Improve Maturity With Capabilities


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When projects need a strong dose of strategy & direction, leaning solely on requirements just won’t cut it anymore.

If you’ve been a part of any business project during your professional career, you’ve seen the basic formula before: Project teams analyze the current state, identify requirements, and then implement a solution that best meets the requirements. Once the solution is implemented, management turns its attention elsewhere – never to think about that specific area of the business again. This ‘check the box’ thinking can be risky business in an environment where new competitive threats can appear anywhere and anytime.

In today’s fast-paced business environment, businesses need a performance framework that can grow over time, be benchmarked against the competition, and stretch the imagination of employees and stakeholders. Although requirements development will always be a mainstay for any project management discipline, the incorporation of capabilities and maturity models can better position your business for future competition and unforeseen threats and opportunities.

Business requirements will always be a critical element in any project development lifecycle. But they can only take you so far. Requirements – to be effective – must be relatively static and defined to the lowest level possible. When the business solution is ultimately implemented, the determination whether it met the individual requirements is answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ with little room for interpretation or improvement.

When project teams are attempting to identify requirements, whether they realize it or not, they are typically simply restating how business currently gets done. New and forward thinking requirements are difficult to identify without some external influence, benchmark, or reference point. This is hardly an effective approach for identifying provocative strategies that will position the business to win in the long term.

Leading businesses and project managers are discovering a new approach to developing – and maintaining – provocative business strategies and solutions that can grow and change over time. They utilize a capability maturity framework that serves as a blueprint and yardstick for continuous improvement. Perhaps one of the best-known and well-established capability maturity models is the Software Engineering Institute’s Capability Maturity Model, which is often referred to as the SEI-CMM or SE-CMM.

The Software Engineering Capability Maturity Model serves the Information Technology function and outlines in clear and specific terms how the software development ‘capability’ can grow and mature over time. The SE-CMM defines maturity for the capability in five distinct levels – with level 5 being the highest or most mature capability.

The capability maturity model provides three important benefits:

  1. Capability Maturity Models establish a tangible yardstick for a specific business capability (such as software development) that businesses can measure themselves against. By doing so, businesses can more honestly and accurately identify their current level of abilities.
  2. Maturity models identify a specific best practice level for the capability that businesses can strive to achieve. By establishing a tangible continuum, the capability maturity model allows businesses to more clearly gauge the gap between their current and desired capability levels.
  3. For standard capability definitions that are widely adopted across businesses and industries, businesses can benchmark themselves against key competition.

Utilizing capabilities as a tool in your project management portfolio has other significant advantages as well. Capabilities provide a framework that can help spur innovative thinking and challenge project teams to think beyond current state requirements. Capabilities, if well defined, can also help project teams to frame out high level requirements more quickly and efficiently than the traditional blank-slate requirements definition effort. Finally, and most importantly, capability maturity models provide a framework for continual improvement; if utilized as a management tool, capability maturity models can measure progress over time and challenge employees and stakeholders to get to the next level.

While simple business requirements development has been a tried and true approach for decades, simple and static requirements can only take you so far. Leading businesses and project managers are discovering that capability maturity models can contribute to developing – and maintaining – provocative business strategies and solutions that can grow and be continually improved over time.

While capability maturity models are best known in the software engineering area, business professionals specializing in areas such as Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Supply Chain Management (SCM) are developing and utilizing the CMM frameworks to define, develop, and measure their solutions and strategies.

It’s about time. Businesses have been relying on a simplistic model of requirements definition for decades. While this model has served them well, requirements alone can be static, difficult to measure, and often represent only the current state of business. Capability models, on the other hand, can provide businesses with a blueprint and yardstick that can identify tangible long-term goals and measure progress along the way.

Leaning solely on requirements just won’t cut it anymore.

Robert Howard
Robert G. Howard, Partner at Kurt Salmon, has more than 20 years of experience designing and implementing innovative customer experiences across web, retail, customer care, and mobile channels. Mr. Howard is the co-author of the The Customer Experience Fiasco, and 7 Steps to Customer Experience Domination.


  1. Hi Robert

    Thanks for the heads-up for the SE-CMM, all 297 pages of it! It only seems to covers a relatively simple capability model for developing systems engineering within an organisation.

    Do you know of any good capability maturity models for assessing customer-facing business activities?

    Graham Hill
    Independent CRM Consultant
    Interim CRM Manager


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