Accelerating Cloud Product Development with the STACKIT Maturity Model

Creating a product company, particularly a cloud platform from scratch is exciting and challenging. I’ve had the opportunity to embark on this journey multiple times, from consulting for software-industry clients to my role at SAP Cloud Platform and now with STACKIT. I’m going to share the insights and lessons learned from these experiences in this blog series. These posts will also be informed by the research I conducted at the University of Stuttgart.

My first article focusses on accelerating and maturing cloud product development… It is a copy of the according LinkedIn article.

The Challenge: Navigating uncharted Territories with plenty of options

Picture yourself embarking on an uncharted journey, venturing into a realm of possibilities unknown to you. This could be the experience of launching a cloud-based company, where the freedom to innovate and explore new frontiers is both exhilarating and daunting. While early-stage product teams relish the autonomy to chart their own course, they often face the challenges of operating in a „wild west“ environment, making independent decisions that can lead to inconsistencies, delays, and uncertainties.

In this uncharted territory, where options abound, product teams need time to find their footing. But… asking each team to handle the complexity of product development decisions independently can detract from their primary objective: maximizing value for their customers or users. Moreover, the pressure of releasing a product to a broader audience can lead to fear and uncertainty, as teams question whether their creation is fully ready for general availability. This fear is often exacerbated by concerns about missed non-functional requirements that could cause unforeseen problems.

Our Golden Path: The STACKIT Maturity Model

To overcome these challenges, early-stage product companies need to establish a framework that provides structure and guidance while still allowing for innovation. That’s why we introduced the STACKIT Maturity Model in order to help STACKIT product teams to scale.

The STACKIT Maturity Model defines non-functional(!) criteria and templates for each stage of product development, providing a structured roadmap and golden path for teams to progress step-by-step. This approach eliminates roadblocks, reduces discussions, and accelerates product development while ensuring enhanced technical quality.

To accommodate less experienced teams, the model offers an incremental approach, allowing teams to mature gradually rather than attempting to reach the pinnacle in a single leap. This incremental growth resembles a child’s development, starting with crawling, then walking, running, and continuously improving. Importantly, the model extends beyond product launch, catering to the post-release period. Which means, the paved-road supports day 2 to day 50 operations, emphasizing sustained scalability.

For teams that embarked on their journey prior to adopting the „golden path,“ the STACKIT Maturity Model offers a path to assess their current product maturity, ensuring they avoid accumulating excessive technical debt before launch. This assessment enables early adopters, or STACKITeers, to leverage their existing knowledge and align with the model’s principles.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

The STACKIT Maturity Model draws inspiration from proven scaling models used by industry leaders like Netflix, Red Hat, and Spotify. While not entirely novel, its principles remain highly relevant in the ever-evolving world of software-driven organizations. Maturity models like ours provide a structured roadmap, akin to a „golden path,“ that is crucial for achieving sustainable growth and scalability. This approach resonates with the concept of „internal developer platforms,“ which increasingly emphasize the value of golden paths for product development.

Visualizing the Solution: A Comprehensive Roadmap for scalable development.

Imagine the STACKIT Maturity Model as a dynamic roadmap, a checklist that simplifies the intricate maze of product development. This roadmap, depicted below, guides teams through various stages of maturity, from initiation to optimization. Each stage is mapped along a spectrum of essential dimensions, or „golden paths,“ like „Service Levels“, „Commercials“, or „Lifecycle Management“ that collectively contribute to successful product development.

Illustration of the Maturity Model

Along this roadmap, each step is accompanied by detailed criteria, links to best practices, templates, and contact information for subject matter experts (SMEs) who can provide guidance and support. This comprehensive approach ensures that teams have the necessary resources to navigate each stage effectively. We believe that merely providing criteria without additional support would leave teams feeling overwhelmed. Instead, we aim to empower them with the knowledge and tools they need to thrive.

Change Management: Implementing the Maturity Model

Introducing a transformative approach like the STACKIT Maturity Model demands a robust organizational change management strategy. After introducing some mistakes at the beginning (yes… stupid) we employed a multifaceted approach, including information sessions, training, short videos, hands-on workshops, and individual follow-ups, to effectively disseminate the model and foster adoption.

Visual Aid: Explaining the Maturity Model: One key element of our change management efforts was the creation of short explainer videos that concisely outlined the model’s key tenets and benefits. See the example below:

The videos circulated among teams, providing a clear and engaging introduction to the maturity model. They communicated the model’s purpose, its structure, and its potential impact on product development. The video highlighted above also served as a valuable tool for onboarding new employees and ensuring consistent understanding across the organization.

Measuring Success and Continuous Improvement

Our implementation of the STACKIT Maturity Model (or golden paths) has yielded significant benefits, despite encountering initial obstacles related to team adoption. While not every team readily embraced change, the efforts invested in change management were crucial to its success. We learned our lession the hard way. Thats why I would encourage you to invest as well into change management, when following a similar approach…

The results: a more standardized approach among product teams, enhanced confidence in the teams‘ ability to deliver high-quality cloud products, and a reduced time to market for new products. Positive feedback from external auditors and internal product teams further validates the effectiveness of our approach. One product owner approached us lately, telling:

„Thank you for the Maturity Model! It has often helped me to be well prepared for questions about product development. This helped us to achieve our goal much faster.“

Which made me smile… 🙂

The Unfinished Tale: Maturing the Maturity Model

Are we done? Everything fine? Our journey with the STACKIT Maturity Model is far from over. Just as our product teams and their products evolve, the maturity model itself requires continuous refinement. While we celebrate our accomplishments, we remain committed to improvement. As we gather feedback, we are exploring ways to enhance the model, perhaps by making it more streamline, having lean variants fitting to different product categories, or by providing additional self-service guidance through templates.

In essence, tools like the STACKIT Maturity Model can serve as valuable guides in our pursuit of mature cloud product development. With ongoing refinements, we are confident that this golden path will continue to steer us towards excellence, eventually becoming a mature product in itself.

Stay tuned for more insights and updates as we continue our journey of scaling organizations and maturing product development.

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