The Four Stages of Management Operating System (MOS) Maturity

By Patrick Smith and Scott Whitbread


The graphic below displays the various stages of maturity for a Management Operating System. Knowing where you lie on the curve is the first step in furthering your improvement capabilities. Each category lays out four characteristics that will help you assess where your organization lies on the curve. Once you know where you are on the curve and what lies ahead, you can begin to create a plan for how to shift to the right on the diagram. Organizations that achieve the highest stage of improvement (step change breakthroughs) will be the leaders in the future with market share, profitability, and employee satisfaction.

Fighting Fires

If you find yourself in the fighting fires stage, then things are hectic and getting worse. You find yourself in a largely unorganized situation where people are working hard, but failing to make headway. Most of the time, revenue or profit may be on a slight (or not so slight) decline, and if something doesn’t change soon, the company may go out of business. To move beyond this stage you will need to begin developing a Management Operating System: adding the beginnings of structure, helping your people learn improvement techniques, and being able to identify what to tackle next.

Treading Water

If you are in the treading water stage, then your organization has started to implement some structure and has successfully been able to keep performance level. There might have been a push to move from fighting fires to treading water, which included dedicated efforts and hard work. Or the organization could be drifting backwards, teetering on the edge of regression. Either way, additional structure and improvement focus is needed to push the organization forward. Many organizations will see the next step as implementing a continuous improvement process, looking at small improvements over the long term. Implementing a results-focused transformation will push the organization towards realizing results and bring it above the equilibrium point of improvement.

Incrementally Improving

If you find your organization in the incrementing stage, then you are actively improving performance and have a strong structure in place. The mood is most likely upbeat as actions are being completed to push the organization forward. You have a continuous improvement-literate and engaged workforce striving to ensure that results will be sustained. From here, there is the risk of complacency moving forward. To reach the next level, you will need to break out of the comfort zone of this stage and see beyond the continuous improvement process.  A structure that is rigorous, but allows for individuals to optimize is now necessary. A focus on challenging the conventional limits sets you apart in the next stage. Working on the small gains is no longer good enough. You need to identify all opportunities, prioritize the most important ones, and realize them as quickly as possible.

Step Change Breakthroughs

If you are in the leap frogging category, then you are ahead of the game. You are realizing huge success in performance and have a structure and workforce to help you continue to innovate. The biggest focus in this category is finding the next big breakthrough and continuing to press your advantage. Achieving ongoing, step change improvements is the major focus of the business. It is helpful to find all of your zero-based opportunity to improve and have a workforce well versed in how to realize improvements.


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