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FinOps Foundation Insights

FinOps Maturity: Using the Model to Assess your Capabilities

April 23, 2024 | Article: 5-minute read

Key Insight: The FinOps Maturity Model – often referred to by its stages “Crawl, Walk, and Run” – is a key component of the FinOps Framework.  The goal for organizations is not to get to the “Run” stage across all Capabilities of the FinOps Maturity Model, but to perform each Capability at the appropriate level of maturity for your environment.

Why is the Maturity Model part of the FinOps Framework?

The FinOps Framework describes an operational framework – a set of systems and processes – to effectively manage cloud usage and cost. Gall’s law tells us that complex systems that work evolved from simple systems that worked. If you want to build a complex process, system, or function, start simply, and iteratively add complexity, ensuring that each addition works in your environment.

In most organizations, performing many FinOps Capabilities will introduce new processes, new strategies, and new systems to manage cloud use efficiently. The Framework includes the Maturity Model to tell FinOps teams to start simply, test against your environment, and incrementally improve Capabilities as you identify need. The Maturity Model is a way to assess the current needs of the organization and describe how to perform a FinOps Capability in each stage of need.

A benefit of developing Capabilities incrementally is that it helps the FinOps team build transparency and trust with all stakeholders. Participating in the development of a Capability from simple to complex provides valuable insights and gives all Personas an opportunity to contribute information, which can generate buy-in that’s critical to FinOps success.

Use Crawl, Walk, Run to assess your needs for each Capability

The FinOps Maturity Model should be used to understand how each individual Capability looks when practiced in a more or less complex environment. The goal is not to be at “Run” maturity in all (or indeed any) of your Capabilities. Instead, the goal is to perform at the level of maturity appropriate for the complexity of your environment.

Consider this analogy:
Hiring a graduate of Le Cordon Bleu culinary school with 10 years experience in Michelin Star restaurants will certainly bring your ability to craft delicious and delicate sauces to a “Run” maturity, but hiring that person to work the grill at a basic diner is likely overkill for that environment, and the expectations of that environment’s patrons.

This is an important concept to understand. Building a Capability to a maturity level that is beyond your current need is overkill – it consumes resources that would be better spent maturing another Capability that is not being performed at the level the organization requires to meet its current goals.

The Maturity Assessment section in a Capability description should not be seen as a checklist of things you must build on a march toward a “Run” level of maturity. Instead, it lists characteristics of that Capability at Crawl, Walk, and Run maturity levels. FinOps teams can use these descriptions as general indicators of where your needs are today. You should also look at other maturity descriptions to see if you need to develop or mature in that Capability.

FinOps teams can apply this process to assess their Capabilities using the Maturity Model:

  1. Determine which Capabilities are critical for your FinOps practice.
  2. Read the Maturity Assessment for those Capabilities and determine which level sounds most like your organization today.
    • You may find that, for example, most characteristics in “Crawl” sound like your organization today but with a few elements “Walk.” This is fine. This does not mean that the organization needs to invest in meeting all of the “Walk” Characteristics. Use the characteristics to assess and describe where your practice is in general, but you needn’t be dogmatic about applying every condition.
  3. Review the Measures of Success/KPIs section for each Capability. (See Measure of Success & KPIs for Rate Optimization as an example.)
    • These KPIs may indicate where the organization requires improvement.
    • KPI improvement may require more maturity if improvement paths are not obvious
  4. Identify areas for improvement in each Capability.
    • Is the FinOps practice currently meeting the business’s needs for each Capability? If not, look at other maturity levels and determine if any sound more like what your organization needs. Highlight areas where work may be needed to mature the way the Capability is performed.

Be cautious using Crawl, Walk, Run to describe your team’s experience or performance

Separately from assessing what Capabilities are important to practice and develop, FinOps teams frequently use the terms “Crawl, Walk, and Run” to describe their level of experience or perceived performance. Statements like “Our FinOps team is at a Crawl” are common, often expressed with a degree of shame at its low level of FinOps Maturity. Be cautious doing this. There is no shame in doing something simply without complexity if it meets your needs. (Remember the Michelin Star chef at the diner.)

A very new FinOps team in a company just starting to use cloud is likely performing most of its FinOps Capabilities in an immature manner. But a very experienced FinOps team may only need to perform some Capabilities at a low maturity level.

For example, at previous FinOps events, a very large Global 50 brand has shared its relatively simple Allocation process with very little cost sharing and a very simple cost allocation strategy. Despite being a very experienced team and having massive cloud use, this basic Allocation practice works for this company, and provides them value without being overly complex. This team’s Allocation Capability operates at a Crawl level, but we wouldn’t describe their team as “Crawlers” or their entire practice as “at a Crawl level.”

Conversely, very inexperienced FinOps teams have access to information on from other practitioners that may enable them to operate at a “Run” level for a Capability that is essential to creating value in that organization’s environment. We use “Run” to describe this Capability, but not their team or overall practice.

So, use the Model to express your needs for each Capability and how you perform a Capability, but avoid using the terms “Crawl, Walk, and Run” to describe your FinOps team, your team’s experience, or their performance.

Use Maturity Assessments to drive decision-making and value

The Maturity Model, like every part of the FinOps Framework, is intended to help organizations make good, data-driven decisions about their cloud use. Once a FinOps team understands the gaps between current practice and the organization’s goals, it can work on filling those gaps.

FinOps teams should use FinOps Assessments (often from cloud providers, tool vendors, or consultants) to regularly check in on where these gaps exist, and document what changes need to be made. When measuring a FinOps practice with Assessments, measure the gap between current practice and your goals so you can see progress over time. Knowing that a FinOps practice has met 100% of its goals for Allocation is quite an accomplishment even if the desired maturity level for Allocation is only a “Walk.” The needs of the organization are being met, which is the most important part.

If your assessment finds that your goals for a Capability are not being met, speaking with another FinOps team, or another team within your own organization, is the way to go. The information you learn is helpful when making decisions about how to get to that higher level of maturity.

Be cautious of metric fixation

Metric Fixation, a specific impact of Goodhart’s Law, can lead organizations to try to achieve the top level, regardless of actual value to the organization. Maturity assessment is a goals-based activity, not a compliance-based activity. FinOps practices get no points for being at a “Run,” they get points for being able to support the needs of their organization.

Buying a tool that does “AI Based Anomaly Resolution Planning” when the organization cannot take advantage of the basic benefits of that tool is not a good way to spend your time or money, even if it notionally brings the Anomaly Management assessment score from a 2.0 to a 2.2.

Practice FinOps efficiency

FinOps teams themselves should also be only as mature as they need to be. Teams that can accomplish their goals and support the organization’s cloud use at a lower maturity for any Capability are winning. This doesn’t mean that every FinOps team will be able to function well at a Crawl in every Capability either. It is common to need to build complexity quickly in some areas to reap the benefits of cloud, while other areas may work quite well at low levels of maturity for a long time. As with everything in FinOps, there’s a balance between maturing and operating.

There is no “run-and-done” 

Some organizations are very sophisticated in their cloud use, and in managing that cloud use. Once the awareness of a FinOps practice has been spread ubiquitously across an organization, metrics and automation are driving good behavior, and operational processes are handling all of the edge cases, there may be a tendency to celebrate.

But note that the only constant in life (and cloud) is change. Even if a FinOps team is operating maturely for every Capability, mergers and acquisitions, new use cases, architectural changes, new services, and new clouds can all impact the organization’s goals and maturity needs. Very few organizations have the luxury of standing still in their cloud use or their FinOps practice. This is why FinOps teams must continuously re-examine and assess if the practice is meeting the current needs of the environment and its stakeholders.

No FinOps practice should be expected to be at a Run level of maturity in every Capability, in every aspect of that Capability, for every Cloud, and in every use case. There is always more to learn, room to grow, and this dynamic ecosystem constantly presents new challenges to the FinOps team.

Share your experiences with the community

One thing organizations can do to help themselves and others is to share the Capability practices that work for them. The FinOps community benefits from hearing from other Practitioners, and those benefits accrue as those ideas are shared in FinOps Working Groups, at FinOps events, and with peers throughout the whole community.

Successful FinOps teams use the “Crawl, Walk, Run” Maturity Model to assess themselves and find opportunities to continuously adjust as needs change. So, if your Allocation Capability operates at a Crawl level, and that meets the needs of your organization, state it proudly, and share how you accomplished that with others. The value of the FinOps community comes from learning these lessons from one another, since no two FinOps practices are exactly the same. There is always something to learn from one another as we evolve in our FinOps journeys.

  • FinOps Foundation Perspectives

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