Innovation Maturity Models

Written on June 2, 2007 by 


In my recent article on the 7 Dimensions of Innovation, I proposed a 4 stage model of innovation maturity describing an organisation’s path to innovation maturity in terms of 4 stages:

  1. Ad-hoc – innovation is not managed systematically and results are not predictable
  2. Localised innovation – innovation is managed effectively in particular innovation areas (e.g. product innovation)
  3. Generalised innovation – organisations introduce organizational processes and structures to manage innovation consistently and effectively across all business processes, products and functionality
  4. Continuous managed innovation – learning to continually assess and improve both innovation performance and the organization’s processes for managing and monitoring innovation

In proposing this approach, I had in mind something like the SEI Capability Maturity Model for software engineering, which consists of five stages:

  1. Initial – software development processes are ad-hoc and tend to rely on individual people as ‘heroes’ to step forward and save the project from disaster.
  2. Repeatable – project management and software development processes are put in place on a per project basis to manage projects systematically, leading to repeatable satisfactory results. However, at this point such processes are typically driven into particular projects, and different project managers or software development teams may have their own standards and approaches. There is no consistent approach across the organisation.
  3. Defined – a set of common, shared, defined processes are defined and applied for all projects and all people across the organisation
  4. Quantitatively Managed – clear metrics are put in place around processes, project management activity, and software development activity and outcomes, allowing techniques such as statistical process control to be applied to identify where anomalies are occurring in the processes and to apply techniques such as causal analysis resolution to identify the underlying causes and to fix problems in or underlying the processes
  5. Continuous Improvement – the processes and their management are continuously improved. Typically an idea management system is introduced and a quality focused continuous improvement culture is embedded within the organisation

Earlier this year, James Todhunter from the Innovating to Win blog also posted an innovation maturity model, consisting of four stages of:

  1. Accidental Innovation
  2. Situational Innovation
  3. Repeatable Innovation
  4. High-Performance Innovation

At the level of accidental innovation In James’ model, innovation is poorly understood. However, by the stage of situational innovation, the organisation has had some exposure to ideas in innovation, and has begun to apply them in certain situations. By the stage of repeatable innovation they have tested and developed confidence in innovation techniques that apply well to their organisational context, and the question now becomes about optimising the performance of innovation in terms of the business value derived from innovation activity.

There are, of course, other attempts to describe models of innovation maturity. For example, in his book 24/7 Innovation: A Blueprint for Surviving and Thriving in an Age of Change, innovation author Stephen Shapiro introduces (see Figure 9-2 on p. 220) a model of “six distinct stages [organizations will travel through] on the road to innovation maturity.” The 6 stages are:

  1. Functionally bound
  2. Process sensitive
  3. Process driven
  4. Process dominated
  5. Capability based
  6. Alliance based

Shapiro’s innovation maturity model is tied to the characteristics of the organisational structure rather than the specifics of their capabilities and experience with innovation.

Similarly, on the web, one can readily find a number of attempts to describe the path of innovations through the maturity curve from humble beginnings to innovation mastery. For example, the Product masters website has a pdf outlining an innovation maturity modelrelated to product development, while the Think For a Change website provides an innovation maturity model modelled along the lines of the SEI Capability Maturity Model.

I very much like James’ model of innovation maturity, as a descriptive model. I think it has many advantages over the model I proposed for describing where an organisation is on the curve. However, as a prescriptive model (i.e. outlining for an organisation what they need to do to move to the next level), I feel that an innovation maturity model following the SEI Capability Maturity Model (such as the innovation maturity model at Think For a Change) as the guiding metaphor may be able to leverage the insights from the Capability Maturity model such as institutionalising processes and a work culture in a manner which can be tremendously useful for guiding an organisation down the path of innovation maturity.


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