In an earlier instalment we talked about Managing Engineers, with some recommendations of understanding the personality types and a brief introduction to the idea of Skills Frameworks. In this entry I’d like to revisit skills frameworks to look at some of the practical benefits they can bring in organising a project team.
Firstly, it should come as no surprise that the skills framework can be used as an objective assessment tool, to gather the capabilities of your engineers in terms of the roles they have previously fulfilled, to what competence level and how recently.
If we repeat this over a number of project teams, as a Resource Manager for instance, then we have the basic material from which to derive a team of individuals who have the appropriate combinations of skills for individual projects… rather than just go for the people who have recently become available!
As roles are usually made up of a set of skills, each performed at a certain competence level (accepting that these may be different inside different companies, or for different regulatory or market needs), it is a simple task to do gap analysis between different roles and establish the obvious ‘growth’ route to the next role from each particular role. Typically this is a move to a role where either a new skill has to be added (possibly at a low competence level) or the growth of a skill is required.
As competence levels usually identify stages from the novice, through minimal supervision, to a supervisory role, then supervision of increasing numbers, on projects of increasing degree of difficulty, to expert… these increments are easy to judge (use the skills framework for regular periodic re-assessment). Some skills degrade with lack of use, so you may wish to ensure that sufficient continuous professional development is evident to maintain a skill (at the required competence level) that is not regularly practiced.
Beware though, although competence levels are typically identified numerically, these are labels not values. Do not attempt to do some mathematical or numerically algorithmic assessment of skills and competence levels as roles may have different spans; A software architect at a level that needs supervision on a complex project, may not be equivalent to a software test engineer who is a team leader on a simple project. If your job descriptions, like many, include several roles, the numerical score will not deliver you “the most valuable person”, or “the most loaded occupation”.
What is valuable, however, is the recognition when a skill is unique, or where you have very few individuals, as this relates to the fragility of the organisation, as well as giving indications about the ability to deliver concurrent projects. Weaknesses of these sorts should be the target of skills action plans, to generate, mentor or acquire the requisite additional strength. The reverse is also true, where skills are plentiful, skill plans should look to diversify those roles into different growth paths, or by increasing key individuals’ competence levels.
So at the absolute levels you can appropriately partition your staff for roles they are suited, understanding their growth challenges and administering appropriate support. Over a period of time, however, you can also understand the rate of growth by ‘trending’ the changes in assessment patterns (again not numerically, except possibly with competence levels within a skill, as part of a role of an individual’s job!).
Both absolute and trend information should help support individual training plans, ambition and career paths. They can be used to set and assess targets, used to inform on performance assessment or suitability for promotion or awards, but again a note of caution that competence levels are labels and not those labels are not equivalent across skills; not all skills require equivalent intellectual or effort levels and roles depend on the product, process and market expectations; jobs are often a tailored mix of roles, especially when staff are in short supply. So a skill framework should not be used as a blueprint to ‘cookie cutter’ a set of team members for a project, or be used blithely across a population for comparison.
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