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Process Maturity – the dullest driver of IT organizational effectiveness

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Some weeks are duller than others – this week for example. But then, this week’s subject is IT process maturity, and if there’s anything duller than maturity, it’s process.

Maturity is dull because mature people see all sides of an issue and are less likely to express themselves with the sharp verbal edges that keep an audience’s attention and makes them laugh.

Process is dull because it’s supposed to be dull: It’s about achieving repeatable (dull), predictable (duller), quantifiable (dullest!) results.

Not convinced? Imagine your morning stand-up meeting. This time is like the previous 732 mornings. There haven’t been any system outages or degradations. All projects are green. IT spending is within budget. There’s nothing to talk about.


IT has process frameworks – lots of them – to draw on. Here’s mine: Delivery Management, Application Support, Information Management, IT Operations, and Personal Technologies Support (What makes IT work – IS Survivor Publishing, March 19, 2013).

If you want something more conventional, ITIL continues to be a popular alternative. Just ignore the acronym itself – it isn’t an IT Infrastructure Library. It also isn’t a collection of “best practices” because it can’t be: As explained in Keep the Joint Running: A Manifesto for 21st Century IT, there are no best practices, only practices that fit best.

In any event, the process framework you choose really doesn’t matter. What does matter is establishing, encouraging, and perpetually grooming a culture of process.

Lots of business writers toss about the term “culture” as if it has a unified, universally shared definition. Here in KJR-land we define culture as “how we do things around here,” or, with finer grain, the learned behavior people exhibit in response to their environment, understanding that much of their environment consists of the behavior exhibited by the people who surround them.

Which, having thoroughly buried the lede, leads us to understand the nature of a culture of process: It’s a shared, ingrained habit of thought that results in everyone in the organization dealing with the situation in front of them knowing, using, and continuously improving the organization’s documented way of dealing with this sort of situation.

That’s as opposed to a very different, but no less legitimate set of attitudes and behaviors we might call a culture of innovation, in which everyone in the organization figures we’re all smart people whose mental energies are better expended figuring out how to handle things than to look up an approved approach.

Bob’s last word: A culture of process is a good thing. At least, it’s a good thing when what you need are repeatable, predictable, measurable results.

It isn’t such a good thing when the situations you face on Thursday are different enough from the ones you faced on Tuesday that Tuesday’s solutions are square pegs that won’t fit Thursday’s round holes very well.

The hard part of this conundrum is establishing a culture of process that recognizes when following well-defined processes is optimal and when it’s an exercise in square-peg-ism.

Call that a culture of good judgment.

Now showing on CIO.com’s CIO Survival Guide:7 IT consultant tricks CIOs should never fall for.”

I’d have titled it “Confessions of an IT Consultant,” only you’d have thought I was confessing my own sins and not just reporting those I’ve seen other consultants engage in.