The idea of capability has become a frequent talking point. However …

…the definitions of the idea of capability range from being equal to the concept of process to be loosely defined as a collection of resources or a component aimed at realising some outcome or purpose. Capability is an old general concept and there are uncountable kinds of capabilities, but only a few kinds interest people in analysis, design, or evaluation work. The proliferation of definitions and usages show few signs of slowing down. The differences in perception and use in and across peoples work may hamper the utility of using the concept of capability in an organisation.

If you wonder …

- if the capability or capability kind a just a Word, made out of Lead, or a newly discovered elementary particle located just beside Gold in the Periodic table?

- if the capability map is a Word Cloud or something relevant and useful to people and their Work-to-be-done?

… then Capability Test provides a way for practitioners to evaluate the value of capabilities. It is a neutral test, which can be applied to an actual capability, kind of capability, or a map of capabilities. It is neutral since it does not favor any particular kind or definition of capability.

The Capability Test focus on exposing the essential contribution(s) of the idea of capability to what an organisation already knows and the methods the organisation use.

How to?

The Capability Test consists of six (6) tests:  (note: a 7th test is in writing)


The Visual test

Look at the name of the capability (or capability kind) and the description, and ask yourself (or an operational expert) if the capability is recognisable or understandable. 

- If the capability is not part of what you talk about in the organisation, not the way you work, or too trivial to be relevant, then the grade or value of the capability is minimal. 

- If the capability makes sense, then the grade or value of using the capability is low.

The Grounding test

A capability (or capability kind) is always grounded in some underlying concept, such as strategic, business, operational, technical or organisational concepts. To exemplify, a “Marketing Management Capability” is grounded in the concept of “Marketing Management”. Without knowing the idea of “Marketing Management” first the “Marketing Management Capability” is not meaningful nor useful.

- If the grounding or underlying concepts are not known to the organisation then the grade or value is lower. 

- If the grounding concepts are well-know, documented, or modelled separately, then the grade or value is higher.

The Pragmatic test

This test focus on evaluating the relevance and usability of a capability (or capability kind) with respect to people and work they do with others.

- If the capability is not relevant to a persons work to be done, then the grade or value is lower. 

- If the capability can be used to solve specific problems, answer specific questions and to provide insights into specific decisions, then the grade or value is higher.

- Otherwise, the grade or value is lower.

The Purity test

This test focus on separating out non-essential meanings and practices from a capability (or capability kind) that can be found used elsewhere in an organisation.

In many approaches, frameworks, and theories the idea of capability has been infused with additional and non-essential meanings. These additions can be hidden assumptions and meanings that authors of approaches or theories have not clearly stated. 

Examples of non-essential and embedded meanings are, component, specification-realisation, composition, deployment concepts, change concepts, strategic or business process logic, performance and goal logic, influence diagram and benefits realisation, business case and investment logic. The examples of non-essential meanings are manifold. 

The question becomes, why do these additions need to be embedded with the general idea of capability when they already exist elsewhere? Why not keep goals in goal models where they existed before capability came along?

- If the embedded non-essential meanings are few or not important, then the general idea of capability is the active ingredient and the grade or value is higher.

- If the embedded non-essential meanings are embedded for practical capability thinking reasons, then the grade or value is somewhat higher.

- If the embedded non-essential meanings have become the active ingredient and more important than the idea of capability, then the grade or value is lower.

The Essential test

This test focus on uncovering the unique contribution(s) of the general idea of capability. The test is formulated as a question:

What does the idea of capability adds to the Work you do, if you already know the underlying grounding, and when you take away non-essential and embedded meanings?

The answer to the question provides the contribution and determines the grade or value. 

- If the contribution is relevant, usable, and unique, then the grade or value is high

- Otherwise, the grade or value is low.

The Differential test

This test focus on untangling the differential value of the idea of capability, i.e. what can be done with capabilities that cannot be done with existing techniques, methods and theories?  What is the value of shifting to capability based methods if one already use other methods with demonstrated and beneficial results? What makes capability based analysis, design and evaluations better than others? If one already knows and applies objective key results, result based management, benefit realisation, balanced score cards, strategy map, goal, investment, business case, influence, or … based methods then what is the relative and differential value of capability based methods over other methods?

- If capabilities can be used to solve problems, or answer specific questions better than other and existing methods then the grade or value is higher.

- Otherwise, the grade or value is low.


The following diagram summarises and illustrates the Capability Test.

Now it is your turn to take a bite and test if your capabilities (or capability kinds) are made out of gold or not.



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