Measuring Your Success

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m a member of the SOA Consortium. In a recent conference call for them, the subject of maturity models came up, and I discussed some of the efforts that I’ve done on MomentumSI’s Maturity Model. Anyway, the end result of the discussion was an email exchange between myself and Ron Schmelzer of ZapThink discussing the whole purpose of maturity models. In my prior life working in an enterprise, I’ve seen my fair share of maturity models on various subjects and I know there were certainly some that I dismissed as marketing fluff. At the same time, there were others that peaked my interest, and even more interesting, I also spent time creating my own maturity models. So what gives? Are they good or bad?

The purpose of a maturity model is pretty straightforward. It’s an attempt to try to quantify where you fall on some continuum. Obviously, there are many ways that this can be problematic, but it usually falls into two categories. First, you may not even think the subject at hand is worth measuring, therefore, a maturity model is a waste of time. Second, you may agree that subject is worth measuring, but you may disagree with the measuring scale. Frequent readers of my blog know that I’m no stranger to that category, as I started a bit of stir with some comments regarding the maturity model that David Linthicum had posted on his blog.

For this entry, the real question to ask is whether or not SOA adoption is something worth measuring? If you answer yes, then you’re going to need some yardstick to do so. I certainly think that any SOA adoption effort must include some way of assessing your efforts. If you don’t have this, how can you ever claim success? A maturity model is one way of assessing it. A roadmap with goals attached to points in time can certainly be another way of doing it, as well. I believe that you’ll need both. A maturity model approach is good because it’s not based upon reaching a point in time, it’s based on more qualitative factors, such as how you do things. You don’t become more mature with SOA buy purchasing a product, for example. You become more mature by using a product appropriately, consistently, successfully and in a repeatable fashion. The challenge with maturity models, however, is that they are often created as a unit of comparison, rather than as a unit of assessment. This has everything to do with the yardstick of measurement. During the SOA Consortium discussion, someone brought up that some maturity models aren’t valuable because an organization may not be concerned with reaching the upper levels of maturity. When you create a maturity model that is intended as a comparison tool, you need a yardstick that works for all. For organizations that are content at level one or level two on your scale, there may not be much value. If you focus solely on a maturity model as an assessment tool, step one is to establish criteria for the levels that make sense for your organization. If you do this, now you can use it as a means of measuring your progress on your journey. You won’t be able to use it to compare yourself to your competitors, but that’s okay, because you’re measuring your activities, not theirs.

Roadmaps are good as well, because they are very execution-oriented. While a maturity model may call out some lofty, qualitative goals, it doesn’t articulate a path to get you there. Roadmaps, on the other hand, consist of activities and deadlines. At the same time, roadmaps can run a risk of being too focused on the what and when, and not on the how.

The important takeaway from this is that if you’re going to attempt to adopt SOA, you need a way of measuring it. As many have said, SOA is a journey. It’s not one project. My recommendation it consider using both a maturity model and a roadmap with concrete milestones as tools for measuring your efforts. The roadmap will keep you focused on the execution, and the maturity model will ensure that you can capture the more qualitative aspects, such as service consumer/service provider interactions in the development lifecycle. What are your thoughts? Are maturity models a good things or a bad thing? If they can be either, what makes for a good maturity model versus a lousy one?

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