Skills management through T-shaped principles

In today’ IT environment, talent is one of the scarcest resource. That’s why so many organizations are building ambitious recruitment plans to attract new talents. Yet, only a few of them are really working on developing the skills of their existing teams.

Most of the European companies that are looking for a specific IT skill will prefer to hire external contractors – not training their inner resources. If you work in a big organization, i’m sure this also sounds familiar.

Here’s a couple of the reasons why these organizations are doing so :

  1. There’s usually a yearly budget allocated to staff training and this budget is being reduced every year as part of the recurrent cost cutting exercises. With a budget of less than 500€ per year and person, it’s difficult to fund the need for up-skilling all of your team resources
  2. Managers are usually looking for stability regarding their resources. Most of them will tend to maintain existing resources as long as possible on their current position. Hence, providing these resources with a new set of skills could give them the weird idea to evolve toward a new position…

    Good news is that new management practices – as well as agile organization – changed that old fashioned paradigm. And today, training often cost nothing but time and energy.

    In an Agile transformation, roles and functions are being disrupted. A key success factor in these transformations will be to reinforce resources with :

    1. a sense of purpose : “why am I doing this job?”
    2. a sense of belonging : “why am I part of this organization ?”
    3. and a perspective : “how is this job contributing to my professional evolution?

This perspective can be brought by communicating on career paths and how to follow them.

An Agile Squad (from 7 to 12 resources) is composed of cross-skilled resources: Front and Back end developer, tester, business analyst, UX, deployment engineer, support engineer etc.

To ensure Squad’s autonomy, all mandatory skills have to be on boarded within the team.
Let’s take as an example a Squad of 10 people with a standard ratio of 60% of developers. That leaves 4 resources to cover following skills : testing, business analyst, UX, deployment and support. Not so easy. And when you take into account skills resiliency (turnover, vacations and sickness, time shifts) – it’s nearly impossible. How to cope with this issue then ?

This resiliency and an advanced efficiency can only be reached if the Squad resources develop more than one competency area. That’s what T-Shaped skill management is all about.

The concept of T-shaped skills is a metaphor used to describe the abilities of persons in the workforce.

The vertical bar on the letter T represents the person core expertise in a single field.
Example : Mark has learnt IT development skills as part of its engineering career path and then operated as a junior Back-end developer these last 3 years.

The horizontal bar of the letter T represent his ability to apply knowledge in areas of expertise other than one’s own – yet not so far away.
Example : Mark can learn Front end development skills to extend its scope of action and improve Squad efficiency and resiliency.

In an IT Production context, managing resource skills is one of the biggest struggle :

    • Resiliency is critical for the continuity of the activity
    • Resources are working in a highly stressed environment with very few time to allocate to the learning of new skills
    • For these same reasons, turnover is usually high on these positions

They also bring much more constraints than most of the other IT jobs (Business analyst, Dev etc.) : high level of stress, on-duty periods, permanent context-switching. That’s why managing actively your IT Production skills is mandatory.

Yet, IT Production jobs allow to develop many different skills : Functional and Technical but also Soft skills (reactivity, communication, coordination).

So, here’s three common examples of T-Shaped skills usage in Production context:

Based on these models, you can (as an example) design the following career paths for these profiles : 

These models are only examples but can help you initiating this most important task : up skill your team resources and provide them with perspective. Let’s go !

And if you want to discuss further this topic, don’t hesitate to reach us.

Aimery, co-founder of Alenia Consulting

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