When I was 17, I travelled solo to the Nordics in my summer holidays. I had never been travelling – alone or with friends – before. “You’re too young”, my parents warned me. But I was at the age where this kind of warning emboldened me to prove them wrong and I had a fierce desire to use my independence.
So off I went for a couple of months. I had a few friends dotted around Denmark and Sweden who I could drop in on and see, but despite making plans in advance, they all fell through, for a smorgasbord of reasons.
At the end of the trip it was clear I hadn’t enjoyed myself but I could not fathom why. But with hindsight, it’s not that hard to understand. Predictably, my parents were right: I was too young. I had rushed into it with an adolescent zeal, didn’t plan the trip particularly well and expected things to fall into place.
Thankfully, it didn’t deter me in the long run. Four years later, equipped with the benefit of past mistakes and some additional life experience, I went travelling alone again in South America for five months and loved it.
So, what did I learn from this experience and what does it have to do with business design? One – you can’t ignore maturity in design; two – it’s hard to see it yourself so listen to other people; three – have patience as it’ll develop.
Ignoring maturity is risky business. If you fail to sufficiently take maturity into consideration, you risk designing an organisation (or holiday) that can’t be implemented properly or won’t function effectively. Taking maturity into consideration means designing with an awareness of constraints. For example, less mature organisations might prioritise (at a high level) simpler functional or process-led models rather than more sophisticated matrix or front-back models. Or if the latter are chosen, organisational capabilities might need to be bought in rather than enhanced. In the holiday analogy, this might be the difference between joining a tour group or taking friends along with you.
Diagnosing and understanding maturity isn’t a science, it’s an art – so it helps to heed the advice of those with experience. There are a lot of frameworks out there that offer diagnosis, but in my experience it’s similar to identifying top talent – a singular model can’t describe it; you just know it when you see it. This is partly because it is a subjective concept and because ‘best practice’ is always evolving. For these reasons, it’s even harder to diagnose and understand it yourself. If pushed, you might define it as self-awareness to continually improve capabilities. Expert designers however understand this concept of organisational maturity intuitively and have worked with organisations across its various stages. They can ensure these unique elements are taken into account in the right way.
Have patience – maturity is a journey. I did eventually enjoy travelling alone when I went to South America, but I should have waited until then to go for the first time. Similarly, organisations need to be patient with the size and timescales of their vision and ambition, separating out designs to align to what they can achieve in planned transitional states. Chunking up design implementation to reflect ongoing and developing maturity levels in specific areas will enhance the successful delivery of the overall design.
A maturity assessment is a key consideration in our own business design framework, but I still think about this experience every time I come to design. How mature is your organisation? And if you were redesigning it, what impact would it have?