Originally published July 21, 2014

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There are divergent schools of thought on the desirability of KM maturity models. Several groups, including APQC, have published multi-level models which have been widely shared and used. Others are wary of such models, e.g., Nick Milton, who warns they are inappropriate and dangerous. Jim Lee (at APQC at the time) and Nick Milton of Knoco (which offers a free KM maturity survey) each presented their views during a professional services KM group call.

My own view is that it can be helpful to identify your organization’s current and desired states for a knowledge management program. But I recommend using frameworks, models, and benchmarking as sources of ideas, not as precise prescriptions to be slavishly followed.

It’s better to understand your organization’s specific challenges and opportunities, and map a course tailored to those specific needs. Understanding other KM initiatives is helpful, but don’t try to replicate them exactly. Instead, borrow, reuse, and adapt the ideas that best fit.

If you choose to assess your KM initiative using one of these models, don’t worry too much if the result shows a low level of maturity. If your efforts result in tangible benefits, keep doing what you’re doing, and look for additional areas of impact to pursue. And don’t pat yourself on the back too hard if the model reveals that you are at a high level. Take such a result with a large grain of salt. Focus instead on how you can continue to improve.


1. Patrick Lambe in the actKM Discussion List

Just a couple of thoughts on the limitations of maturity models — when the organisational landscape is heterogeneous, a maturity model tends to gloss over/average out significant differences in portions of the landscape, removing them from visibility and opportunity for action. It also tends to ignore unique but salient factors of the environment being assessed.

Also, when used as a guiding mechanism promoting idealised frameworks, it tends to start getting gamed. If at all, maturity models are much better used as part of a diagnostic/planning mechanism along with a lot of independently gathered data and in focused, homogeneous contexts. There’s a blog post here.

Now it may be your context is sufficiently focused in both domain and community scope for my concerns to be dismissed. But it will sit within a bigger context, so a health warning is always in order.

I do think by the way there’s a bit of confusion here between a KM framework and a maturity model. A framework is essentially two dimensional until it gets a strategy to give it meaning and direction (conversely a strategy needs a framework to give it actualisation). The strategy forces the framework to “get real”.

A maturity model postulates somewhat idealised statements about lifecycle stages and their indicators, and I find it can actually exist quite independently of reality on the ground. I’ve seen maturity descriptors that look fine on the report card while the organisation actually flounders in practice. A typical indicator is “senior management appreciate the significance of a knowledge-based approach and support KM”. I’ve seen KM initiatives that do well without senior management noticing or bothering, and I’ve seen KM initiatives that failed because KM was given too much support (everything new was labelled KM and loaded on the KM team until they died of exhaustion).

2. Nicole Forsgren: Secrets and Surprises of High Performance: What the Data Says

  • Maturity Models don’t work
  • Maturity models are for CHUMPS
  • Maturity models tell us we are done once we reach a certain destination… and then the world passes us by
  • Maturity models tell us (and leaders) to stop dedicating resources once we have arrived
  • Maturity models tell us we all follow the same path to success
  • Maturity models tell us technology is a checklist to be completed and not an exciting journey to continually explore and improve

3. Here’s what’s wrong with maturity models by Christiaan Verwijs

What maturity models assume

  • Growth is a linear progression through a number of discrete phases, each marked by unique characteristics.
  • Growth looks the same across organisations, teams, and individuals. The context may affect the path, but it doesn’t affect the phases, what characterizes them or in what order they occur.
  • What is on the right of the maturity is generally assumed to be ‘good’, whereas the left is assumed to be ‘bad’. This makes maturity models highly normative.

Growth is not linear and it doesn’t happen in discrete phases marked by convenient external characteristics. Reality is far messier than your maturity model.

Why are we using words in a professional context that reference children and childlike behaviors? Employees are not children. We don’t need to encourage organisational parenting — there’s plenty of that already.

The same goes for the use of words like “Level” in these models. How are we making people feel if we consider their growth as a game where they have to “Level” up? How do we feel about people that are ranked above or below our “Level” in this organisation?

Models are intended to simplify reality. Maturity models are the best friend of consultants. They are easy to understand and may seem very profound at first. But just like with snack food, what looks appealing at first glance and seems to hit the spot when you consume it, doesn’t actually offer anything of substance on closer inspection. And it’s bad for you.

4. David Williams in the actKM Discussion List

A comparison of available KM Maturity Models (see below) indicates that the models generally reflect a subject matter approach to assessing the capability of an organisation to manage its intellectual capital. Note, not all of these are KM Maturity Models, but were included for interest

All of the models below appear to gloss over the process aspect. Organisations manage knowledge to better achieve their goals and are less concerned about where the activities fit in and more concerned about what outcomes or return on investment is achieved. The author argues that verbs should be used instead of subjects/nouns to describe KM processes within organisations because they better describe the actions that increases the value obtained from their intellectual capital and are independent of any structure.

Comparison of Various KM Maturity Models

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Example from Deloitte

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1. Stan Garfield


3. Uday Kulkarni, Robert St. Louis Organizational Self Assessment of Knowledge Management Maturity

4. British Columbia Auditor General Self-assessment guide

5. Chris Collison, Geoff Parcell

6. Cory Banks KM Maturity Models

7. David Griffiths

8. David Skyrme KM Maturity

9. Howie Cohen KM Strategy: Does Maturity Matter?

10. K. Suresh, Kavi Mahesh Ten Steps to Maturity in Knowledge Management: Lessons in Economy

11. P. Kochikar The Knowledge Management Maturity Model: A Staged Framework for Leveraging Knowledge

12. K. Kuriakose, Baldev Raj, S.A.V. Satya Murty, P. Swaminathan Knowledge Management Maturity Models — A Morphological Analysis

13. Radziah Yusof KM Maturity Model — What’s Your Organization’s Maturity Level?

14. Nick Milton

15. Knowledge Compass KMmm ® Model

16. Knowledge Management Bible KM Maturity Model

17. LibSource Don’t define KM strategy without assessing KM maturity

18. Michel Grundstein Assessing Enterprise’s Knowledge Management

19. G. Pee and A. Kankanhalli A Model of Organizational Knowledge Management Maturity based on People, Process, and Technology

20. Patrick Murphy Knowledge Management Maturity Models and Phased Measurement

21. Maya Kaner, Reuven Karni A Capability Maturity Model for Knowledge-Based Decision making

22. Ron Weerdmeester, Chiara Pocaterra, Mark Hefke Knowledge Management Maturity Model

23. Siemens AG

24. SIKM Leaders Community

25. Straits Knowledge

26. Tata Consultancy Services (TCS)

27. Ontology-Based

28. US Army Developing an Enterprise KM Competency Model

29. NASA Knowledge Maturity Model

30. WisdomSource K3M: The Knowledge Management Maturity Model

31. J. Kruger, M.M.M. Snyman Formulation of a strategic knowledge management maturity model

32. John Coles Knowledge-Flow Maturity

33. Michael Bolton Maturity Models Have It Backwards

34. KK Kuriakose

35. Graham Durant-Law Does Knowledge Management Need A Maturity Model?

36. Bill Kaplan

37. The Community Roundtable Community Maturity Model

38. IKMS KRO (Knowledge Ready Organization)

39. Harold Jarche

40. What does the research say about knowledge management maturity models? by Bruce Boyes

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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