Simplest business tool, hardly ever used

Have you ever heard of a “maturity assessment” or “maturity model?”

Maturity is so simple that I’m surprised that everyone doesn’t use it for everything they do in business. Especially if you are a large organization…maturity is a great way to identify and determine measurable areas for improvement.

The original maturity model was created to evaluate government IT contractors and quickly evolved into a tool for all IT to assess itself against a measurable standard.

There have been several models created since then, but they aren’t widely known. In USAA, we created a Document Management Maturity Model (The DM3) and we use it every day to strategically improve enterprise document management across the company.

Why do I say it’s so simple?

Because it really is.

A maturity model is traditionally measured across five levels (1-5). These levels are very simple to understand once you think about them. Most companies today operate at a level 1 or 2…few operate at 3. Operating at a
4 or a 5 probably isn’t seen often.

Let me explain the levels:

Level 1 is what I call AdHoc. This means that what you do is completely without a repeatable approach. Every instance of it is a one-off occurrence. I worked with Rackspace before, and they had a culture of “Fanatical Customer Service.” This meant that every customer engagement was treated as a one-off or AdHoc service offering. What this means is that you aren’t doing things in a repeatable manner that, from a quality manner could be considered easily measurable or improvable.

Level 2 is what I call Siloed. So, here you have established repeatable approaches to what you do, but every organization, team, department, whatever, (silo) does it their own way. So, now it’s measurable and you can effectively improve it, but the system is sub-optimized because it only applies to one area.

Level 3 is what I call Integrated. That is what I would refer to as a mature organization. Getting to Level 3 really doesn’t take a great deal of work, but getting past this is difficult in comparison. What this means is that you have tied the silos together by building translation systems that allow the silos to operate as one…or at least look like they operate as one. You are still Siloed, but what you do works together.

Level 4 is what I call Incorporated. This is where you throw out the silos and rebuild the system to operate as one entity. No longer do you have a bunch of translation systems “patching” between activities…everything is built to operate as one system. Essentially, taking an end-to-end view from a customer’s perspective and redesigning the value chain could get you to Level 4.

Level 5 is what I call Best in Class. Why do I call it this when I haven’t researched what Best in Class actually looks like? Well, if you get here, you have no where else to go. So, by default, you would be Best in Class. If you haven’t come to the realization of this statement, let me explain. Everyone can become Best in Class at what they do–there is room at the top for everyone. People think that becoming Best in Class means you have to be better than others…no…it means you are the best at what you can do. Level 5 is not about what you do operating any better, now the area that is measured is actually influencing everything else around it to make everything else work better.

To make maturity models simpler to understand, we actually make them more difficult to understand. The levels are across the top, but then we break the thing we’re measuring into functional areas down the left-hand side of the model. This allows you to silo the major aspects of an organization or activity into pieces that you can focus effort on. These areas should be functional in nature, not organizational.

What you will find is that regardless of how you break up the thing you are measuring for maturity, all the functions interact with each other to make the whole more or less successful.

For instance, in the model we created at USAA, we have two functions called Strategy and Governance. A strategy by itself without governance is just a document that has no accountability. I can develop the strategy maturity but without a governance structure to implement and control, it pretty much is only a doorstop.

In the same vein, having a robust governance structure without a strategy developed for the structure to govern is pretty much a waste too.

However, by splitting strategy and governance into two functions, it allowed us to better focus on developing each of them somewhat independent of each other based on their levels of current maturity. If you don’t break THE thing that you are measuring into functions, it’s kind of like trying to drain the swamp to kill all the alligators–too much work.

At the last ASQ conference, I talked to a few organizations that were actually applying an organization-wide maturity model to their operations. When you sit down and think about the simplicity of maturity, it makes sense how everyone could use this.

I suggest you take a look at what you do and look at it through a maturity lens. What maturity level do you think you operate at today and why? What would be the step to get you to the next level? That’s the other simplicity to maturity assessments…you only need to focus on getting to the next level so you don’t have to completely tear down your organization and rebuild it to improve and become more mature.

Now, if you look at yourself and see that you are at Level 1–completely AdHoc–you might want to redesign your organization to jump to Level 4, Incorporated and be done with it. This can be a lot of change that people might not be ready for. However, once your are up and running, it is a lot easier to get to Level 5 and takes less time if you went this approach.

I would love your thoughts and would like to hear your past experiences with maturity models.


About johnrknotts
John Knotts is a results-oriented business professional leader, manager, and supervisor with experience from the military, small business, several nonprofits, and is currently a management consultant. Working out of the San Antonio, Texas, he retired from the Air Force in July 2008 and worked with Booz Allen Hamilton from the end of October 2008 to December 2011. Now he is a Strategic Business Adviser with USAA. John leads large and small strategic transformations and has extensive experience in the areas of change management, strategic planning, process improvement, strategic communication and marketing, strategic human capital and resource management, education and training, facilitation, organizational design and development, modeling and simulation, financial and budget analysis, activity based costing and management, quality management, competitive sourcing and privatization, leadership development, and business development.

2 Responses to Simplest business tool, hardly ever used

  1. Hal says:

    Good info but….”So What?
    No tangibles for implementation

    • Lee says:

      After working in organizations that operate at different maturity levels the “So What?” is the amount of difficulty and energy required to perform the job. In an ad hoc organization the consistency is the inconsistency. I have also seen problems occur, get fixed, then resurface within six months. When a company operates at the highest maturity level, employees view other sections as “internal customers” not just another section.

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