Agile skill matrix: Systematizing team training and controlling the exchange of knowledge

In many teams, islands of knowledge are a major topic and great challenge. At the same time, team members ask themselves what areas they should continue improving and training in.

This is where a “skill matrix” can provide a starting point for exchange within development teams. This aid helps you process and visualize:

  • current skill requirements the team will face in the next few months
  • status quo of how developed these required skills are in the team
  • desired areas of improvement

Creating and using a skill matrix

The process of creating and using an agile skill matrix is as follows:

  1. Acquiring the skills the team will need in the next three to four months
  2. Determining the status quo of the skill levels of individual team members
  3. Determining learning objectives and steps
  4. Regular progress reviews of the learning objectives (e.g. every six to eight weeks)

The following template illustrates what a matrix might look like:

 

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Template of a skill matrix by Open Agile

Experience has shown that a team can create the outline of a matrix like this within one and a half to two hours. Over time, the matrix will change and improve.

The matrix shows which skills will soon become relevant for the team and which degree of granularity and differentiation is reasonable for a skill. Will the team select a programming language as a skill, a framework or a specific library? These are the questions the team must answer with the help of the matrix and the support of a moderator.

Skill levels

Raising skill levels can be done with varying degrees of granularity. It’s common to divide a pie charts into five levels:

  1. No skills (empty circle)
  2. Basic knowledge
  3. Ability to carry out basic tasks
  4. Ability to carry out all related tasks
  5. Ability to teach all tasks (full circle)

Figuring out how to differentiate between the individual levels will surely give the team much to discuss. If these discussions are conducted in a constructive manner with an end-goal in mind, they can result in extremely valuable dialog. Otherwise, more granular divisions can be determined together.

And what do we do now?

Once the current level of skills within the team has been documented, two important things have already been worked out. The team has gained more clarity as to which skills are currently required and knows how it is “equipped” with these skills in its current state.

This information serves only as basis for discussion as to how to the distribution of skills is perceived. Are there any important skills that are distributed extremely irregularly? Are there any extremely developed skills that currently do not need to be improved upon? It is likely that many interesting observations will be made in these areas.

Based on this, the team can come to an agreement about the specific learning objectives for the near future. Who wants to improve by one level in which skills and by what point in time? Which steps should be taken to achieve this?

Such measures can be practically represented by the team on a small kanban board, which the team regularly updates together.

Visualization and reviews for permanent establishment 

The skill matrix should not disappear into a drawer. It should be hung op in the team room with the kanban board showing the steps. By doing this, the joint project remains visible for everybody involved.

It makes sense to regularly (in intervals of roughly six to eight weeks) check which steps have been taken, which are still outstanding and whether the matrix still corresponds to requirements that may have changed.

Conclusion

The agile skill matrix is a neat instrument that provides a solid basis for systematizing the team training and transferring it into a continuous, flowing and adaptable process with little effort. The team will be able to identify islands of knowledge and counteract them. The team will also gain transparency on its skill levels and be able to react to changing project requirements in a targeted manner.

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Additional information

Introducing Atlassian’s JIRA: Agile project management with JIRA
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This article was published in similar form on the blog Produktmanager-Internet.de under the title Wissensaustausch und Weiterentwicklung im Team zielgerecht gestalten – die Skill Matrix [Shaping the exchange of knowledge and team training in a target-oriented manner- the skill matrix] by Paul Herwarth von Bittenfeld on 14 October 2013. Paul Herwarth von Bittenfeld has worked for //SEIBERT/MEDIA since 2003.

Read this article in German.

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