Human Development as a Metaphor for Business-IT Maturity


As part of the “Reaching Level 3″ Business-IT maturity research project I’m currently involved in, I’ve been thinking about human metaphors to see if these add any insight or richness that help us better understand how IT organizations (and the businesses they support) mature, how to assess maturity, and how to safely accelerate the maturation process.

Humans develop along four dimensions: Physical, Cognitive, Social and Economic.  Human developmental research says that while there are timing differences among individuals, by and large, the stages of development and sequence are universal and generalizable.  There is a hierarchical nature to these development stages, with each successive stage incorporating elements of the previous stage, but with increased differentiation and integration.  I think these four dimensions can usefully be applied to business-IT maturity.  As ever, I believe we need to consider maturity of the IT organization as ‘one side of the coin’, and the maturity of a businesses use of IT as the ‘other side of the coin’.  While these two sides are mutually dependent, they are distinct and need to be assessed separately.

Physical Development manifests itself in humans first as an ability to control movement, then to communicate, then to procreate, and ultimately to respond to threats and opportunities in the environment.  It is easy to imagine the analogies such as the ability to run IT infrastructure, ability to implement business systems, ability to align business and IT goals, ability to evolve supply with changing demand, and, consistent with the notion of procreation, the ability of an IT organization to foster IT capabilities in the business it serves (teach them to fish, rather than fish for them).

Cognitive Development manifests itself in humans first with reflexes, then with habits, then with ability to coordinate activities, and finally with insight and creativity.  All sorts of analogies are imaginable, including ‘order taking’ as a reflex behavior of immature IT organizations, rigorous use of business cases is a positive ‘habit’ that demonstrates higher maturity, portfolio management allows higher order coordination of decision making and resource allocation, business analytics and innovative design thinking are even higher order cognitive activities.

Social Development encompasses the development of social institutions, social structures, and social relations.  The analogies here include social institutions such as business-IT governance bodies and enterprise architecture boards, social structures such as innovation networks, communities of practice.  Social relations could include interpersonal relationships between members of the IT organization and members of the business they support, or of the customer or supplier communities the business depends upon.

Economic Development encompasses economic efficiency and effectiveness, access to capital, output (GDP) and sustainability.  The analogies here include transaction processing costs, costs of building and running business solutions, access to IT funding, and the degree to which IT business practices are sustainable (e.g, I’ve argued before that simply adding new “stuff” to the IT portfolio without ever retiring old “stuff” is not sustainable.)

I’d be interested to hear from people their reactions to this line of thinking, and if it might form the basis for a multi-dimensional Business-IT Maturity assessment instrument.