What is a product management maturity model?

There are plenty of ways to assess a product. You could focus on customer count, revenue, or even support interactions. Or you could look at functionality. But to deliver breakthrough products, many organizations have realized they need to evaluate how a product is being managed as well.

Companies that are shifting from an incremental, project-based approach to a more holistic product development experience must take into consideration all the ways customers interact with a product. This is an emerging concept and especially pertinent in organizations with a large product portfolio that has grown over time.

As companies and their products continue to grow and embrace this product management mindset, it's also important for companies to evaluate how different products are being managed across different teams.

A maturity model is a tool for evaluating how the processes, people, and systems that support a product are performing. It provides tiered levels of achievement for objectively assessing the maturity in these areas so you can identify areas for improvement. It helps organizations understand how well its product management discipline is performing and where it can be improved — so you can build an action plan to move your product forward.

Why is a product management maturity model important?

Tracking metrics, such as revenue or conversion rates, is fundamental to understanding if your product is profitable and sustainable. Organizational alignment can also impact product growth and be more difficult to measure.

For example, do your product teams have a clear vision, strategy, and roadmap? How well does the product strategy align with overall business objectives? Do you have well-defined processes for essential product management activities such as gathering customer feedback and prioritizing features? What about release management?

Companies need a path for assessing how a given product and the processes supporting it are performing within a broader context. A maturity model provides a set of criteria for ensuring products are planned, built, and delivered in a way that meets your organization's standards. An initial assessment will help you understand existing levels of maturity and identify areas for improvement. You can also use your model as a basis for setting goals, building a plan to implement changes, and reviewing progress over time.

The components of a product management maturity model

When building a maturity model, it is important to determine the criteria you want to evaluate each product against. Creating a list of questions is a useful way to gather qualitative information about each product so you can assess its overall level of maturity.

The table below includes examples of categories and questions you can utilize when defining a maturity model.

Strategy

  • Does the company have defined goals and initiatives at the organizational and product levels?

  • Is there alignment across teams on these goals and initiatives?

Organization

  • How is the company, division, or team governed?

  • Does the company, division, or team have clear policies and are these policies documented?

Metrics

  • How is product success measured?

  • Does this product have a clear set of performance metrics?

Process

  • Do product management and development functions have a formalized release cadence?

  • How do teams decide functionality is ready to ship? Are quality standards in place for this functionality?

People

  • Are roles and responsibilities clearly defined? Is there cross-functional collaboration?

  • Are team members trained on product management and development processes?

Systems

  • What tools, technologies, or systems are in place to support product activities?

  • Is there a centralized system for product information? Is it kept up-to-date?

Based on the categories and questions you have identified that are important to you and your organization, you can then establish maturity levels or different standards. Maturity model frameworks usually have three to five levels. Each level appraises the maturity of specific domains within an organization.

There are different maturity models with a number of variations. Most maturity models typically include a first level that includes impromptu processes with little organizational alignment. It will then advance to levels that are more defined and integrated. You can adapt the levels, criteria, and terminology to your specific purpose and in a way that makes the most sense for your organization.

The Capability Maturity Model is one of the most common maturity models. While it was originally created to improve product development processes, the five levels included can be applied to other processes as well. The table below outlines how you could apply the model toward evaluating product management maturity.

Level 1 — Initial

At the initial level, organizations may not have a formal environment for managing products or an actual product management team. Processes are very ad hoc. Product development is often unpredictable because the process is constantly changing as work progresses. Performance is dependent on individuals rather than collaboration or tapping into cross-functional expertise. There are no goals in place to measure success.

Level 2 — Repeatable

Organizations at the repeatable level start to establish formal practices for managing and implementing product management. Performance and success are repeatable because processes are defined and documented. This level also starts to see requirements and design documentation become more standardized. While effective processes are established and therefore repeatable, processes may still differ across projects and teams.

Level 3 — Defined

The defined level sees more precise practices for product management. Processes are defined and based on cross-functional collaboration and are integrated into the larger organization. These processes serve to help managers and team members perform their work more productively and effectively. Organization-wide training is held, so that proper roles and responsibilities are understood across teams. While processes are well defined and leadership has better insight into ongoing progress, the organization still lacks visibility into overall strategy and metrics of success.

Level 4 — Managed

At the managed level, product strategy is well defined and informs product management processes. These processes are predictable because they are measured and have been refined over time. That means that the organization is able to predict trends in the product management process qualitatively. Measurable goals are set and success metrics are tracked to ensure strategic direction. Because of all this, organizations at the managed level produce high-quality and successful products.

Level 5 — Optimizing

When an organization reaches the optimizing level, every function is focused on continuous improvement. In addition to successful outcomes achieved at the previous level, an optimizing organization is also able to more proactively identify any weaknesses or strengths in product management processes. Product teams analyze any shortcomings to determine their causes and enact changes to prevent them from occurring again. These lessons are also translated to other teams within the organization. Incremental improvement in existing processes and innovation using new systems lead to continuous product management advancements.

Companies can use a maturity model to create a consistent framework for evaluating and improving product management processes in a holistic way. There are many variations of maturity models and you should select one that works for your team and organization.

Product management maturity within a company will vary across by team and over time. But understanding gaps or areas for improvement is pivotal to lasting product and company success.


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