Why I dislike…

maturity-model…(so called) ‘maturity models’.

You know the ones I mean:

They are drawn up with an answer already in mind…and there’s seemingly one ‘out there’ for every ‘silver bullet.’

They are broken into:

  • a supposed linear 1 to 5 scale; and
  • neat horizontal swim lanes of supposedly important sub-categories.

The wording to articulate each point on the scale is contrived to work for the author’s intent. They start off as ‘black’ on the left (obviously undesirable), finish as ‘white’ on the right (i.e. heavenly) and go through a torturous swamp of grey in-between.

The people involved in designing and then scoring ‘our position on’ the scale are ‘in management’ (often assisted by some external consultants)…with little or no (meaningful) inclusion of the front line or customers i.e. those that would actually know about reality.

Scoring is performed based on opinions (perhaps in workshops, or via surveys), not the facts at the gemba.

Each team employing such a maturity scale is miraculously1 led to self-score themselves somewhere between a 1 and 2 at the start.

Management then use this ‘shocking’ score to justify the investment in a transformation programme (often given a name that is dripping in propaganda). Such a programme contains a wondrous set of initiatives to move2 the organisation from a ‘1.5’ score, up to a target3 score of ‘5′.

…and finally, each organisation stops once they reach a (self declared) ‘4’, saying that this is how far they need to go – a 5 now being seen as somehow no longer important. They stop because everyone’s got bored of it and/or they’ve used up their budget…and want to move onto another shiny new thing.

BUT…and this is the biggie…before, during and after this maturity exercise, they retain, and promote, management’s current faulty logic on ‘implementing change’.

An observation: A fundamental fault with the ‘maturity model movement’ is that each model has an end point (the supposed end of the journey). If this were so then the likes of Toyota would presumably have stopped improving decades ago.

A reflection:  I was asked by a comrade as to whether I believed that ‘maturity models’ could be of use4.

So, er, yes…there could most definitely be some positives BUT I’d suggest that these will be limited in scope, scale and duration….so not really transformational.

Now, if you think that you’ve got a maturity framework that would change management’s fundamental beliefs and behaviours…then you are very welcome to share this with me and anyone else reading this blog.

 A closing ‘cover my arse’ comment: I ‘get’ that many of you reading this will have ‘successfully’ used maturity models in your careers to date. This post is just me jotting down my thoughts on why I have a problem with them. It’s merely therapy for me 🙂


1. Not so miraculous when you consider that the people wanting the organisation to implement ‘the change’ wrote (or copied) the scale and its associated wording. It would be no good if you were already a 4 or 5.

2. When I say ‘move’ I actually mean ‘look for any evidence’ that could justify arguing that you are now a rather wonderful 4!

3. regarding ‘target’ – management will likely have baked some success criteria into their existing (and hugely flawed) cascaded objectives and incentives framework…meaning that they are somewhat biased in looking for favourable outcomes.

4. A few of those around me are always trying to get me to ‘see the positives’ in things 🙂


3 thoughts on “Why I dislike…

  1. Great post.

    Akin to “maturity models” are “development models”. Arguably, they are one and the same but use different language. Is your level of “maturity” the same as your level of “development”? If we answer “yes” to this then there are some models to take a look at.

    Models that don’t assume an end point. Models that measure changes in fundamental beliefs and behaviours. Models that create sufficient awareness to support transformation.

    Frederic Laloux’s work on re-inventing organisations might be a start to explore: http://www.strategy-business.com/article/00344?gko=10921

    Of course, if we decide that “maturity” and “development” are different things then at least we will have gained more clarity.

    Clarity is a powerful form of therapy :-).


    • I finally got round to reading the Laloux article.

      Yep, very good…and (I believe that) it has a huge overlap/ fit with most (all?) of what I’ve written to date on this blog.

      It’s always nice to come across a few more ‘case studies’ to a) read more about and b) discuss with those who hold a view that it’s all just a pipe dream. It’s also really nice not to require the ‘T’ word* in an article.

      I particularly like the Buurtzorg example; I’ve previously watched a good TED talk about Morning Star (shared by a fellow blog reader); and I sort of knew about Patagonia. I note that Laloux didn’t use Handelsbanken – perhaps for the same reason as the ‘T’ word? (i.e. has been used a lot already)

      I note with interest the article’s ‘two necessary conditions’ of 1. top leadership and 2. ownership. It reminds me of Chapter 5 of my earlier serial post ‘Your Money or your Life!’: https://squiretothegiants.wordpress.com/2016/10/15/chapter-5-avoiding-armageddon/

      Sadly, without these two necessary conditions then, in my view, most of what is done within an organisation will be limited and unsustainable. But, rather than giving up, I often reflect back to Alfie Kohn’s two parallel tracks quote: https://squiretothegiants.wordpress.com/2014/12/03/two-parallel-tracks/

      Of course the comedy is that ‘management’ at many a traditional organisation might read Laloux’s article, see it as some new ‘methodology’ (rather than a way of thinking and behaving) and launch an implementation plan to ‘do it to themselves’. Unlikely to end up in transformation!


      *…the ‘T’ word is Toyota just in case you hadn’t guessed. I love what Toyota has achieved…but it’s no good using an organisation as the ‘one and only’ example.

      Liked by 1 person

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