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  • Writer's pictureIsobel McEwan

What is an Innovation Maturity Model and how can you use it?

When it comes to innovation, many models exist that help organisations to craft a winning strategy that is appropriate for their stage of development. For example, using the RACI model when managing a new innovation project enables an organisation to better delegate responsibilities, utilise team members’ skills appropriately and reach the end goal in the most efficient manner.

Yet what happens when you are several years into the innovation process, you’ve scaled your innovationand boosted your efficiency but have now begun to lose direction and pace? Perhaps you’ve moved from being a start-up to a larger and even internationally operating brand and are looking for ways to remain agile and responsive to change? Does a model exist to provide guidance in this phase of the innovation process?


Cue, an Innovation Maturity Model (IMM). Part of the challenge of implementing an IMM is an apparent lack of accepted definition as to what this concept entails. Usually helpful websites such as Business Dictionary and Investopedia do not hold definitions of what constitutes an Innovation Maturity Model.

However, looking a little deeper into the concept there are detailed and useful articles written by innovation professionals on this subject. For example, Innovation Program Manager at Cisco, Craig Wirkus, recently wrote a two-part series on the key features of an IMM and how to build the right model for your business needs.

Wirkus first suggests that there are four guiding principles of a successful IMM:

1. It must be scalable and repeatable – this improves consistency over time and boosts efficiency by avoiding the need to create, learn and apply a new model several times.

2. It must be evidence based – Wirkus argues there can be discrepancies between what leaders say is happening with an organisation and what is actually happening, and so building a model based on tangible evidence is necessary for success.

3. It needs to be simple to administer and measure – simplicity is key to managing effectiveness and ensuring your IMM remains consistent, regardless of who is implementing it.

4. It should be predictive of innovation program performance – this element looks to the future and provides strong direction going forwards, using ROI and bottom line results to measure how effective your maturity model has been and can be over time.


Using Wirkus’ basic components as a foundation on which to build, constructing an innovation maturity model which suits the needs of your business is necessary to tailor it to your unique needs.

In the second blog of his two-part series, Wirkus notes that the absence of pre-built IMM’s that organisations can adapt to their needs was, until recently, a problem. In response to this, Cisco has since designed their own IMM that can act as a starting point for businesses. Dividing the organisation into key areas of innovation activity, namely ‘leadership and strategy’, ‘process and tools’ and ‘people and culture’, Wirkus’ blog provides a helpful graphic to break down each of these segments.

Once these segments are identified, Wirkus believes that when directing attention to how to improve each of the areas above, ‘one of the most effective is to create a progressive, tiered system of excellence for each exemplifier.’ This provides ‘innovation milestones’ which ensure an organisation ‘can walk before they can run’ and involves team members from all levels of the company in the process.


Like all instances of embarking on a new strategy, sometimes getting started can be the most challenging step to take. In order to begin creating an IMM that suits your organisation, asking the right questions of your leadership and teams is a good place to start. This allows you to fulfil the first of Wirkus’ guiding principles, that your IMM is evidence based.

According to Innovation Excellence, a few simple questions can help you get started with your IMM:

  • What type of leadership do we need for innovation right now, and for the next year?

  • What is the proper financing or funding model (centralized; decentralized; venture; project specific)?

  • What inputs or outputs should we measure on our dashboard?

  • When and how should we integrate innovation into our other institutional meta-processes?

  • What are the best ways to organize our innovation initiatives?

By focusing on key areas such as leadership, organisation, measurement and integration that are more familiar to most organisations, the maturity model can be discussed in well-known and useable terms that bring it into common parlance and alleviate the problems of a lack of concrete definition.

Please get in touch to find out more how we can help you understand the future you need to create and design the right innovation program for your organisation.

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