Whether you are a sportsperson competing for a gold medal or a just someone checking your hair in the mirror, we all measure ourselves against our view of perfection. Are we good enough to compete? Are we up to standard? This natural human behaviour is what drives us to improve and to evolve. We see this behaviour in the business world too, which is why there is so much interest in thing like best practice and comparison with benchmarks. And it is why we use the capability maturity model when we evaluate IT functions.
Introducing the capability maturity model
The capability maturity model is a natural way to evaluate where you are at and find out how you can improve. A capability is your ability to carry out an activity, and capability maturity reflects the growth in ability that comes through experience and practice.
You evaluate your capabilities against a 4 or 5-level maturity model, each level building on the previous as maturity progresses. The idea is that we all start out as beginners with very little knowledge of how best to perform a particular function, but that over time we gain experience, establish standard processes and start using common tools. We progress through apprentice to intermediate levels at which stage we know what we need to do, and generally are capable of consistently performing the tasks required. For some people achieving this level is enough but others will go on to reach an advanced level through practice and experience over time. In some rare instances they may gain such mastery that they are regarded as the experts in their field.
We like the capability maturity model approach because there is no implied judgement. You are not evaluating yourself as good or bad, right or wrong. It’s a graduated scale of achievement that identifies your level of experience and maturity. Where you are is where you are. We find client’s like it for this too and because the concept is easy to grasp and use.
The problem with IT capability maturity – no standard of standards
Whatever your specific IT domain (or area of interest) there is highly likely to be a way of assessing yourself against some view of a “perfect” state. Various organisations have developed their own approaches to evaluate aspects of the IT function, based on their specific view of the IT world. You might use ITIL to assess your service management capability, CMMI to assess your software development capabilities, or EAMM to assess your enterprise architecture.
Not only are there industry groups devoted to developing these, but the vendors have got in on the act too. For example you can assess your Data Governance for Privacy and Confidentiality using Microsoft’s DGPC model, or use Gartner’s BI maturity model to see how your business intelligence rates. Sometime these types of models are sales tools in disguise; sometimes they are genuine independent evaluation tools.
Unfortunately not all of these models use the same definitions and terminology, and there are different views on how many levels are required. As a result it is difficult to have a consistent approach across all of IT. For example if you use the ITIL terms and levels in a project involving a Microsoft assessment.
Our standard approach – the FurleyDigital IT Capability Maturity Model
IT needs a common language that anyone can easily understand, and a common maturity model that can be used consistently across every IT domain. So we developed the FurleyDigital Capability Maturity Model. It distinguishes 5 levels of functional maturity:
- Basic– you have no process in place, or didn’t know you should have one. You are a beginner
- Initial – some people are using their own repeatable processes, but there is no consistent approach and a high reliance on individuals. Your capability is emerging but you are an apprentice.
- Intermediate – you have defined a standard process for this function but it is not advanced and perhaps not yet used everyone, so there are fluctuations in outputs. You are a capable intermediate level.
- Advanced– you have a standard system (and some capable tools) that everyone uses and you are measuring compliance and outputs. You can call yourself accomplished or advanced in this function.
- Ultimate – you have an automated process, are comparing yourselves (positively) to best practice, focusing on continuous improvement and providing value. You are masters and others see you as an example to which they aspire.
Here’s the picture version:
Comparing to other models
Most capability maturity models use the same basic concept but differ in the names of each level. Some models do not acknowledge there is level one (with nothing in place), while others have different ways of viewing the top level, or criteria to reach each level.
One organisation uses the words “Lagging” and “Achieving” to indicate levels 2 (Initial) and 3 (Intermediate) and the words “Exceeding” and “Leading” for levels 4 and 5. Another uses “Basic, Standardised, Rationalised and Dynamic” for these levels.
We’ve found it is useful to distinguish all 5 levels, but recognise that level 1 is only used to identify an area that has been overlooked, and that attaining level 5 is extremely rare. Our experience is that most functions rate a 2 or 3 in a typical organisation, with scores of 4 being notable exceptions, and 5 being very rare.
Observations from using the Capability Maturity Model
Maturity models are a powerful frame of reference. While you will find the model very useful to highlight areas that need work, and to guide improvement activities, you should also bear in mind that not every IT function needs to score a 4 or 5. In most cases you’ll be doing very well if you can make level 3. In some cases level 2 can be good enough .
Capability targets vary depending on the relative importance of the capability. We recommend clients work through the process of developing an IT Value Proposition. This process clarifies what they must do to really add value to the business, and identifies the necessary capabilities to achieve it. These are the ones you should focus on and where you should score a 4 or better.
Note also that the maturity scale gets progressively more difficult. It is easier to progress from the lower levels to an intermediate level than to move from the intermediate level to the advanced level. There can only be a very few world leaders, so we do not often come across clients that can genuinely rate themselves at the Ultimate level 5. However that shouldn’t stop you from trying. The sportsperson keeps motivated and focused by aiming for the gold medal and like them we all benefit from increasingly our capabilities.