Thursday, February 12, 2009

The maturity model restaurant

A good maturity model helps you decide where you are and what kinds of goals you need to set in order to start out on the path to improvement. Maybe you are a software development shop and you need a better process for getting your code through the pipe. For that case you can check into the CMMI (Capability Maturity Model – Integrated). It can assist you in knowing what kinds of corners to look into.

Maybe you are developing an architecture around SOA. There’s a maturity model for that now. How about an IT Service Capability maturity model? Or Gartner’s Networking maturity model? Project management has it’s own maturity model as well as testing. In fact, any well thought out system can degrade the ideal into the stages that bring it up to the ideal and show examples on where the maturity isn’t up to par.

I like to think of something way outside the box, which in this case means computers, when trying to understand just how and why you should work with a tool like a maturity model. It doesn’t have to be just an academic exercise where the meeting is over and you all go home. It can be a useful tool to refer back to and keep thinking about way late into the night.

The type of metaphor I try to overlay a new concept on is usually food related and when it’s a large or complex system, I go with a pizza parlor or restaurant. In taking a look at the standard five level maturity model, we can understand just what a maturity model should deliver to the methodology so that an auditing process can evaluate how successful the effort is. This would be a good tool for anyone thinking about governance also.

Let’s take the first level, usually not well named because nobody wants to be graded at this level even though most of us know it’s more the truth than the other levels. I call it Chaotic. In a restaurant, it would not likely be too long before the business lost all its customers and the health department shut it down. Food would be left on unbussed tables, on the floor from weeks ago, and in the kitchen slowly becoming dried out or becoming a health hazard. The customers wouldn’t care a whole lot and leave without paying, the wait staff would take breaks when they wanted and the cashiers would not know the price of the food and have to estimate what the guest’s meal was worth.

The next level brings some process and some sanity to this unprofitable type of business and it is called the Repeatable level. At least at this stage we’ve made sure that all the food that has been prepared for a table gets to that table every time. You may not like how it tastes but you know that it will at least arrive. The cashiers also manage to charge every single person who eats which was not the case when it was chaotic. The chef is following the same recipe for Italian pizza instead of the experimental Thai-Russian fruit pizza that you got last time.

Although, this restaurant may still show up on the Food Channel as a Restaurant Makeover candidate, it may be able to make it to the next level which is Defined. Now the restaurant hours have been posted – did we forget to tell you that the restaurant closed when the chef felt like it before? The prices are marked on a menu so that the same item that is ordered is charged the same price and comes with the same amount of food. Typically the owner has finally laid down some rules on process and has names to categorize the types of problems occurring. And there’s a guest check form that can be used every time.

The next level starts to see the influence of management and is therefore called Managed. Now the wait staff has a schedule developed by the manager making sure that there isn’t a five-to-one ratio of employees to customers. The cash register is being watched and emptied between shifts. Policies are in place in the kitchen for when and how clean up happens as well as making sure the prep is done before the rush. People can breathe more easily and relax because fires aren’t breaking out in as many places as they used to.

The last level is what we all shoot for and is the ideal usually. It’s called Optimized. The restaurant staff meets regularly to talk about how to improve the managed processes covering all phases of the restaurant operation. Waiters are trained on how to handle difficult situations, sell product that is not selling that well, and get better tips. The kitchen is asking questions about lighting, sanitation, better equipment and the cost benefit to the business.

It’s an exercise but I’m sure you can come up with a worst case and best case scenario that would characterize your process in your work. Then you can detail out the different levels and form some short-term and long-term goals based on a maturity model. It’s just a tool but one that is showing up in all the best places in town.

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