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How a skills matrix can help Team to self-organize

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Lately I have been sharing ideas and opinions with different managers from several sectors, such as telco, banking, Startup, etc. They told me that they were interested in making their teams self-organised and thus being able to delegate many activities to them. But most of them lacked the most important part: skills development. We can't ask a team or a person to do something if they don’t have enough skills to do it. And how can we do that?

Recently I was on several teams, where the team was asked to manage themselves better. They were prompted to automate unit testing and acceptance testing. In addition to applying continuous integration and continuous delivery, and talking to stakeholders, among various other things. So I asked the team if they had the knowledge to do the things they were asked to do, and in most cases the answer was negative. In such a situation, if no one on the team admits to their lack of knowledge and they accept to handle the tasks, this can only generate demotivation and frustration. So I asked the team to do a competency matrix workshop, in which we could identify the following elements:

Team Competency Matrix

  • Which skills do we need today to develop our work?

  • Which skills would we need to offer better service or develop a better product?

  • In order to organize ourselves better, how many people in the team should know about certain skills, technologies, practices, frameworks, etc? and which level do each of us have in each topic (basic, intermediate, or expert level)? What level should we have? 

  • In relation to the new things that we are asked to do, who on the team knows how to do them?

Once we answer these questions, we must begin to think about these data. The truth is that sometimes we do workshops and we extract data and then nobody uses these data. To create a competencies matrix is to promote a conversation where everybody speaks: team, supplier, product owner, stakeholders, etc. Whoever we consider appropriate. And in this conversation we must develop  an action plan:

  • What do we do with the skills that we need and we don’t have?

  • Do we hire a person who has these skills?

  • Do we contract a service from an external company?

  • Do we acquire external training and consequently do it ourselves? 

  • Someone from the team who is an expert with these certain skills can organize a training program to teach either the rest of the team or a particular individual who they consider is most appropriate to  improve the team’s self-organization.

  • Or perhaps this should be done by another team within the organization?

What is most important is to generate a productive conversation around these data to help the team grow and move towards self-organization, so that they ultimately feel empowered.

Conclusion

You have to be very careful with the flawed idea that by receiving a two-day training, the team will become a self-organised Scrum Team. By doing so, it is assumed that they have to organize themselves and have to do the work that they haven’t ever done before, on their own. In addition, they are pressured to do more and to do it with the best possible technique. Before coming to these conclusions, you should consider the points above. Do your teams have the necessary knowledge? If the answer is no, we should invest  in developing the skills of individuals.

 

Youssef Oufaska - Agile Coach