What is a useful framework for benchmarking and measuring in case interviews and consulting projects?

You’ve heard the adage, “when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” If you are only operating with one tool in your toolkit, then this tool might shape your perspective (to your detriment). Using a hammer in every situation can do more harm than good, just like using one framework for every case interview or consulting project can lead to re-work or do even more damage. Consultants pride themselves on have a diverse array of tools in their toolkit and being able to quickly diagnose the situation, identify the right tool or framework, and bend, modify, or combine frameworks to solve the problem often leads to project and case interview success. Not every framework will apply to every situation, and the art of consulting is how you tailor these structured frameworks and make them more fluid to meet the client’s needs.

The Capability Maturity Model (CMM)

The CMM is a developmental model popularized by the Department of Defense (DoD) and that has proliferated across other government, nonprofit, and private sector organizations. This framework provides a structure for determining how formalized and optimized processes are. While this model is common for software development, it can also be used to benchmark organizations, and evaluate how mature an organization’s processes are.

The five maturation steps are detailed below and are used to demonstrate the level of optimization of a process. The process goal is consistency, predictability, and effectiveness.

  1. Initial: In this stage the process is often ad hoc, inconsistent, and chaotic. This stage typifies a process that is often new, undocumented, or not standardized.
  2. Repeatable: The process is documented so that the same steps can be followed consistently to achieve a defined, repeated outcome.
  3. Defined: The process has been documented, validated, and standardized to meet business needs.
  4. Capable: The process has quantitative and qualitative measures to manage it toward defined and agreed-upon metrics.
  5. Efficient: The process tracks success toward metrics and focuses attention on intentional optimization and process improvement efforts.

The framework often includes checklists to help determine steps toward maturation. Key elements of the CMM are (1) a policy that defines the goals and outcomes of the process, (2) standards that provide outcomes and criteria for recommended work products, (3) processes that describe the roles of individuals involved, actions taken, inputs, outputs, training, tools, criteria, and performance metrics, (4) procedures used to complete the process, and (5) maturity level with process descriptions, standards, reviews and audits, work products, and measurements.

CMM In Practice: A Case Study

One government client was looking to mature its business processes to make more evidence-based decisions. When we first analyzed the current state, we found:

  • Policies governing data that were not always followed
  • Undocumented process or understanding of where responsibility resided leading to a lack of clarity and accountability
  • Unclear definitions or understanding of the inputs, outputs, and metrics leading to inaccurate or inconsistent data

In short, the business processes surrounding data collection and evaluation were Initial – they were chaotic, unstandardized, and largely undocumented.

In order to mature these business processes, we analyzed the policy, developed a roadmap of the handoffs, and timeframes for completion and developed a conceptualized, repeatable processes. We then tested this process with subject matter experts to (1) develop a common lexicon and understanding of the process, roles and responsibilities, and data, (2) standardize the process, (3) gain credibility and foster evangelists who would support the rollout of this process. The process had now gone from Initial to Repeatable, and was beginning to become Defined.

When we rolled out this process to leaders and those who were closer to the actual execution of day-to-day processes, we trained others on the lexicon, validated the definitions, and updated our working definitions to ensure consistency and that definitions matched agency reality. During monthly meetings, data would be reviewed, discussed, and actions would be taken. Roles were clarified, documented, and refined. The process was moving from Repeatable to Defined.

After the process had been instituted, quantitative data was being used to tell some of the more qualitative stories behind it. For instance, one struggling region drastically improved their output after receiving training, tools, and techniques from a region that was performing well on their data. Having these agreed upon metrics allowed the agency to proactively identify issue areas and allocate resources to training or supporting those regions who were not meeting the standard. The process was now Capable.

The process is still being followed and additional layers are being added and best practices are being shared to optimize the process and move the process towards becoming Efficient.

Each stage has symptoms and tools that can be implemented to help diagnose, address, and mature processes to drive performance. This framework can be a valuable tool for benchmarking or evaluating where an organization stands in their process maturation. Recognizing the stage can help you to better identify the steps to take and solutions that can help your client improve processes and performance.

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Evan Piekara

With over twelve years of experience consulting and working in the government and nonprofit sectors. Evan started his nonprofit career as a member of Teach For America (TFA), where he served as a teacher, volunteer, and in operational support and training roles for the organization. He has supported BDO Public Sector in the launch of their management consulting practice and has provided strategy and operations, human capital, and information technology support to government and nonprofit clients. At BDO Public Sector, Evan led efforts building internal practice recruiting processes including interview questions, cases, and candidate evaluation criteria and developed their Graduate Advisor internship program.