Growth and Maturity Product Lifecycle

Maturity is hard

Maturity is hard to describe and even harder to measure. We tend to imagine we can know it when we see it, but this approach is unreliable. Popular psychology is awash in “quotients” that attempt to describe many dimensions of maturity: Intelligence, Emotional, Social, Cultural, dealing with Adversity, etc.

Each individual follows a unique path to maturity, and so does each organization. This path is nonlinear: We tend to get stuck, learn, grow, and then get stuck again. It has no upper bound, no theoretical limit. The journey to maturity never ends.

Maturity models

Such complexities have led to the emergence of various models that classify organizations into discrete levels of maturity. These models help make the journey to maturity easier to understand and measure.

But all models are limited. The popular maturity models are functional in nature, describing the maturity of one part of a larger organization. They don’t always address the problems keeping organizations from creating sustainable growth and the enterprise value that follows it. There is no direct linkage between higher levels of maturity according to these models and greater enterprise value.

An alternate approach

We must look across all functions at the business outcomes that create significant and measurable increases in enterprise value. This value creation happens along a predictable Lifecycle regardless of the details of a given business.

Startups generally pass through the full Lifecycle once if they are lucky and well-managed enough. Established companies might make additional passes as they refine their offerings and create new ones. Large organizations may have many offerings in flight in each stage of the Lifecycle at any given time.

We measure the maturity of an organization at each stage of the Lifecycle using the 5-level scale common to many other maturity models. The intersection of the two looks like this:

The Lifecycle Maturity Model

Organizations with high maturity throughout the entire Lifecycle are exceedingly rare. The CMMI Institute reports that over an 11-year period ending in 2019, only about 12% of organizations assessed against the CMMI (Lifecycle Phase 3) were rated Level 4 or Level 5. Such maturity across all six phases of the Lifecycle is likely a 1-in-100,000 proposition.


In reality, a typical startup looks like this:

A typical startup’s Lifecycle Maturity Model

Founders typically generate random Ideas and ad-hoc Models. They might apply enough rigor to Feasibility to get funding, and enough during Build to make reasonable bursts of progress toward Launch. The Launch customers are idiosyncratic, chosen ad-hoc, and may or may not represent the rest of the market. Scale is so far over the horizon that no one inside the company really has any idea what it looks like. They’ll figure that out when they get there; if they are lucky enough to get there at all.

Established businesses

An established, reasonably-managed business typically looks like this:

The Lifecycle Maturity Model of a typical established business

The founders who led the organization through the early stages of the Lifecycle probably cashed out once the business achieved Scale. As a result, no one remembers how the Idea or Model came to be. Current leadership manages the business through a defined organizational structure and processes with reasonably clear accountabilities.

Initiatives occasionally squeeze out cost, address quality problems, and attempt to satisfy the largest customers. Leadership evaluates the Feasibility of these initiatives and may produce roadmap of future enhancements. But these often do not align with the needs of the broader market, and priorities change frequently as a result. Leadership struggles to launch these low-risk, low-return, incremental changes into new segments or new markets, and growth stagnates.

We can all mature

Most individuals and organizations can mature through focused and intentional work. Many lack the self-awareness to understand where they are stuck and what is holding them back. Others fail to slow down enough to mature, believing instead that working harder and going faster is the answer. But this approach only burns out and drives away the kind of people who see clearly enough to understand why the organization is stuck.

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