The forest of maturity models

In the Dutch government we are all currently working to improve our services. That is super of course, but how do you know if you are getting better at it?

For the Executive Agency of Education, I looked up some maturity models to measure this growth. You helped me with this by sending all kinds of tips through this post on LinkedIn. In this blog, an overview of some models that will help you measure your growth, and some tips on how to use them.

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Goal: be a good service provider

The first question to answer is: what do you actually want to know/measure? There are all kinds of models to measure organizational growth, and also to measure growth toward a human-centered service organization. But what is the end goal? What do you want to be in the end?

A good service provider delivers a good service. That sounds logical, but it means that you only have a chance to become a good service provider if you therefore make your service better.

There are all kinds of standards for good services. For example, the ISO standard for service excellence. The Dutch government has developed a vision of what citizens should expect from government services. And otherwise, you can always consult what the National Ombudsman thinks is decent.

A proven approach to making good services is human-centered design. This blog is full of it. In the jargon, you quickly end up with terms such as human centered design (HCD), user experience (UX), customer experience (XC), and design for excellent services (DfES). Again, you will find ISO standards for this, as well as all kinds of maturity models to develop in this.

What the all the models say

MacDonald et al (2021) collected 21 such models to see what is the common denominator of all these approaches to measuring UX capability in your organization. They also conducted a literature review and interviewed UX experts. They list 6 components in which to grow as an organization, which are common to many models:

  1. People: how are teams structured, how does management function, what skills do employees have, and how is career development organized?
  2. Resources: what are models for funding of UX work, what is the infrastructure in the organization, and what standards are used?
  3. Practices and processes: how is user experience incorporated into the way of working, how is planning and prioritizing done in the organization, what UX methods are used and what activities take place?
  4. Organizational literacy: how well does management understand the perspective of users, is there strategic support, how are user insights shared in the organization, are employees involved in UX activities?
  5. Organizational decision-making: are user insights guiding strategic decisions (or not), who is responsible for decisions that affect users, is there user ambassadorship in the organization and at what level?
  6. Benefits: are products and services getting better, is the same true of processes and, of course, is user satisfaction going up?

Models: an inventory

Ahead, then, a list of models as well.

  • The UXCAF model of MacDonald et al (2021), as described above.
  • The ISO 24082 standard for service excellence. ISO also provides standards for designing (ISO 23592) and measuring (ISO 23686) service excellence. In the standard, they distinguish 4 levels, with the highest level being excellent services.
  • The Nielsen Norman Group’s UX maturity model. Jakob Nielsen has published several academic articles and books on UX and UX maturity. For your convenience, here is the starting point on the NN Group website about the UX maturity model he developed. The UX Academy has developed workshop materials for the NN model to use in a group session.
  • The CXPA maturity model is based on Forrester Research’s CX framework. It is used by a number of Dutch government organizations, including members of User Central’s CX community. Both the framework and the growth model have been adopted by the international CX Professionals Association (CXPA) and made a standard with CXPA certification.
  • User Central published this maturity scan a few years ago. They are now facilitating the CX community that is further developing the CXPA model.
  • Service Design Maturity Model by Koos, published in The Service Design Network (an international network of service designers).
  • I myself wrote a framework for a standard for professional listening based on internal organizational research at the National Ombudsman. Not yet further validated, but this research provides input for my doctoral research.

Such a list is nice, but how do you choose one?

The above models have similarities and differences. Of course, the list of models in circulation is much longer than I am sharing here on this blog. So how do you choose what to use in your organization? Does the model measure what you want to know?

Does the model measure what you want to know?

Does it reflect the competencies you want to work on as an organization? It makes no sense to use a model that measures something other than what you want to know. There is some nuance between the models. Some focus more on data-driven work, are commercial and find marketing aspects important, or focus more on culture in the organization. I would choose a model that starts with the quality of your service and “peels off the onion” from there. I got that onion metaphor from Jasper van Kuijk who presents it this way in his dissertation Managing Product Usability (2010).

At what organizational level do you want to use it?

Individually, by team, by executive unit or at the highest organizational level? Most models include growth from operational to tactical and strategic level, but it is nevertheless good to consider where and how you want to use the model. On the NN-Group website you can see how to use the model by team or as an organization. Then again, the ISO standard, for example, looks only at the organizational level.

Is it a scientific model or also practically applicable?

You want a model that is well validated (preferably scientifically) but also convenient to use in the organization. In the LinkedIn post I saw some beautifully designed models in workshop format, but with little validation. At the same time, the article by MacDonald et al (2021) may be a bit difficult to digest if you are handing it out in your team. The CXPA/Forrester model is super useful in practice (and there are many parties offering this model to implement in the organization) but it has not yet been scientifically validated, for what I can see. The NN Group is my favorite in this area. Nice scan to fill in, there are background articles with explanations, and Nielsen and Norman are scientific giants who published their first UX bibles back in the early 1980s.

Are the criteria per level clear?

Is it clear what each maturity step entails and how to get there? The government also doesn’t always have the same amount of “doing power” to act and grow, so it needs to be super clear what each step means. The models in my list score fine on this.

Is it applicable to the context of government?

The government is not a commercial service provider and we do not have customers with choice. Government service organizations are guided by democratic input through the House of Representatives or the City Council in addition to the experiences of citizens as users. Most models are not made specifically for the government sector and do not take this dynamic into account. This is the conclusion of my first scientific publication that I wrote this blog about the other day. And so to which I can now give Klip-Veltman et al (2023) as a source – what’s up!

Some models are very specifically commercial, and have included in the maturity model commercial dynamics, such as marketing strategies. Even though most elements from these models seem applicable to the government context with a little creativity, a more fundamental risk lurks. Unconsciously, you are taking on dynamics that do not (should not) fit the character of government. My advice would be to choose the least commercial model possible.

How to use: internally or externally focused?

Numbers and rankings always do well, because managers obviously don’t want to dangle at the bottom of the list. There is nothing wrong with this externally focused approach, but I find the internal approach even more valuable. This is the time to be allowed to stare at your own reflection in the mirror! To first, as an organization, properly understand what maturity in good service actually means, how to get there and what steps your organization needs to take. Then after that you can…

Do you want to benchmark with other organizations?

Then it may pay to choose the same model as other (government) service organizations. The question, though, is what do you get out of it? What does it really benefit you to know whether you are doing better or worse than, say, the Tax Office? It’s like learning in class: nice to get a passing grade, but the qualitative feedback is much more helpful. How can you improve?

And if you’re all about exchange, are you actively exchanging knowledge and experience with other organizations and how does this help your growth?

Final Opinion

With the above criteria as a guide, you can’t really make a wrong choice, I think. Especially if you see a maturity model not as a goal but as a tool. Tools are not cast in concrete, you use them and when you have outgrown them, or the coat doesn’t quite fit after all, you can choose another one. Above all, do so!

The goal is not to be compliant with a maturity model. The goal is to grow: to improve your services so that people can find their way around the government and achieve their goals. That is a process and it is never finished.

Want to follow my research on how to make government services that are good for people? Then subscribe to my newsletter (in Dutch).

Continue reading

  • MacDonald, C. M., Sosebee, J., & Srp, A. (2022). A Framework for Assessing Organizational User Experience (UX) Capacity. International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction, 38(11), 1064-1080.
  • ISO. (2021). ISO 24082 –Service excellence – Designing excellent service to achieve outstanding customer experience. Geneva, Switzerland, International Organization for Standardization.
  • Klip-Veltman, M., van Kuijk, J., and Kleinsmann, M.(2023). More than the process, exploring themes in Dutch public service design practice through embedded research, in De Sainz Molestina, D., Galluzzo, L., Rizzo, F., Spallazzo, D. (eds.), IASDR 2023: Life-Changing Design, October 9-13, Milan, Italy.
  • Van Kuijk, J. I. (2010). Managing Product usability: How companies deal with usability in the development of electronic consumer products. Delft University of Technology, Delft.