December 2020

Process Maturity: A recipe for navigating difficult times

CIDMIconNewsletter Dawn Stevens, Comtech Services


Unprecedented – perhaps the word of the year, or at least the adjective most often used to describe 2020. As individuals faced health crises and grief, companies also fought for survival, asking their departments, teams, and staff to streamline—to find new ways of working, to put improvement projects on hold, to produce the same, or more, with less. When such big moments of crises and change occur, how do the best navigate through them?A contributing factor to success and survival is an organization’s process maturity. Just as mature adults better handle a situation where things don’t go their way than young children, mature organizations are often better equipped to react and adjust when their norm is threatened and the bottom falls out of their plans. Mature organizations already possess the discipline to constantly seek innovation and embrace change and can effectively draw on that experience when faced with the unexpected. The definition of a mature organization varies based on discipline. In information development, Dr. JoAnn Hackos, founder of Comtech Services, developed the Information-Development Process Maturity Model (IPMM) in 1994 to identify the critical characteristics of high-performing, mature content teams. Through detailed analyses of 12 best-in-class information-development organizations, Dr. Hackos and an advisory panel of industry leaders found that the efficiency and effectiveness of information-development organizations could be attributed to the organization’s behaviors within eight key areas. As the model itself has matured and the industry has evolved, these eight areas have now grown to eleven:

  • Organizational structure – does the team have the power, authority, and infrastructure support to control its own processes and deliverables?
  • Hiring and training – does the organization recruit people with the appropriate skills for the position and provide training opportunities for career advancement and professional development?
  • Budget – is the team in control of its own department budget?
  • Estimating, scheduling, and tracking – are individual projects allocated specific budgets and schedules and tracked against them?
  • User focus – does the team have direct access to users of their content and does that influence the way content is designed and written?
  • Planning – is each documentation project planned before writing begins?
  • Information design – does content conform to a proven and consistent content strategy?
  • Taxonomy – is content categorized and tagged for easy findability?
  • Quality assurance – are corporate writing standards apparent and consistently enforced?
  • Collaboration – is content creation a team effort, taking advantage of the individual skills of each person?
  • Change management – does the organization plan for and embrace change?

As 2020 draws to a close, adjustments from its aftermath continue into the new year. How prepared are you to face those changes? Take some time to compare your organization to the traits of a mature organization in each area.

Levels of Maturity

When evaluating your organization against the ideal, keep in mind that maturity cannot be measured on a simple yes/no scale – you are not either mature or immature, but somewhere along a continuum, which the IPMM defines as follows:

  • Level 1: Ad-hoc. Ad-hoc organizations are characterized chiefly by a lack of structure and uniform practices. Each individual follows a unique process and applies standards independently.
  • Level 2: Rudimentary. Rudimentary organizations are in the process of putting their structures and standards in place. Despite good intentions, the rudimentary new practices are often abandoned under pressure of deadlines and constantly changing requirements, as well as lack of commitment among the staff to changing individual practices.
  • Level 3: Organized and repeatable. Within organized and repeatable organizations, the majority of the staff support and are committed to following uniform processes, templates, and standards. Because processes work so well, staff begin to find opportunities for improvement.
  • Level 4: Managed and sustainable. A managed and sustainable organization has engrained its processes such that they occur habitually without relying on leaders validating and enforcing them. Level 4 organizations often begin to influence other content creating organizations within the company.
  • Level 5: Optimizing. An optimizing organization regularly calls into question its own practices and standards, continually seeking to develop innovations that will increase effectiveness.

These five levels of process maturity are based on the progression Comtech has observed in the hundreds of organizations we have studied, from an immature organization that cannot reliably produce documents at a repeatable level of quality to mature organizations that consistently produce information products that satisfy customer needs.

Each characteristic within the module can and should be measured on this continuum, giving a detailed view of where an organization should best direct its attention to improve its overall maturity. Practices do not typically progress evenly, often because an organization finds itself working hard to improve one area while holding other areas in abeyance. However, with a long-term strategic plan in place, such a mixed organization will have clearly identified the areas requiring improvement and have a plan for making those improvements.

The 11 Characteristics

As would be expected in a 26-year-old model, individual traits within each characteristic have changed somewhat over time. However, while some details may have changed, the overarching characteristics have remained relevant since the model’s inception. While some may be more important to certain types of challenges, the set as a whole represent a complete picture of information-development

Organizational Structure


Organizational structure is a key characteristic in defining process maturity because it reflects the underlying support system available to information-development organizations. Without a sound organizational structure that supports the development of standard processes and architecture, all of the other activities associated with process maturity will not follow. They are all dependent on an organization that is fully engaged in the development of professional practices in information development. The structure must support the activities essential to the information-development life cycle, including information planning, information architecture, project estimating and tracking, quality assurance activities, user engagement, and all the other best practices associated with the IPMM.
Traits of Maturity
  • Critical publication functions are centralized and standardized
  • Clear lines of ownership, responsibilities, and authority exist
  • Team members report to knowledgeable publications managers
  • Structure allows and encourages cross-functional collaboration and communication, rather than “over-the-wall” handoffs
  • Project management spans organizational silos


Hiring and Training


Obviously, mature processes depend on the quality of the individuals who follow them. The ability to hire and train a professional staff is therefore a crucial consideration in determining the overall maturity of an organization. The organization must have a clear understanding of the core competencies required to produce their information products. To retain knowledgeable staff, opportunities must be given for professional development and advancement.
Traits of Maturity
  • Standard job descriptions exist
  • Qualifications of candidates are verified through recommendation checks and testing
  • Team members participate in the hiring process
  • New hires go through a standard onboarding process
  • Training opportunities are provided for career advancement and professional development




The implementation of mature processes requires a budget that not only provides for necessary headcount to complete the work, but also builds in development opportunities to improve infrastructure and team competencies. Well-funded organizations are better able to innovate and have a better ability to respond quickly to industry changes.This area is closely tied to organizational structure because without an actual documentation organization, there is often no place to allocate a documentation budget. Writers are funded by the development teams they support, which typically means that no budget beyond salary is specifically dedicated to individuals or required infrastructure, as the development budget is allocated to the focus of the department – engineering – rather than supplementary activities, such as documentation.
Traits of Maturity
  • Budgets are based on yearly projections of work to be done and historical data
  • Budgets allow for special projects, including capital and infrastructure costs
  • Budgets support learning and innovation
  • Budgets are tracked throughout the year
  • Project costs are well understood


Estimating, Scheduling, and Tracking


An information-development process that has measurement at its core is critical to understanding the impact of other maturity characteristics on productivity and effectiveness. Time tracking is an essential ingredient in the management of information-development activities. It provides critical information for estimating the resources required for future projects, supporting requests for new resources, building a business case to fund an innovation, or determining the value associated with a task in the information-development process flow. In addition, regular attention to project time expended can shed light on possible project risks before they become unrecoverable.
Traits of Maturity
  • Project estimates based on historical data of past performance
  • Schedules based on the hours required for tasks and the projected workload for the responsible person
  • Team members accurately track actual hours spent on each project or deliverable
  • Actual hours are regularly compared to project estimates and deviations identified for risk mitigation


User Focus


A mature organization recognizes that documentation’s sole purpose is to provide support to the users of the product it supports. To meet that goal, it is imperative that the organization understand who its users are and what they both need and expect from the documentation. The target audience defines all strategies for the resulting content, including:

  • The content included
  • The tone taken
  • The delivery mechanisms used
  • Keywords and other search support
  • The definition of quality

A mature organization, therefore, keeps the user in mind in every action. It has proven processes in place for regularly gathering information about it is usersand it knows how to use that data to target its content appropriately.

Traits of Maturity
  • Personas and/or customer journey maps exist describing typical users and their information needs and use characteristics
  • Regular feedback is gathered from users and addressed in subsequent releases
  • Team members have regular access to users
  • User studies such as usability tests, focus groups, and site observations are conducted regularly




Content plans that include details about the project, the process, and the design and deliverables are essential assets for a mature information-development organization. When done in the context of user requirements, planning typically decreases information development time and alters the distribution of activities during the information-development life cycle, as plans are built to create only the content needed by the target audience. In addition, good planning affords the opportunity to reuse content, as part of the planning cycle includes an analysis of what content already exists that could be reused.
Traits of Maturity
  • Detailed plans exist for each project
  • Adequate information is available regarding the project scope during the planning process
  • Plans are based on historical data from similar past projects
  • Plans are updated as new information is learned during the course of the project
  • Performance against the plan is tracked and risks identified


Information Design


An information-development organization is only considered successful if the products it creates are usable and well-received by the end user. Content strategy must keep the needs of end users in mind while applying industry best practices for writing, including strategies such as minimalism, structured authoring, and reuse. Content should be continually re-evaluated to ensure that it reflects current best practices and adopts to the changing needs of the end users.
Traits of Maturity
  • Content conforms to industry best practices for writing, including minimalism and structured authoring
  • Content is planned, designed, and written with the needs of the user in mind
  • Content is written to maximize reusability
  • Content is delivered via multiple channels appropriately
  • Content development takes advantage of current tools and technologies




Modern content users expect technical content to be searchable. The number one complaint of users is that they cannot rapidly find the information they need, and the most common request is to make searches more “Google-like.” To meet these demands, a mature organization must have developed a metadata strategy based on a common, enterprise-wide taxonomy and offer a sophisticated search engine that can use that metadata to provide relevant, appropriately prioritized search results, which provide not only the title, but short descriptions and often information such as publication date, to help users make the right selection.
Traits of Maturity
  • A taxonomy of terms and relationships exists and aligns with the corporate taxonomy if one exists
  • Content is consistently tagged and validated according to the taxonomy
  • Metadata drives dynamic delivery of user and product-specific content and/or artificial intelligence
  • User search terms are monitored and incorporated as needed into the working taxonomy
  • A governance system is in place for the addition or deletion of terms


Quality Assurance


Quality assurance represents a series of actions that ensure that content is accurate, complete, and meets user requirements. These actions include:

  • developmental editing to structure content according to user needs
  • reviews by subject-matter experts
  • editing for consistency and compliance with standards
  • copyediting for typos, grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes

Each of these quality assurance actions can be fraught with difficulties, especially when project schedules are seriously curtailed. Yet one very important mark of a mature organization is the ability to assure quality within a high-pressure environment. In fact, lean and agile approaches to product development place quality assurance at the top rather than the bottom of the list of critical project components.

Traits of Maturity
  • Editorial standards exist and are adhered to
  • Content is reviewed at key points throughout the publication process by qualified editors
  • Adequate time is allocated for quality assurance activities
  • Review cycles are never compromised or skipped
  • Common content is reviewed and approved only once and can then be reused without further review




In today’s workplace, information developers must be increasingly collaborative in their working environment. It is no longer acceptable for writers to work in isolation and “throw content over the wall” to the next team. Teams must work together to meet demanding schedules, coordinating efforts and solving problems as they arise. Collaboration impacts all other process maturity characteristics because without a shared vision, mutual respect and trust, and good communication, processes begin to fail.
Traits of Maturity
  • Team members work effectively across organizational boundaries
  • Team members are available to each other to answer questions, solve problems, or complete work
  • Team members share the same goals and vision
  • Team members trust each other
  • Team members feel respected by their peers
  • Team members communicate effectively with each other
  • Work is coordinated and redundancies eliminated


Change Management


A mature information-development organization must be prepared to manage change effectively if it wants the pursuit of innovation to become a hallmark of its work. Mature organizations are continually innovating, challenging the status quo, and embracing continuous process improvement. Without change management in place, however, organizations risk having team members refuse to embrace innovations or deliberately avoid adopting an innovative practice in their own work. When people do not understand the business necessity behind a new practice or design nor how the innovation will affect their personal work practices, they reject or undermine the change.
Traits of Maturity
  • Need for change is explained and justified
  • Timelines for change are well communicated and managed
  • Regular communication channels are established to report status of the change
  • Roles and responsibilities during the change are clearly established
  • Training is conducted as appropriate for team members to adapt to the change


How Does Your Organization Stack Up?

In any organization, individual perceptions of the strengths and weaknesses will differ. Comtech has developed a maturity assessment tool and process to provide an unbiased assessment of your organization’s maturity. Consider scheduling one for 2021 to receive:

  • An assessment of the state of your organization in comparison with best-in-class information-development organizations worldwide
  • Custom recommendations for increasing your maturity levels in each area


About the Author: Dawn Stevens, is CIDM’s Director and President of Comtech Services. She has 30 years of practical experience in virtually every role within a documentation and training department, including project management, instructional design, writing, editing, and multimedia programming.