No Maturity Models, But Individual Competence

There are dozens of maturity models in the world of software development and in other business environments. But I find the concept of maturity models of little use, and perhaps even a bit offensive.

How would you rate the “maturity” of marketing agencies? Would you measure how well they are able to perform tasks like conversion of graphics files, ad placement negotiations, and search engine optimization? Or would you simply look at the success of their marketing campaigns, like this one? How would you rate the “maturity” of plumbers? Would you measure their ability to wield pipes, pumps, gauges, and valves? Or would you just consider whether they are leaving behind happy housemen and housewives? Like some other managers and writers I believe maturity models are too narrowly focused on processes.

While well intentioned, many of these models are mechanistic and […] invariably fail to recognize that the sole compelling reason for a firm to develop business process management practices at the enterprise level is to improve the performance of the organization in delivering value to customers and shareholders. Accordingly, many of these ‘Process Maturity’ models do not explicitly take into account the following two fundamental realities: 1) Organizations are both complex business and complex social systems; 2) Exemplary business process management performance demands that leaders work collaboratively and cross-functionally. – Andrew Spanyi "Beyond Process Maturity to Process Competence"

Organizations are living systems. Assigning one rank (a maturity level) to an entire organization is just as useless, and potentially offensive, as assigning one single rating to me, Jurgen Appelo, for everything that I am, produce, and stand for. It flies in the face of complex thinking. Therefore I don’t believe that maturity models are the proper way to address and assess professionalism in organizations.

If it is performance that really counts, then we need to go beyond maturity to look at how an organization develops business process competence. – Andrew Spanyi "Beyond Process Maturity to Process Competence"

I prefer talking about (individual) competence over (corporate) maturity. Let's try and make people competent, instead of attempting to make organizations mature.

(image: Sukanto Debnath)

This article will be part of the book Management 3.0: Leading Agile Developers, Developing Agile Leaders. You can follow its progress here.

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  • Scott Duncan

    I found it interesting when I heard Watts Humphrey talk about why he was motivated to start the PSP (Personal Software Process) effort. Apparently, in going around to high(er) maturity organizations, he noted that individual developers were rarely more “mature” than those at low(er) maturity organizations. So he developed the PSP program to address improving skills in understanding, estimating, performing, etc. at the individual, not organizational, level.

  • Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist

    I agree with the notion that many Maturity models are of little use. I will even add that those few Maturity Models offering promise are not useful either because they are not properly applied or correctly interpreted. I just can’t accept your response of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
    I have found properly designed Maturity Models optimized for specific business processes to be quite useful – as long as they address every dimension required to ascertain process maturity (few do).
    Note I am talking about process maturity vs. organizational maturity. I am not even sure what the latter means. I do know that understanding and managing process maturity is essential if the organization is to have any chance of establishing the right process flavor and fit to meet their specific business objectives.
    Few processes are everything they need to be at their onset. Institutionalizing processes is a journey – taken in thoughtful iterative phases. Every organization must establish the goal for any process they implement and maturity models provide a great approach for measuring progress in the steps required to meeting that goal.
    Established and standardized maturity models are also useful in determing and validating the business value of moving from one defined level to another. On a scale of 1 – 5, one organization may reach optimal process performance at Level 3 for their specific objectives while another organization will only realize their process goals when they reach Level 5. This is far from an exact science. It not only requires a well designed maturity model, it requires expertise to apply and ensure its proper use.
    I will concede, I have found few organizations with the ability to avoid the maturity model pitfalls you describe in your post.
    Steve Romero, IT Governance Evangelist

  • D. André Dhondt

    The idea of maturity models is often used to sell training or certifications–but what if we had a way to invert the relationship–the community decided the value of the course or cert–well, this is what the Agile Skills Project is all about… all non-profit, and currently free:

  • Dennis Stevens

    I have been meaning to respond to this for several weeks. It isn’t until just now that I find the time. But I feel passionately that your direction here is misguided. I fundamentally disagree with the assertion that capability maturity models like CMMI and OPM3 are either useless or in conflict with the development of competencies.
    Just like everything – there is baggage with maturity models and there are bad implementations of maturity models.
    There is value in maturity models. Take a look at either OPM3 or CMMI. They depict a list of outcomes that you should be concerned with if you are running projects or developing software. Deciding to intentionally improve the performance of a capability is worthwhile in most organizations. Why should an organization self organize until they discover the importance of these capabilities? That is wasteful. Understanding where there are gaps in capabilities in organizations can be very helpful.
    This doesn’t imply that competency takes a back seat. PMI has a Project Managers Competency Framework that aligns with the PMBoK. It defines the types of knowledge, skills and aptitudes that should exist for a project manager to be successful.
    We use capability models to identify the constraints on performance in an organization. We use role/competency alignment to help get people in the right jobs.
    I agree that capability assessment without competency development is not productive. If people aren’t competent they won’t be able to be successful at their jobs. But I also stipulate the competency development without a focus on improving the organizations capabilities is likely to be wasteful. I have seen large amounts of waste in time, energy and dollars when teams send everyone (or a large number of people) in an organization to develop competencies when they don’t have a specific intention in improving a capability that is hindering performance in the organization.
    My point is that both are useful. This is not an either or discussion.

  • Jurgen Appelo

    My problem with such models is not the lists of “things that could be valuable to you”.
    My problem is the benchmarks and rankings. I find those misleading. They give a false sense of security.
    It is the _way_ that maturity models are marketed _and_ used in our industry that is the problem.
    For example: look at the SWEBOK (software engineering body of knowledge). That is also a valuable list of knowledge and practices. But NOT with the pretence of being able to use it as a benchmark or ranking for an organization.

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    No Maturity Models, But Individual Competence – Agile Management | NOOP.NL

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