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Sunday, 13 March 2011 17:44

Construct your dream IT team

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As an IT leader, like any manager, you are only as good as your employees. Whether you have inherited a team, are in the middle of hiring or are trying to justify creating a new role I can teach you how to determine the skills you need.

There comes a time in any manager's life when they need to evaluate the bench strength of their team. Actually, although The Wired CIO focuses on IT leaders, this is true of managers across the entire business. Also, it's certainly not going to be one time only.

So, what do you do? You've joined a company whether as a new hire or via merger, acquisition or some other process. You're now heading a team composed of workers who you didn't hire. Perhaps the new role is going swimmingly, or perhaps you're getting whispers from others around the company trying to tell you who they'd fire (but never had the gumption to, themselves).

Alternatively, you may have lead you team for many years or risen through its ranks but feel the current workload justifies adding manpower to the mix.

No matter what your situation and how you got into it, the answer is the same. You can't make sound business decisions about hiring and firing without knowing three things:

  1. What does your department do? What is its reason for being? What skills are required to support this and make it happen?
  2. What skills does your team possess?
  3. What's the difference between the two?

In short, you need a skills matrix. It's a simple concept, but it can be a powerful tool.

The skills matrix provides you with a factual measure of your team's bench strength. It is easily understood and explained - to your team and to your executive management alike.

The value of facts and measures cannot be underestimated. This, in one move, takes personalities and politics out of the picture. Decisions can be made based on business requirements.

 

 


 

One of my mentors drummed into me that an organisation structure cannot be merely designed; it must fall into line with the goals of the business. Specifically, his mantra was 'structure follows strategy.'

Get it? The point is - no matter how high or seemingly low the level in the business is - you must have your sense of mission and purpose ironed out. Without this, and despite how intuitive you may feel, your staffing decisions have no guarantee of being based on genuine company need and direction.

How do you do this?

You can begin with my template IT skills matrix here. This will need to be changed for your business - particularly if you want to use it for any other (non-IT) division of the company, but you will grasp the gist very quickly.

Ask yourself what your group is all about. Who are its customers? You can define your customers as those people who depend on you (generally, for IT these will be internal employees of the company) and those people who you depend on for recognition and reward (your own boss, the board and so on). What do your customers need? What else is required to ensure the delivery and integrity of these needs?

What skills should the ideal team hold in order to meet all these needs? You can think in terms of hard technical skills as well as soft skills. You can think in terms of concepts as well as specific products. After all, if you use (say) SAP, or Microsoft Dynamics or Pronto or any other specific ERP or financials package you should name it. We're not at school anymore, and while a broad theoretical knowledge is very valuable, you are going to get more mileage from someone who knows the product you use in depth.

Once you have the skills listed, consider the weighting each one should have. To explain the weighting, let's go in reverse and explain how to measure individual team members.

You will see in my template I have asked team members to self-assess (preferably in conjunction with yourself) with a ranking between 0 and 5. I believe the traditional '0 - 10' is too broad whereas 0-5 is pretty clear. Zero means you have no experience or contact with the skill while 5 means you are totally confident and proficient. That leaves four values in between; 3 is pretty confident, 4 is very confident but not a master. 1 and 2 are limited exposure with more training and experience needed.

 

 


 

So, to determine a required score for each skill think in terms of how strongly you require this skill and across how many people. Perhaps you may only need a broad understanding. Or, the skill affects a major part of your company and you really need either a couple of experts or at the very least a reasonable degree of familiarity across all your staff. Determine the bench strength you need for that skill, worked out with a maximum score of 5x the number of staff you have or require.

Next, work alongside each team member to devise a realistic ranking for their ability across all skills using the above ranking.

Once you have the numbers for each person, the skills matrix will automatically show you your total strength and the shortfall, if any.

Focus on the areas where you have a deficit of ability. This is your justification for new staff and also lends itself to writing the position description and job ad. This deficit is also your basis for re-training or re-deploying existing staff.

The skills matrix is a simple concept, but it's a powerful management tool. Without you, no matter your gut feel, you cannot know with certainty just what your team ought to be doing, what they are capable of doing, and what they can't do.

Any decisions relating to hiring and firing and to the organisational structure of your team ought to be based on the skills matrix and what it tells you. Even if your CEO doesn't know what the skills mean, he or she will understand at a glance what the skills matrix identifies as problems.

In fact, chances are they will commend you for undertaking the activity and ask you to show your colleagues so they can follow suit in their own division.

Remember, tune in to The Wired CIO here on iTWire each week. I'm here to help.

 

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David M Williams

David has been computing since 1984 where he instantly gravitated to the family Commodore 64. He completed a Bachelor of Computer Science degree from 1990 to 1992, commencing full-time employment as a systems analyst at the end of that year. David subsequently worked as a UNIX Systems Manager, Asia-Pacific technical specialist for an international software company, Business Analyst, IT Manager, and other roles. David has been the Chief Information Officer for national public companies since 2007, delivering IT knowledge and business acumen, seeking to transform the industries within which he works. David is also involved in the user group community, the Australian Computer Society technical advisory boards, and education.

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