Bernard Melson | 19 March 2019

The skills database and why it is an important asset

1.  Project Staffing and the Role of the Skills Database

What skills do we need to fulfil our corporate objectives? It’s a well-used question, but is it really the right one to ask as technology advances ever more rapidly than before? From my point of view, it is only half the question; the other half being blending skills to maximise capability and economies.

It is increasingly the case that today’s employers must have and hire people who can bring multiple skills to the table. Such people add versatility and flexibility to existing teams through primary, secondary and tertiary skills. Indeed, gone are the days when we could specialise in one area, say User Acceptance Testing, and make a life-long career of it. No, it just doesn’t wash anymore on a number of levels, and as technologies and methods develop and become mainstream then the skills gaps will increase and pose increasing risk to employers and employees alike. So, if it is increasingly important that we manage skills and experience using a skills database that can be used to:

  • Fulfil project demand for skills;
  • Tell us what training is needed and who best to give it to;
  • Tell us when we need to hire.

As employers, we need to plan for the future, and a key mechanism for doing this is our powerful and valuable asset, the skills database.

There are three key imperatives for the employer seeking to deliver complex IT systems that underpin day to day business operations:

  1. What are the skills, quantity and timeline we need to deliver?
  2. How to imbue our employees with the right skills?
  3. When and when not to hire to acquire skills?

So, how might we go about establishing what skills are needed:

  • We could take the well-trodden ‘finger-in-the-air approach’ – but I’ve yet to see that deliver good results, develop staff or realise economies (square pegs in round holes); or
  • We might consider building and maintaining a skills database as a major asset to inform training, hiring and skills fulfilment – with the right economies. If we can do this then we have a win-win for both employer and employee – cost effectively.

Building a skills database is a key activity, but it is very much a collaborative one that requires input from many different people. So, let’s look as some key activities we might consider on the route to building and maintaining the ever-important skills database.

2.  The Key Assets

The Skills Database Hub

Right at the heart of the matter and key asset for our organisation is the Skills Database. Built correctly, it should identify each of the skills our organisation is required to support and will continue to support over time. Equally, it will identify employee skills and experience. Essentially, what it is we do/want to do and how much in-house support do we have for it? The hub will be interrogated to determine if the demand management profile of programme and project skills:

  • Can all be met – at the right time;
  • If some can be met;
  • What training is needed and when, for example, demand is outstripping supply;
  • What hiring is needed – be that permanent or associate depends on demand over time and percentage usage. For example, if a skill is needed for 80% of the time then it probably makes sense to hire a permanent person for it, but if the skill is only needed 20% we might hire an associate or train an existing employee who wants to grow to meet the need.

Creation and continued maintenance of a skills database will help develop the skills profiles needs for new projects – long before they start.

It’s a big deal to get done, but it will pay dividends over time by:

  • Informing hiring, training and re-training needs;
  • Help develop staff;
  • Contribute to staff retention

Functional and Skills Role Description

Developing employees is a good thing. However, far too frequently role descriptions simply get left behind and leave us with something outdated and with the added difficulty of measuring an employee fairly.

It is, therefore, important for the fulfilment of the skills demand profile generated by programmes and projects that role descriptions against which staff can be assigned are developed. It is all very well having a skills list, but the role descriptions are the variable that tell us how they are to be used. For example, we might want someone with performance testing skills. However, the variance might address a number of different role descriptions, such as:

  • Performance Strategist, which would generally require little product knowledge;
  • Performance modelling, which would look at a business day and the typical transactions used, by volume and time;
  • Performance engineer who knows how to set up and use industry leading tools to provide assurance that requirements of the strategy and business modelling are met.

So, where as we might think we have only one skill to record, the example shown here shows 3 different ones that require 3 different skill sets and experience.

There will not always be a one-2-one correlation to skills and roles, but it is a key thing to consider.

Of further consideration is the hybrid role that encompasses two or more skills. We noted earlier that skills flexibility is important, and so we need to consider which skills sets we require to provide the best blend and balance to meet demand. For example, on the following page we might consider several key roles on an Agile programme:

Whilst there are many different hybrid roles and near limitless skills combinations, the two above are reasonably representative of the variable skills that may feature in the demand management profile of an Agile Programme. It may be worth considering creating role specifications that contain multiple skills as it will help with hiring and further identify training needs.

Training Needs Analysis.

This is task that should need doing only once to set a baseline, following which skills demands and a check on the database inform required updates. It encompasses a number of activities, including:

  • Compiling a list of the skills, roles and capability needed by interviewing key stakeholders in IT;
  • Compiling a list of the skills available today;
  • Understanding current development plans for staff and their own ambition;
  • Conducting a Gap Analysis of the current state and the future state to determine training (and hiring) needs.

Once complete, you will have a skills profile and full training plan over time, balanced against organisational needs that can re-visited time and time again. There are very strong reasons, though, to consider expanding the activity to compile and agree role descriptions and a mapped skills database; although this is by no means mandatory.

3. The Activities

Stakeholder Skills Needs.

The stakeholders are key to building our key Skills Database, as it is they who will tell us the skills they use on their programmes, spanning from business analysis through implementation, service management and eventual decommissioning.

Typically, we might engage them on a number of levels:

  • Interview, where we talk about what we want to achieve and their part in it as we capture the skills in their function;
  • Asking them to complete a questionnaire to list and details the skills they rely on to deliver.

In general, a combination of the two seems to work best to establish the first cut of our skills database. It is in the interest of stakeholders to participate in compiling a list of skills used and needed in the future, as it is they who will benefit from have a central skills database that will help them staff their programmes and projects – on time and with what they need. Once complete, we will have a list of skills, the mode in which they are used and the experience behind them

Staff Questionnaires

Having a list of skills that our key stakeholders require is important, but it is not the last word. Employees will always have skills that employers won’t know about, so it makes sense to capture these for retention on our skills database, too. Capturing these skills is key as they may well be in demand in other areas or simply kept on record for future use.

Project and Skills Demand Management

Project and programme managers will always have ‘today’ demand for skills – we simply can’t avoid it. However, for the majority of the time we should get them top think about skills to fill defined roles as early as possible; ideally leaving a gap big enough to train or hire to meet that demand.

Much like the staff questionnaires, a simply designed process is needed to elicit and fulfil staffing (and possible hiring and/or training) requirements:

  1. The skills & experience needed;
  2. When they want it;
  3. How long they want it for;
  4. How many they need;
  5. Any parameters or variances.

Project Staffing to Meet Demand

We have demand from our stakeholders and we have our skills database, so we are now in a position to get a grip on how to staff by addressing the 5-key statements shown above from the requesting manager:

Maintenance is key to success

Like all data driven systems, our ‘skills database:

  • Can only be as good as the data it contains and the updates you apply;
  • It is an asset that needs to be managed and updated so that it represents a true reflection of the capability within your organisation.

Managed and updated over time, our ‘skills database’ will provide information that informs decision-making to say ‘I know the what, when and why’ of:

  • What skills I have and their availability;
  • What I need and when;
  • Who and when I need to train and when;
  • When to hire if skills are not available and cannot be taught ii time to meet demand;
  • Who to release when skills become redundant;

The Skills Database

Build it, use it, maintain it. It will pay dividends in the long-term and provide a return on investment.

About TSG Training

We’ve been in the training business for a long time, and we know how to provide people with the right skills. If you need help with training or any of the items contained within this whitepaper then please get in touch – we’re here to help, and you’ll find us honest and transparent.

A. A Skill Snapshot & Project Request

The following is a sample set of skills against which a project makes a request for people with specific skills to join them:

As can be seen, the request has been made in good time, and following a search on our database we can see that:

  • One request can be fulfilled;
  • A second request can be fulfilled, but with the recommendation of tool specific training;
  • A third request cannot be fulfilled and so a recommendation to hire results.