“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but habit.”

– Aristotle, 4th Century BC Greek Philosopher


I came across process maturity levels when leading a strategy project for ISACA, the largest IT Association in the world. One of the issues in process improvement work is quickly assessing the quality of a process. Process maturity levels will help you quickly assess processes and conceptualize the appropriate next step to improve a process.

Organizations are made up of hundreds and often thousands of processes. Strategic leaders often stumble upon process issues such as waste, quality, inconsistency, and things continually falling through the cracks, which are all symptoms of processes at low levels of maturity.

If you can identify, understand and diagnose essential processes with low levels of maturity, you can start to fix them and improve the overall efficiency and effectiveness of your organization.


What are process maturity levels?

Process maturity levels are different maturity states of a process. Initially created by the Software Engineering Institute, they serve as a helpful tool to reference the maturity of a particular process and the next level of maturity for a process. The 5 levels of process maturity are:


process maturity levels example


Level 1 – Initial (Chaotic)

Level 1 processes are characterized as ad hoc and often chaotic,  uncontrolled, and not well-defined or documented.

When working with a new organization, I often find many Level 1 processes. They are typically important processes that aren’t a focus of everyday work, so they slip through the cracks. Quickly make someone responsible for essential Level 1 processes and have them map the process and create a standard operating procedure (SOP).


Level 2 – Repeatable

Level 2 processes are typically repeatable, sometimes with consistent results. The process knowledge usually resides in a person’s head. It probably is not well-defined and lacks discipline.

You’ll often come across Level 2 processes that are the domain of a gatekeeper, who thinks they’ll create job security if no one knows how they do a specific process. Quickly remedy the situation by having them document the process and start improving it.


Level 3 – Defined

Level 3 processes are formally defined and documented as a standard operating procedure so that someone skilled, but with no prior knowledge, can successfully execute the process. While defined, there is typically a significant opportunity to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the process.

If you have many Level 3 processes that are well defined, often in standard operating procedures, consider yourself lucky. The next step is to manage and optimize them.


Level 4 – Managed

Level 4 processes are managed through process metrics, controls, and analysis to identify and address areas of opportunity. Often, organizations that have embraced Lean or Six Sigma have a fair amount of Level 4. The next step is the continuous improvement of the processes.


Level 5 – Optimizing

Level 5 processes are optimized using the necessary diagnostic tools and feedback loops to continuously improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the processes through incremental and step-function improvements and innovations.


How can I use the process maturity levels?

Process maturity is a helpful framework to drive order out of chaos. Below is the typical game plan for driving to different levels of process maturity:


Level 1 “Initial (Chaotic) to Level 2 Repeatable

The first step is awareness. When you hear of the same issues happening over and over again, you probably have an “invisible process” that is a Level 1 “initial” (chaotic) process. These Level 1 processes are the “chaos” in your organization that drives incredible inefficiency, complexity, and costs. Getting to Level 2 is as simple as having someone repeat the process in a way that creates consistent results. You can do this by shadowing the person or getting taken through the process, and making someone accountable for doing the process consistently.


Level 2 “Repeatable” to Level 3 “Defined”

This is the defacto step that should be taken with all semi-important to important processes across the organization. The person “responsible” for a particular process should define the process, goals, owners, inputs, and outputs and document all the steps to the process using a standard operating procedure (SOP) template. Then, a person who has the skills to perform the process, but lacks the knowledge of the process, should do the process using the SOP to see if they can get the same consistent results by following the process instructions. Well-run companies have a database filled with SOPs across the organization so that anyone can understand and perform a process.


Level 3 “Defined” to Level 4 “Managed”

This is typically the most significant step of maturity, given it is abstracting a process to the input, output, efficiency and effectiveness metrics, so that you quantitatively understand the process. This step typically necessitates software or a system to enable automated workflow and the ability to extract data and information on the process. Furthermore, this step involves reporting on and management of the process.


Level 4 “Managed” to Level 5 “ Optimized”

This step necessitates continuous improvement through feedback loops and analytics to diagnose and address opportunities. This is the realm of robust business intelligence and statistical tools. For larger companies and processes, process engineers may be assigned to drive continuous improvement programs, fine-tuning a process to wring out all the efficiencies.

Regardless of your organization or the nature of your work, understanding and working through process maturity levels will help you quickly improve your organization.



To get you going on improving the maturity of a process, download the free and editable Process Maturity Optimization Worksheet.



process maturity worksheet template


Exercise 1 – Assess an Important Process

Take an important process and use the Process Maturity Worksheet to document the inputs, general processes, and outputs. Then document the various stakeholders regarding who generates inputs, who executes and is responsible for the general process, and who are the customers and beneficiaries of the outputs. And, then go through each maturity level question and document the current state to assess the maturity of the process. Once that is complete, you can create an improvement plan to move the process from the current maturity to the target maturity level.




 Learn more about Joe Newsum, the author of all this free content and a McKinsey Alum. I provide a suite of coaching and training services to realize the potential in you, your team, and your business. Learn more about me and my coaching philosophy.
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