A colleague just pointed me to a ZapThink post last month entitled Forget Maturity ModelsIt’s time for an agility model.  It turns out the types of maturity model ZapThink would like us to forget are CMMI and any SOA maturity model.  They don’t specifically call out the Business-IT Maturity Model that has been a recurring theme of this blog since I started it in October 2007.  That’s fortunate, because for me, saying “forget the maturity model” would be tantamount to saying “forget breathing”!

ZapThink makes a valid point when they argue that, “companies flock to maturity models…  without adequately understanding what they are meant to measure.”   They further argue, “Does the measure of maturity factor in the average of all the activities in the organization, the most advanced, or the least advanced? Does the maturity model measure the company organization-wide, on a department-by-department basis, or on a per-project basis? Without understanding what the maturity model measures, it’s hard to say if it truly is any real measure of maturity.”  I believe these are all valid questions.  A useful maturity model should be able to be applied to a company, an organization, a department, or any unit of analysis.  They keys here are:

  1. Figuring out the “question behind the question.”  i.e., What maturity are we trying to assess (e.g., business demand, IT supply, solution delivery? )  If we knew the answer, what would we do about it? (e.g., are we assessing to understand?  to make a comparison? to motivate improvement?  to communicate?  to gauge progress?) 
  2. Identifying the appropriate “unit of analysis.”  i.e., For what domains? (e.g., department, business unit, business process, enterprise?) 

ZapThink goes on to argue that what is needed is, “a way of measuring the state of a SOA implementation against the fundamental goal of SOA itself: agility.”  I think this is valid, although I think the goal of IT is to enable business agility and innovativeness – SOA is a means to that end.  Characteristics of mature business demand tend to be “faster, cheaper, easier, and more agile.  As such, IT supply needs to aspire to meeting this demand, and SOA, among other means such as global talent sourcing, continuous learning and development, rapid experimentation and business simulation, agile policies, are all ways to achieve this.

ZapThink raises the crucial question, “how does one measure Agility?”  They suggest seven “degrees of freedom” that are applicable to a given system.  These are a useful starting point, and are supplemented by a robust literature on dimensions and characteristics of agility.  The nature of your business strategy and competitive environment will probably suggest which agility dimensions are the most critical to your context.

So, I think ZapThink raises some good points – agility is an increasingly valued attribute, and IT can be a powerful enabler, or a restricting limiter of business agility.   And a good maturity model should help you figure out where you are in realizing the goals of agility, and what you can do to become more agile.  But “forgetting maturity models” does not seem to me to be good advice – quite the contrary!