What is an Agile Maturity Model?

The topic of Agile maturity models is not new to the Agile community. For example, Martin Proulx of Analytical Mind recently published, as he says, ‘yet another agile maturity model” that provides an interesting discussion as well as additional links on this topic. Although periodically discussed, it is not at all clear that these discussions are converging toward a common definition. In fact, there seems to be a fair amount of confusion on this topic. What we really are talking about when we say we are talking about Agile Maturity models is not always clear.

Most of us would probably agree that the phrase “Agile Maturity Model” does not mean what it appears to mean. We really don’t mean the word “Agile” to describe maturity models in the sense that the word “blue” describes “blue cars”. So what do we mean by “Agile maturity model”? Do we really mean for “Agility” to be the subject of the maturity model? Do we really mean to say Maturity model for Agility?

At first blush this seems more plausible, but the answer is still no. We are not interested in the maturity of Agility as an abstract concept. Rather, we are interested in agility as a quality of something else. In particular, we are interested in “things” that mature in the sense of becoming more agile over time. From a practical perspective, it’s also important that we can clearly observe (i.e. measure) what we mean by becoming more agile over time.

So what we are really talking about is:

Maturity model for something (as yet undefined) that gets (measurably) Agile over time.

Now we might be able to say what an Agile Maturity Model is if we can define:

  1. Maturity model,
  2. thing, and
  3. measurably.

I’d add “Agile” to the list except that I am afraid then you really would lose patience with me (if you haven’t already).

What is a Maturity model?

Let’s look at some examples:

  1. Erikson’s (8) stages of psychosocial development: The developmental stages of a person — Infant, Toddler, Pre-School, Childhood, Adolescent, Young Adult, Middle Adult, Senior.
  2. Metamorphosis, the four stages of a butterfly’s life: Egg, Caterpillar, Pupa, and Adult.
  3. AIDA. Progression of cognitive phases for a buyer (Lewis): Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action.
  4. ADKAR: The steps an individual takes in adopting change (Prosci): Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Action, Repetition.
  5. Team development(Tuckman):Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, (added later) Adjourning.
  6. CMMI for Development, Model for process improvement(SEI): Managed, Defined, Quantitatively Managed, Optimizing.
  7. Hierarchy of needs (Maslow): Physiological, Safety, Belonging, Esteem, Self-Actualizing.
  8. Industry life cycle stages (Anderson and Zeithaml): Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Decline

The first two examples describe aspects of how two different organisms mature. We can also apply maturity models to things that are not organisms (i.e. animal or vegetable) but have the organic quality of developing over time. For example, the term “industry lifecycle” (example #8) metaphorically attributes “life” to industry.  When we cross the line from the literal to the metaphorical, we need to be careful. Although we can obtain a valuable perspective by viewing our subject from a perch within a different domain, there is also the danger that we project semantic noise along with the useful metaphorical abstraction that ends up obscuring rather than illuminating our understanding. For example, by adopting the industry lifecycle metaphor, we would not want to inadvertently set expectations that “parents” are pre-requisites for the “birth” of a new industry. Let’s delve into this a bit.

The hierarchy of needs and industry life cycle stage models (examples 7 and 8, respectively) represent different types of maturity models. The industry life cycle stage model represents all phases that all industries go through from birth to death, which we can term a life cycle model. In contrast, the hierarchy of needs model is not a lifecycle model because not all people complete the hierarchy and some complete it early in life. Let’s call this type of model an evolutionary model. Lifecycle and evolutionary models provide alternative maturity “patterns” that reflect the respective semantics of the underlying metaphors.

What is an Agile Maturity, SolutionsIQ

As we can see above, our evolutionary maturity model represents a progression to higher and higher states. The fact that higher levels are smaller suggests not everyone from the state below makes it to the state above.  Below we can see that our lifecycle model is represented as a productivity rise and decline over time. In the evolutionary model only an elite subset make it to the top, whereas in the lifecycle model every industry proceeds through every level.

industry lifecycle SolutionsIQ

We have seen how two maturity models differ. What characteristics might all maturity models have in common?  In light of our discussion so far, let me propose two:

  • Progressive Phases. There are distinct developmental stages that must take place in a specific sequence for each organism to mature.
  • Empirically verifiable change. The stage of maturity can be determined by observing characteristic changes in the subject’s features. Although not a requirement for maturity per se, we need this constraint if the model is to have practical value.

Metaphoric models and maturity models in particular provide plenty of opportunity for semantic confusion, especially if the purpose of the model is not clearly defined in the first place. We need to step away for a moment from our task at hand (defining the term “maturity model”, in case you have forgotten), to answer a different question first:

Why might we want an Agile Maturity Model in the first place?

This will be the topic of my next post.

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