How to identify and solve skills gaps in your development team
By Jamie Mercer
When closing the skills gap in your development team, do you hire a new member of staff or do you upskill an existing developer? That’s the big question CFOs or CIOs face on a regular basis, but how do you make sure you’re making the right decision?
Before recruiting someone new, the first step is to gather as much information as you can so that you can make an informed choice.
For smaller organisations such as startups and SMEs, you can achieve this through staff meetings as well as one-to-one discussions with team leaders. But for large companies and enterprises, or those wanting to go more in-depth, you should consider completing a skills gap analysis.
How and when to identify skills gaps in your business
When performing a skills gap analysis, there are two schools of thought. The first looks at identifying the skills that jobs require and comparing employee skill levels to these. The second looks at your team or company holistically and sees if you have developers with the right expertise to work on a project, or whether you need to look at hiring externally.
If you need to assess the capabilities of individual members of your team, a good time to conduct a skills gap analysis is when an employee’s duties change significantly, as part of a poor performance review, or when they’re promoted or placed in charge of a new project.
Typical responses to the scenarios above involve identifying training programmes, succession planning, or creating mentoring opportunities to link inexperienced members of staff with workplace veterans.
For assessing on a team or organisational level, the correct time to conduct a skills audit is when there are persistent problems in meeting deadlines or business goals, when shifts in strategy need new skills, or when your company adopts new technologies.
When faced with skills shortages on a team or company level, the typical course of action is to hire additional skilled staff. But with some people choosing to leave the IT sector only a few months after starting a role, you could be better placed introducing training courses or using concepts such as pair-programming or mentoring schemes to allow less experienced team members to get more hands-on, practical experience with more senior developers.
How to perform a technology skills gap audit
There are external companies who’ll come into your business and conduct an internal skills audit, but often the best way is to do the skills assessment yourself.
By speaking to your developers you can work with them to assess their strengths and weaknesses, but you can also receive their insight into where they feel the entire team may need further training or development. As a bonus, by involving your staff in the auditing process, you’re also empowering them.
A cursory search online reveals several different skills gap matrix tools that you can use to assess you and your team’s abilities. Most skills matrices have people’s names and a list of the tasks necessary for a particular role on the X and Y axis, respectively.
The issue with these skills matrix ideas is that the scoring system is somewhat arbitrary. If you rate one person at a six out of 10, how is that intrinsically different to a five or a seven out of 10? And how can you ensure that your six out of 10 is the same as your colleague’s understanding of six out of 10?
Although most of the Toyota Production System has now fallen under the Lean methodology, there is still a lot to be learned by its approach to competency assessment. The “ILU” skills matrix remains to this day an excellent way of quickly and consistently identifying your team’s strengths and areas for development.
Along the X and Y axis you plot people’s names against the tasks associated with their job roles—as above—but instead of scoring out of 10, 100, or any numerical scale, you use the ILU chart legend to assign a skill rating to the individual.
- If someone cannot perform the task, you leave the box blank.
- If someone can complete the work but needs constant supervision and guidelines, you mark them with an ‘I.’
- If someone can perform the task but needs just guidelines and no supervision, you mark them as an ‘L.’
- If someone can do the task by themselves, they receive a ‘U.’
- If someone can train others how to do the task, they get a ‘square.’
- And, if someone can write the manual on how to do the task and think strategically about it, they earn a square with a dot in the middle.
Using this method results in zero ambiguity about someone’s ability to complete an essential aspect of their job role, and being able to see this information at a glance allows team leaders and managers to understand overall strengths and weaknesses quickly.
The ILU skills gap matrix can be adapted and used within all development team who have knowledge of the technologies, frameworks and core concepts critical to the success of a project.
The importance of identifying skills gaps
Once you’ve done your initial assessment, you then need to act on the data you’ve unearthed. This means either securing training to fill in the blanks or hiring to plug the gaps.
Training existing staff is excellent for that employee’s morale as they are gaining valuable upskilling, which could lead to additional opportunities—or even a pay rise—upon completion of the course or certification. This could involve a developer learning a new language or understanding a new framework or plugin.
If the skills gap you identify is too large for training to solve, at this point it’s worth hiring a new member of staff with the skills you need. This might mean hiring someone permanently or hiring a contractor while another member of the team receives further training.
Completing a thorough skills assessment of your development team is an incredibly useful process and could save you significant trouble further down the line by identifying potential skills gaps early on. We have created an ILU skills matrix template for you to download and adapt to your company’s needs. We recommend opening the PDF in a web browser and filling in the details there.