How to assess process maturity from a people perspective

bottom upProcess maturity models originally come from the software and IT area. I have found most to be heavily focused on documentation and automation. So how do you assess your company’s process maturity in terms of actual behavior? That is the topic of this post.

Why look at process maturity?

Modern organizations embrace the concept of the “process driven company”. They want to grow, scale, deliver consistently and become less dependent on individuals and processes represent the way to get there. Process maturity models offer a way to understand how far you have come in this journey and where you should go next. This makes a process maturity perspective very useful as a guide.

The current models leave out people

I have done some light research on process maturity models. Here are the highlights. Most experts seem to agree that the concept was developed in the mid-nineties by the US Department of Defense and the Software Engineering Institute. The Department of Defense wanted to find out which software developers that were most likely to deliver on time and budget. This required an ability to assess the maturity of each organization. The “

 became a spin-off of this work.

By 2003 the model was developed to apply more widely than software alone and to extend to many other business processes than IT. This is today known as the “Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI)”. It seems to be the most widely recognized model for assessing an organization’s process management level. Other well known models include Michael Hammer’s model for a Process Audit and Gartner’s Process Maturity Model.

Such models seem useful when assessing large organizations that invest heavily in automating high-frequency, core processes, such as supply chain. However, when it comes to assessing the maturity of processes with a lot of manual steps, then they seem to miss the key variable in the process driven company – people!

It is not enough to assess if processes are documented, controlled and audited. Companies also need to assess if processes are understood and used by the people that execute them. Too often I see examples of extensive process documentation that is being maintained at great cost in a corner of the organization – without anybody else having any real knowledge of these. Other times I see expensive and extensive process mapping exercises hidden away in PowerPoint presentations. These companies may live up to standards and deliver on audits but are they true examples of process driven companies? Hardly.

Bringing People Into the Process Maturity Assessment

To supplement the advanced level process maturity models I propose a much simpler approach. This should help answer the following key questions:

  • Do we have a common language for how a given activity is performed? (a core, enabling or governing activity)
  • Can we draw a common visual representation on how we collaborate on it? (a swim-lane diagram perhaps)
  • What proportion of our people work in this way?
  • How do we keep it alive and present so we keep improving it?
With these questions in mind we propose this simple process maturity model for smaller organizations or business units within larger enterprises:



This model leaves out a lot of assessment criteria – that’s the purpose. However, it may provide a better real indicator on progress towards becoming a real process driven company. Smaller organizations may not need anything else than this – just thinking of process maturity seems to be advanced in many management teams. Large enterprises could probably use it for many of its cross-functional, end-to-end processes, since these are heavily dependent on collaboration and real adoption by people.

To assess your company’s process method using this model will require a method for observing people’s actual behavior that goes beyond sending questionnaires, or doing occasional audits.

What do you think? Comments and criticisms are appreciated…

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By Søren Pommer @ gluu | November 8, 2013

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