On checklists, maturity models and methodologies

There is a lot of empirical evidence that shows checklists are one of the best ways to ensure consistency and quality in execution, even for domain experts.

And a maturity model is essentially just a slightly fancy checklist. So they should be a good
thing ... right?

Well, perhaps. Dr Peter Pronovost, the initiator of the hospital checklists in the article linked above, explains the basis for checklists succinctly: "[people should] standardize on ... mission-critical elements ... where we have the strongest evidence".

The key word here is evidence. Where there is largely a consensus about the relative merits of performing or not performing a particular action (eg handwashing to improve hygiene), a maturity model makes sense – since it evaluates an organisation against an evidence-based best practice approach.

Unfortunately many – probably most – maturity models describe the adoption of management practices with weak evidence of being best practice. Instead, these maturity models simply provide a methodological best practice approach where the merits of an approach is prima facie accepted by its inclusion in the model.

Examples of these kind of maturity models include the Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) and the Portfolio, Programme and Project Management Maturity Model (P3M3). In fact, the trigger for this post was a discussion on the Systems Integration KM Leaders Community about KM maturity models. This is another area where a maturity model can – at best – define maturity via methodology rather than via evidence due to the lack of consensus within the community.

There's nothing wrong with adopting a methodology as a benchmark, but hard-nosed realism is in order. Many consulting dollars have been made off methodological maturity models, but there is a reason why many management techniques are fads ... Eventually, the lack of a link between method and results becomes too difficult to ignore and people start looking for the next ‘magic bullet’.

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