality measure.

Avoiding the limitations of simple factor-based approaches to analysing software process improvement the paper, instead, uses a contingent model - the design-reality gap model - as its framework for analysis. It applies the model to identify initial sources of risk, and then shows how those risks were addressed by management in order to successfully achieve CMM appraisal. The design-reality gap model is thus shown to be a useful tool for analysis of risk and change in software firms - nearshoring, offshoring, and others. Some tentative lessons for management of software process improvement are also drawn.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. Give a cost/benefit analysis of CMM appraisal for a developing country software exporter. [Part A]
  2. Explain the model used to analyse risk and change. [Part B]
  3. What were the main initial sources of risk for CMM appraisal in Softtek? [Part C1]
  4. What organisational changes were undertaken to support CMM appraisal? [Part C2]
  5. What overall messages does the paper give about CMM appraisal and about the design-reality gap model? [Part D]

Development questions

  1. Overall, if you were advising a different offshoring or nearshoring firm in a developing country, would you recommend attempting CMM appraisal?
  2. What are the dangers of undertaking change initiatives in a software firm that are propelled by overseas, external drivers rather than by internal drivers?
  3. There are few, if any, signs within the case study of "traditional" developing country issues. Why is that?
  4. What specific issues face nearshoring and offshoring software firms in relation to software process improvement appraisal?
  5. Look at one of the cited papers that takes a factor-based approach to understanding software process improvement as an organisational change (Stelzer & Mellis 1998, Dyba 2000, Jakobsen et al 2003). Is this type of approach to analysing change better or worse than the design-reality gap approach?
  6. Find a different but detailed individual case study of software process improvement and apply the design-reality gap model to it.