Second of a four-part series.
Week to week, professional sports teams don’t know which specific players will oppose them or (in championship season) even which team they will face. They’re never sure which of their players will be sidelined by injuries, retire or be poached by the competition.
All this is familiar to anyone competing in the digital age. One moment, your biggest competitive priority might require you to enlist veteran developers with deep institutional knowledge of your business. To face the next competitive threat, you might desperately need experts in the latest digital technologies who are also capable of design thinking and jumpstarting your next Scrum sprint.
Just like a team needs all types of players to compete effectively – defensive and offensive specialists, for example – a digital business needs all types of talent. And whether you’re a coach or a senior IT or business leader, finding and keeping the right people – especially as part of a digital workforce transformation strategy – needs to be a dynamic, proactive process.
Play like the Pro’s
Sports teams use depth charts to assess the capabilities and potential of each player, evaluate those who are most valuable, identify backups if key personnel are unavailable, and know which types of players to scout.
Digital businesses can use depth charts to do the same for their digital talent. Whereas sports teams organize their depth charts around the placement of starting and secondary players, an IT depth chart ranks players not by position but by their skills in various technical and non-technical areas.
The ideal depth chart prepares the organization to source and train “just in time” to meet sudden needs and bring new resources up to speed (see sample below).
This approach works best when you allow department or business heads to define which skills to measure in their depth charts, and to tweak the skills they track over time. The skills needed for digital marketing, for example, will be very different from what a digital operations group requires, and these needs will evolve as technology and business needs shift.
Here are some pointers to maximize the results of this approach:
- Perform frequent skills assessments to update the depth charts. Through continuous updates (i.e., at the end of each Scrum sprint), you can ensure the depth chart includes the latest information on each individual’s capabilities. Similar to performance evaluations, depth charts are subjective assessments conducted by managers with a good understanding of the softer skills required by digital initiatives, such as leadership and collaboration.
- Make sure assessments are bi-directional. Employees should be given the opportunity to describe their interests and passions, as well as the new skills and roles they would like to take on. Encouraging workers to be more engaged in defining their future not only improves morale but also helps unearth hidden talents and enables the organization to maximize employee potential.
- Don’t link rankings to compensation or advancement, and make sure employees understand there is no connection between the two. Make clear this is not an excuse to weed out under-performers or punish those with “older” skills. Explain that you want to make the most of everyone’s skills, including those with the vital “institutional memory” about the company’s existing systems, customers and culture. Unlike a formal performance review that is tied to compensation, the purpose of the depth chart is to manage resources and positions and optimize the team and its members for maximum digital success.
Depth Charts in Action
One of our financial services clients uses a depth chart to not only manage its digital projects, but to also identify talent and rotate workers between digital and legacy projects. The business focuses on evaluating both technology skills – such as web and interface design, multi-channel programming and database techniques – and soft skills, such as effective communication. Morale and enthusiasm have grown as employees now see where they fit in the organization’s development plans, and are provided with on-the-job training to improve their skills.
Through periodic reports on the depth charts, as well as retraining opportunities, the organization has increased employees’ confidence in staying relevant over time. With each refresh of the depth chart at the end of a Scrum sprint or application development cycle, individuals are reassigned to new projects and/or offered additional training.
The approach has also helped the financial services provider strengthen its operational excellence. As a result of the assessments, the organization rotated numerous team members from legacy to digital initiatives. These include technical developers familiar with Agile/DevOps concepts, quality engineering professionals skilled in automation, business analysts well-versed in the domains served by new digital applications, and operations professionals in areas such as release and configuration management, who are critical for ensuring time-to-market accuracy and speed.
Depth charts are one element of the digital workforce transformation master plan. I’ll take a closer look at the master plan – as well as the technology foundation needed to support the master plan – in my next blog.
This is the second of a four-part series on digital workforce transformation. For a summary of the five key ingredients of workforce transformation, see the introduction to this series. The master plan and technology foundation are covered in part 3. Digital training and employee engagement are covered in part 4.