Assessing the value of “maturity models”

by | Apr 10, 2018 | Collaboration, Digital workplace, Information Management

How I envy communications teams working on digital media marketing projects. They have a wealth of metrics to assess the performance of their digital channels and can also benchmark their efforts against those of direct and indirect competitors. Inside the enterprise the benefit is that every user has a name, position and usually some form of profile. The downside is that internal communications (and that covers intranets, social media, collaboration and search) usually have little or no idea of whether their efforts are good, bad or just indifferent. Employee engagement surveys are not a good diagnostic tool. In the case of intranets there is the excellent (and recently re-energised) Worldwide Intranet Challenge. This does provide a qualitative benchmark to help organisations decide on priorities, and of course it can be run again a year or two years later. It has the benefit of scale, with 80,000 responses from 250 organisations. No other benchmark survey that I know of gets anywhere close to this level of validation.

Digital workplace maturity models are becoming increasingly numerous. Probably the most rigorous is the Digital Workplace Group, though I’m guessing here because the methodology is not in the public domain. One of the early pioneers in both intranet and digital workplace benchmarking is Jane McConnell (NetJMC). Jane started out in 2006 with an intranet benchmark survey and then smoothly transitioned into digital workplace research in 2011. Typically around 300 organisations complete the survey, and it is about as close as we can get at present to a longitudinal survey in which the same cohort of respondents is tracked over a period of time. I must not forget the IntraTeam benchmarking service and there is also a digital workplace maturity report from Deloitte

Sometimes what appears to be a digital workplace maturity model turns out to be something else. An example would be the model developed by Swoop Analytics which turns out to be an enterprise social networking maturity model – an interesting approach but not what it says on the tin. I commented recently on the challenges of ESN metrics.  I’m also aware of a UX Maturity Model an Analytic Maturity Model and the Garter Enterprise Information Management Maturity model. In the case of collaboration Stan Garfield has published a list of over 30 maturity models. This list dates back to mid-2016 and I am sure that more have emerged since that time.

Most maturity models are designed around a set of heuristics that can be used by an organisation to provide a qualitative assessment of maturity.With any maturity model there is always the danger that the complexity of using the model is out of balance with the benefits that might be gained. I’ve been reading with interest The Virtual Team Maturity Model (VTMM) developed by Ralf Friedrich as a PhD project. He identified eleven processes that were factors in determining virtual team success. The rigour of the analysis, the development of the model and then the validation in practice is exceptional but Springer has done a serious disservice to the author in publishing it as a 364p trade paperback which because of the perfect binding is impossible to open flat and read. The quality of the English text is very good but it reads like a PhD thesis. There is no way I could recommend it to a client so I won’t be publishing a review.

It takes a substantial amount of effort to develop a maturity model. I can speak from personal experience as I have been working on an enterprise search maturity model since 2010! It does not help when I find myself asking what the value of a maturity model really is. Providing a metric for maturity is not the same as understanding what the requirements are (and will be) of employees and stakeholders. I often feel that a maturity model is a stand-in for not having the resources to assess these requirements not just on a one-off basis but as a way of measuring the impact of the actions taken, or not taken. If you need to have a maturity assessment undertaken to justify to stakeholders that investment in resources, tools and training is required then I fear you are never going to transform your organisation. The voice of the employee has to be heard above the noise of self-congratulation. It’s worth reading a very good opinion piece from Martin Fowler on the subject of maturity models in general.

If a maturity model starts a constructive discussion about visions and options then I can see the value. Using it as a way to shape a roadmap and a project plan and then measure progress is not sensible.

Martin White