Context: Diagnosing processes in a small company requires process assessment practices which give qualitative and quantitative results; these should offer an overall view of the process capability. The purpose is to obtain relevant information about the running of processes, for use in their control and improvement. However, small organizations have some problems in running process assessment, due to their specific characteristics and limitations. Objective: This paper presents a methodology for assessing software processes which assist the activity of software process diagnosis in small organizations. There is an attempt to address issues such as the fact that: (i) process assessment is expensive and typically requires major company resources and (ii) many light assessment methods do not provide information that is detailed enough for diagnosing and improving processes. Method: To achieve all this, the METvalCOMPETISOFT assessment methodology was developed. This methodology: (i) incorporates the strategy of internal assessments known as rapid assessment, meaning that these assessments do not take up too much time or use an excessive quantity of resources, nor are they too rigorous and (ii) meets all the requirements described in the literature for an assessment proposal which is customized to the typical features of small companies. Results: This paper also describes the experience of the application of this methodology in eight small software organizations that took part in the COMPETISOFT project. The results obtained show that this approach allows us to obtain reliable information about the strengths and weaknesses of software processes, along with information to companies on opportunities for improvement. Conclusion: The assessment methodology proposed sets out the elements needed to assist with diagnosing the process in small organizations step-by-step while seeking to make its application economically feasible in terms of resources and time. From the initial application it may be seen that this assessment methodology can be useful, practical and suitable for diagnosing processes in this type of organizations. 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.