Do We Need A Skills Matrix?
The answer to this question is almost always no. Here’s why…
The stated objectives for creating a person-level skills matrix are usually something like:
- “We want to match staff to appropriate work by understanding their skills.”
- “We need to identify skills gaps and shortages across the team/organisation and prioritise areas for individual and general improvement.”
These seem sensible enough. They sound efficient, future focussed and suggest it will help individual team members to engage in appropriate work and increase their skills as needed.
The skills matrix appears on the surface to help with these aims. Unfortunately, they rarely meet the intended outcomes.
Here is a typical process:
- Drivers 1 and/or 2 exist, and eventually someone says “skills matrix”.
- Key skills to include are discussed and agreed. (This takes much longer than planned; technical skills are over-represented, core skills  are under-represented and undervalued by this process).
- Realisation that we want knowledge areas not just skills. A very long list is produced…
- After much questioning and resistance (most) staff rate themselves against the skills and knowledge areas.
- This is on the whole unsuccessful due to the Dunning-Kruger effect  on the one hand and Impostor Syndrome  on the other. (Plus, the fact that most of us think we are self-aware and only 10-15% of people actually are ).
- Many difficult conversations are then required explain why Person A is not actually an expert in everything and Person B is better than they think.
- The people who would be “best” for a piece of work based on the output of the matrix are not available.
- Managers and team members are all quite bruised by the process.
- Matrix is not updated. It goes slowly out of date.
The skills an individual has is one of many factors which need to be considered when assigning appropriate work. The factors include:
- What motivates them?
- Who do they work well with?
- Who can build relationships quickly?
- What kind of support/environment allows them to do their best work?
- Where do their interests lie?
- Who has these skills/who needs to develop these skills?
- Is there an appropriate senior person/role model?
- Who has earned an exciting opportunity?
- Who needs to stick to the basics?
- Who can juggle multiple assignments?
- Who prefers to concentrate on one area?
It is not possible to model all these factors in a spreadsheet. This level of understanding comes from managers having good relationships with team members, being able to honestly discuss personal style, preferences and professional development needs. Managers also need good visibility of upcoming work and assignments to be able to plan appropriately and engage with team members about future work.
Training Needs And Skills Gaps
Good managers know this information without a skills matrix. Given a list of skills needed by an organisation, managers should be able to identify and quantify capacity and competency gaps. A skills matrix is a lazy substitute for good quality management and a distraction that creates the illusion of control.
Individual personal development plans which align to organisational objectives are a more motivating and effective way of establishing and then aggregating team-member level data.
How Can BAs Help?
Business Analysts may be asked to create or contribute to the development of a skills matrix or record our own skills. We can use our analytical skills to establish the drivers and intended business outcomes and suggest alternative methods of achieving those.
Is A Skills Matrix Ever Relevant?
If the answer to the question “Do we need a skills matrix?” is almost always no, then there must be exceptions. Very large, typically global organisations which operate across a number of sectors (such as retail, aviation, construction etc.) that need to quickly mobilise specialist teams need a way of “searching and filtering” on staff. This is more effective as searchable information, with some structured data (e.g., job title, location, knowledge domains) and bio information maintained by the individual (experience, preferences, etc.) to allow the right people to be identified. Implementing this type of system requires appropriate investment in technology and business change. The business case for the ‘spreadsheet matrix’ never stacks up.
The skills matrix is typically a misguided attempt to automate something which needs to be a human discussion. How they are implemented often demotivates staff, serves as a distraction from real work and genuine issues and fails to meet the intended outcomes. Organisations that want the capability to understand the skills and experience of their staff need to encourage the right behaviours from managers, make appropriate investment in robust decision support tools and engage with staff to capture information which is accurate, proportional and timely.