Should we do a maturity assessment

By ITIL® from Experience©

It is relatively common for consultants to recommend a maturity assessment. Maturity assessments can be useful when used for the right purpose.

For example, maturity assessments can be used to:

  • Ensure a common understanding of the current state
  • Show the need to change and rally people and stakeholders
  • Act as input to develop a roadmap for an improvement program
  • Kick start another round of improvements when a plateau has been reached
  • Find gaps to focus a project's effort
  • Support the business case to justify investment
  • Measure progress made thus far to justify additional funding for improvement initiatives

ITIL® defines a maturity assessment as “A measure of the reliability, efficiency and effectiveness of a process, function, organization etc.”1 2 . Thus, it is the equivalent of measuring the vital signs of a patient, like taking the pulse and blood pressure. These tests and measures is not a diagnosis. The doctor still needs to interpret the results to prescribe the appropriate medicine, diet or change in life style. As such "A process maturity assessment will not in itself provide the data to justify how much to spend on improving process."3 4

Conducting a maturity assessment against a process can identify areas of improvement or concern5 . In a small organization this can be done quite effectively by talking to customers, employees, suppliers and managers without conducting an expensive study. On the other hand, formal assessments can be useful in a large organization whose ITSM program is executed across divisions and geography.

A word of caution is in order regarding suppliers offering maturity assessments using their own methods, tools and evaluation criterion. Even though they often map their results against the common five-levels of process maturity6 the challenge is that unless the same vendor and methodology is used for all assessments their results cannot be compared objectively. Another approach is to acquire an assessment toolset and to train your staff to conduct maturity measurements. Table 5.1 of the ITIL® Continuous Service Improvement book provides pros and cons of using external resources vs. performing self-assessments (2011 Edition, p. 76).

Another reason for a maturity assessment is management’s desire to know how the organization compares to others in their industry. However, "The proprietary nature of vendor-generated models may make it difficult to compare to industry standards."7 For this reason, using a professional services firm with an established maturity assessment practice in your industry is advisable. Regardless, industry comparison still requires analysis in order to interpret findings so that conclusions makes sense given the organization’s size, culture and business reality. Similarly, a maturity assessment will not result in a roadmap for improvements.

A maturity assessment provides the highest value when it is performed with a specific goal in mind. First, determine the objective and what it will be used for. Specifically, will the measures be used to: validate, direct, justify or intervene?8

Without a clear objective why it is being done and without a repeatable methodology maturity assessments can be a waste of time and money. Next, make sure that the output of the maturity assessment provides an action plan. After all, measuring the pulse of a patient and knowing that it is dangerously low is of little value if there is no action plan to correct the situation. It is like producing reports where "The assessment can become an end in itself rather than the means to an end."9

A Maturity Assessment is an academic and perhaps a political exercise that is useless if it does not result in a plan for action.

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