System maturity and maturity models

April 19, 2010 at 8:22 am | Posted in Out of my mind, Systems Improvement, Systems Thinking | Leave a comment

There is process maturity and there is people maturity. However, system maturity takes a holistic approach covering all the parts of the system and looks at maturity of the system as a whole rather than that of just its parts. Organizations are themselves complex human systems as well as interact with other systems which have processes and humans as essential components. It therefore makes sense to look at what is system maturity in the context of complex human systems. There can be different perspectives and opinions; I am sharing below my view point.

Processes are essentially meant to streamline what is repetitive. They also help to provide a common understanding and a common point of reference. This results in making things predictable and repeatable. They provide momentum to the system. They also help in reducing wastages and avoidable delays. It is fine as long as status quo continues.

But we are talking here of human systems. Human beings are complex and human systems all the more so. By their very nature they cannot be completely predictable and repeatable. There is inherent dynamism and change is a rule rather than an exception. Human systems being complex systems, it is not enough to take care of just the parts; we need to have a holistic approach. Compared to processes, human beings are much better at understanding the whole and act appropriately in response to or in anticipation of a change.

A mature system where humans and processes coexist and work in harmony, is finely balanced when each part is perfectly playing its role. Humans understand benefits & limitations of processes and use them appropriately. They are aware of the benefits of momentum which helps as long as the there is continuity. They also understand how the momentum turns into harmful inertia when faced with changes. They understand the benefit of habits but at the same time are not slaves of the habits. This understanding pervades amongst majority, if not all of the human members of the system. Each member may have to live with the constrains imposed by the processes, but collectively they understand and are able to manage the balance.

How do we achieve and sustain such a balance and the resulting maturity? The maturity models help us do that. The details of such a model would differ from domain to domain but there are certain common characteristics for any maturity model for a system where human beings are an essential part and not just resources. Such a model would deal with a complex system where the whole is not just sum of its parts. It does not help if it tries to make each part more mature; rather it needs to make the system mature. Human members play a critical role since they are the ones who have to effectively manage both the continuity and change. They have to be helped by the model to bring about maturity in the system.

It is often said that each human being is unique; not quite so. They have a unique combination of a few generic characteristics. There are patterns. The maturity model should understand and utilize these patterns. It should help the human part of the system collectively by providing a structure which protects the freedom each member needs and at the same time ensures the purpose for which the system exists.

In the light of the above, replacing subjectivity by objectively may not be good in every case, there has to be a balance. Ad hoc subjectivity may be harmful; mature subjectivity is an asset. Similarly, repeatability is good as long as status quo continues; anticipating and responding to change must go on hand in hand.

Any inputs from the readers would greatly help to shape this thought process in the right direction. In a future post, I will try to look at how the above thoughts can be applied to the domain of software development.


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