The Skills Matrix and Beyond

July 28, 2022
/ in
Industry Trends
/ by
Karl Adriaenssens, Office of the CTO, GCSIT
Understanding the value of Skills Management is essential to Agility

We truly live in exciting times. Technology has significantly changed the way we work since the days when most people stuck to one job or one employer for most of their lives. These endless and brisk changes at the very core of Agile Infrastructure are unmistakably the new normal.

Riding this unrelenting wave of technology, Digital Transformation is the only reasonable way forward. It has enabled businesses to automate processes, facilitate teamwork across locations, allow companies to hire remote workers and freelancers.

In this quick introduction, I will attempt to help you understand the value of Skills Management when attempting to transition a company to a state of Agility. More specifically, to help you consider the idea that the skills and competences of employees can directly affect a company's sustainability. Armed with this novel insight, it may inspire you to improve your employee training and development in ways that allow you to create more effective project teams.

What is a Skills Matrix?

The Skills Matrix is one of the core components of Skills Management, the discipline that provides support for understanding, developing, and utilizing people’s skills.

A Skills Matrix is typically a visual tool that displays, usually in the form of a table, each individual's level of competency in specific skills and their level of interest in utilizing those skills. The matrix is generally useful for small groups of people but can be expanded.

On the left side of the typical matrix, you'll see specific skills or knowledge areas needed for a particular project. For example, if you're quantifying an engineering position, you'll see several hardware and software skills listed.

Be as specific as possible when determining what skills are needed, and remember that soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and reliability are just as important as the hard skill sets such as knowing specific technologies or techniques.

On the top of the matrix, you will list all the individuals you will be tracking. This will obviously include all your employees but can easily be expanded to contractors/freelancers you are working with if your projects use external resources. Especially in the post-covid era of remote workers and freelancers, tracking only internal employees is just not hitting the mark on effective team assignment.

The real data in the skills matrix consists of two variables that need to be entered for every person:

  • Their proficiency regarding the skill
  • Their interest to use the skill

The exact values assigned to these 2 variables are not important, as long as the chosen values are consistently applied across all the tracked skill sets and employees.

The Skills Matrix offers a reliable way to see which skills are available within a team. It can help determine who has the right skills to carry out specific tasks and complete a project.

However, it can also help drive the career path of your employees by looking more closely at the second tracked parameter: interest. Would anyone argue that training an employee in a skill-set that they hate is just not the greatest of HR strategies? Allowing employees to develop new skills in areas of strong interest is possibly the best employee satisfaction tool on the planet.

Why is a Skills Matrix important?

Organizations will need to think of how best to assign tasks to employees to ensure that they remain motivated and engaged. Research is indicating that this can only happen if the organizations understand each employee’s unique skills and abilities, as well as their desires.

“Employees do their best in roles that enable them to integrate their talent (the natural capacity for excellence), skills (what they can do) and knowledge (what they know),” according to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report. “Workers want roles and employers that allow them to make the most of their strengths.”

Skill Matrices are ideal for monitoring your staff's skills, training, qualifications, certifications, and competencies throughout the entire company. Used properly, they improve efficiency within teams, as well as increase your bottom line.

Furthermore, a skill matrix is essential for organizing your project teams efficiently. It helps you identify any skill sets you need based on the requirements of the project. With a good skills matrix, the most skilled and qualified team members can finish your project efficiently.

It will also be apparent from the start when a project is doomed to failure because the needed skill sets are not available. Assuming the skill shortage is of a scheduling nature, a skills matrix can better determine project sequencing or even spread vacations for employees, ensuring the right skills remain on hand at any given time.

Ultimately, it is also advantageous for the HR department or Resource Management team because it offers essential assistance in aligning an employee’s career path with their interests, ensuring a high level of employee retention. If the need to hire additional staff presents itself, they will know which skills to look for.

How to mitigate Skills Matrix limitations.

The most popular tool used for the creation and maintenance of a skills matrix is still largely the venerable spreadsheet. Don’t misunderstand this comment to include derision. I would argue vehemently that it is far more important to just get started with the development of a Skills Matrix with any tool at hand, rather than belabor the ideal tool for Skills Management at scale. The greatest tools are still ineffective without accurate input data, so you might as well try to get that data charted first.

But there are a few limitations to the spreadsheet format you will have to keep a close eye on:

Manager driven: A skill-set spreadsheet for employees is typically put together by a team leader or the HR department. If individuals have little input, control, or even visibility over its content, there is a significant chance of failure. When has an initiative without employee buy-in ever been successful? Get your employees involved as early as possible.

Static content: In its spreadsheet form, a skills matrix is largely static, but the requirements of work and each individual's skills are not. Individuals develop and evolve. It’s important that organizations capture these changes by putting in place a system to update the skills matrix regularly.

Encyclopedic: Traditional skills matrices become cumbersome in large organizations, where the amount of data in the matrix is colossal. Both the increasing number of skills and the increasing number of employees will rapidly undermine the usefulness of the spreadsheet format. Nobody likes to read a 20-volume encyclopedia; and if they do, they will certainly not publicly divulge such a desire.

Raw data is boring: There… I’ve said it. I know everybody was thinking it. Even if you have the raw data of the competencies in your team or department, you need time and attention to study it to find out trends such as the dominant skills, missing skills, and so on. Spreadsheets are not the greatest analytic tools, so getting the ultimate value out of your hard-earned data points will either take some finessing or the use a true analytics tool.

Conclusion

I hope that I have successfully planted the seed that developing a skills matrix is a valuable exercise for organizations because it helps managers understand whether the basic skills required for the job at hand are present in their teams and identify any gaps that can be detrimental to the organization’s performance. While this has always been true in business, an amalgamation of factors is making it almost mandatory.

The first wave of change crashing on the beach was the rise of Agile and with it the demand for faster moving and ever-changing projects; each with their demands on resources. With each project change, and sometimes with each sprint, the ideal team for the project must be adjusted based on the needed skill sets.

The second wave was fueled by a shift in the workforce as the world was dealing with COVID-19. A fundamental shift has and still is occurring from on premises employees to remote employees. We are seeing that outward movement continues as employees turn contractor and freelancer. These new worker categories are much harder to track and place without a full skill understanding.

It’s not quite the perfect storm, but it is definitely a great time to grab the rain gear and life preservers. And please feel free to give us a call if you need help aligning your organization with this evolving world of Agile and Digital Transformations.

Read more:

The Workplace Redefined

6 Trends Shaping Digital Transformation

9 Steps to an Agile Infrastructure

Creating an Agile Infrastructure

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