Even Indiana Jones hesitates when something is so easy to grab
Even Indiana Jones hesitates when something is so easy to grab (Filippo Cesarini / Unsplash)

Are Maturity Models the Holy Grail?

Maturity models are based on the idea that a set of characteristics or capabilities increases an organization’s chances of success in a particular area. Therefore, an organization that fosters these capabilities will be better positioned to succeed in a specific field.

Miguel Angel Rojas

They are plenty and very diverse maturity models for almost everything out there.

Today, one classic example is the huge amount of different transformation digital models that show how your organization should move towards its digital future.

They are usually shown as a pyramid where all the levels below them successively support the top layers. They seem to be the Holy Grail, the North Star you should follow wherever they signal.

Most maturity models are based on different levels, like the pyramids
Most maturity models are based on different levels, like the pyramids (Osama Elsayed / Unsplash)

Maturity models are based on the idea that a set of characteristics or capabilities increases an organization’s chances of success in a particular area. Therefore, an organization that fosters these capabilities will be better positioned to succeed in a specific field.

They are clearly on the hype these days, and they may be helpful …

… but I am not really a big fan of maturity models.

But we all know that not everything that glitters is gold, and we should be aware of some inherent issues (and upsides!) in this approach.

Let’s start by shedding some light on the shadows.

Five Downsides

Success does not always depend on being at the pinnacle of maturity, nor does it depend on the organization transforming its chosen positions. Instead, many organizations specifically decide to follow others or tackle parts of the market left behind by others.

  1. All maturity models suggest there is a predictable and consistent course toward success.

Which is usually dependent on the organization's ability to adopt or cultivate these specific capabilities. But truly disruptive and innovative organizations have not necessarily followed this pattern.

2. The components of the maturity models are derived from a broad analysis of multiple organizations.

But not all characteristics and success factors will apply to an individual organization or every type of position. It may not focus on what is needed most in a specific organization according to its strategy, nor does it help identify potential opportunities.

3. They are sometimes used as substitutes for rigorous strategic analysis and positioning.

In this case, the organization assumes that the eventual result will be the best possible outcome as long as they comply with the maturity model.

4. They do not always encourage satisfactory positions

Most of the time, preferable is better than perfect.

Yin and Yang is a concept of dualism in ancient Chinese philosophy
Yin and Yang is a concept of dualism in ancient Chinese philosophy (Wikipedia).

Five Advantages

But in the same way, as it happens to the Chinese Ying Yang philosophy, there are also silver linings:

  1. Maturity models can help identify the characteristics and capabilities needed to take a particular position
  2. They are also helpful in defining initiatives to cultivate valuable capabilities but remember they are inadequate for determining the position of an organization on the market.
  3. They usually collect the best common practices for the industry or market, but remember, best practices were never meant to provide a competitive advantage but to position your organization at the same level as your competitors.
  4. They clear your mind about how the future would look like if your organization follows its maturity path.
  5. They remove uncertainty by showing potential risks your organization may wish to manage beforehand.

Summary

Maturity models are more helpful to organizations that have already defined their desired position and want to understand how it maps to other organizations which have already taken that journey. In addition, they are extremely helpful if your organization wishes to follow in the footsteps of those who have already been successful.

However, they are not appropriate tools for those organizations willing to disrupt industries, markets, or economies. Mainly because these positions are not mature or firmly established yet.

In the beginning, the most disruptive organizations are often relatively immature to some scales.

In the end, they set the example others will rush to imitate.

They are very useful tools if you know how to make the most of them. But you also should bear in mind their risks and develop a critical spirit to avoid being caught off-guard in the future!

And remember, best practices were never meant to provide a competitive advantage for anyone…

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Miguel Angel Rojas

Restless human being, in a continuous journey of research to get the best version of myself. I hope it never ends.