The SEI has produced several different maturity models, but they are all presented in terms of the maturity of capability or process - doing the right things right according to a standardized schema of What The Right Things Are. Applying a process-oriented notion of maturity to EA can only really refer to maturity of the EA process. But I think it is much more relevant to think about EA maturity of the organization as a whole, which calls for an outcome-oriented notion of maturity (perhaps defined in terms of some kind of "alignment") that is closer to Richard Nolan's Stages of Growth model, where maturity is seen as a state of perfect alignment between the business and its information systems. (I know Nolan originally formulated his ideas in terms of IT, but then so did lots of people in the 1980s including Zachman.)
Maturity can also be defined in terms of an alignment between espoused theory (what you think you are supposed to be doing) and theory-in-use (what you are actually doing). Obviously this kind of alignment is not restricted to IT. Maturity doesn't just mean being better at achieving your goals, it also means having more realistic goals in the first place. Some people might think that innovation feeds upon the unbounded vision and ambition of the immature, and that too much maturity (in this sense) could just result in negativity and middle-aged stagnation. See my note on EA Archetypes (EA-as-visionary, EA-as-realist).
Meanwhile, some enterprise architecture frameworks contain notions of maturity that are defined not in terms of process but in terms of knowledge. At the Unicom EA Forum on 21st March 2013, Kevin Smith presented his new PETF framework for Enterprise Transformation, whose four levels of maturity are based on the Four Stages of Competence.
- Unconsciously incompetent
- Consciously incompetent
- Consciously competent
- Unconsciously competent
Thus the highest level of maturity is where the knowledge has been internalized. I think this notion of maturity looks much closer to Nonaka's SECI model or Boisot's I-Space, which both contain notions of internalization. I-Space also contains the insight that "intellectual property" doesn't last for ever, because all useful knowledge eventually becomes public knowledge. Competence relative to one's competitors is always based on proprietary knowledge, while knowledge that is in the public domain cannot form the basis of competitive advantage.
Meanwhile I'm uncomfortable with the notion of unconscious competence for another reason: in a dynamic world it can quickly develop into complacency and arrogance. Whatever happened to continuous learning and improvement?
In order to maintain competitive advantage, both SECI and I-Space are essentially cyclic models, so that one can cycle back from level 4 (unconscious competence) to level 1 (unconscious incompetence). In my summary last week, I invoked the Black-Belt-to-White-Belt metaphor: even the most experienced black belt needs to return to the basics, needs humility and the desire to learn, needs to always think like a beginner rather than strutting around arrogantly like an expert. Obviously there are circumstances in which an enterprise may need to cycle round from competence to incompetence, before attaining a higher level of competence. Sometimes transformation must take an enterprise out of its comfort zone.
Finally, I wonder whether "maturity" is the right word at all. It is sometimes argued that different levels of maturity are suitable for different organizations, which is basically a form of contingency theory. In other words, some organizations never need to be fully mature.
Instead of maturity, I prefer a notion of excellence that includes (1) selecting the appropriate approach for a particular situation/context, and then (2) carrying out this approach both effectively and cost-effectively. I think this notion of excellence is supported by business excellence frameworks such as Baldrige and the European Quality Award. These frameworks don't say HOW you should do anything, merely that you should know WHAT you are doing, and WHY, and WHETHER it is working, and that you should be constantly striving to improve those things that matter most. Hopefully this gets around the innovation/maturity paradox I mentioned earlier.
Related post: From Enabling Prejudices to Sedimented Principles (March 2013)
Thanks to Len Fehskens (in comments below) for pointing out the original source of the Four Stages of Competence.
Post last updated 31 August 2018