The Four Levels of the Skill Matrix

Lately I've been seeing the classic skill matrix used more and more in companies in order to create teams and identify knowledge gaps. The tool is excellent for that, but recently I've come across a few modifications of the technique that make it so much more powerful, and to my surprise it was hard to find detailed information about these modifications online. Hence this blogpost.

The classic skill matrix and forming a team

The classic skill matrix works like this: 

  1. Identify the skills that are a must or that can benefit the team as a whole
  2. Put these skills in a row
  3. Put the names of the team members in a column to be able to map names to skills
  4. Let the team indicate what skills they possess
  5. Identify knowledge gaps or risks
  6. Devise a knowlegde sharing program to tackle knowledge gaps and risks

Drafting a skill matrix like this creates a secondary effect: better understanding between team members and a deeper respect for skills. The subsequent knowledge transfer sessions help team bonding along as well.

One step further

In a lot of organisations, the simple x indicators are quickly replaced by scoring. The knowledge level is scored either in a pie-system or a score from 0-4:

  • No skill
  • Basic knowledge
  • Perform basic tasks
  • Perform all tasks
  • Teach all tasks

These might also be compared to the shuhari levels of competence from martial arts, a concept which is also widely spread in agile organisations. The skill matrix then starts to look something like this:

This allows you to refine the knowledge needs. Can the team handle knowledge transfer between team members or is a traveler or external trainer a good idea?

Pump up the volume

The above example gives a nice visual version of the available skill and skill level, but it doesn't really indicate wether certain team members are interested in further developing a skill, or would rather go into a new direction within their skill set after for example doing some knowlegde transfer. In order to get real team empowerment and growth, and move to T or even π shaped profiles within the team, the added information of each team member's ambition in the field is a very powerful tool to have. In order to visualise this, I usually revert to numeric indicators and have the team give 2 scores: the first one for their current skill level, and a second score for the desired skill level. This way we create more empowerment of the team members over their own career path, growth within the team and we actually identify volunteers for new challenges early in the forming process of the team!

Storming

The above skill matrix versions are extremely valuable for newly formed teams and empowerment of the team members. When your team has had the time to get to know each other and when storming is taking place, you can consider taking this skill matrix view even one step further and add the element of peer-to-peer reviews. If your team is not bonding yet and still immature, I would not recommend this version of the tool, in order to keep the focus on knowledge sharing and not looking over the other's shoulder too much. However, teams that are further maturing and storming can actually learn a lot and move further ahead during this part of the exercice.

For this we add a third dimension to the skill matrix: next to the current level, as evaluated by the team members themselves, and their ambition within a certain skill, we add a third column indicating the level of a skill as observed by the team. This level can be in line with the team member's own vision, but can obviously also vary. Sometimes a team member can be indicated as more knowledgeable about a certain topic than this person had indicated. The inverse can be possible as well: team members might have overestimated themselves and are confronted by their peers about this, urging them to further their journey in getting more knowledgeable about this topic for them to avoid failing and being picked up by the team.

In this example, the first column is the skill level as indicated by the teammember possessing the skill, the second column is the peer-to-peer evaluation by the team, the third column indicates the desired skill level on short to mid-term.

An important element here is to approach this exercice as a team willing to support one another to fix what they observed as impediments in skill levels or apparent skill levels. The goal is not to painfully confront anyone, but to make knowledge gaps or perceived knowledge gaps more visible, and the action plan the team can pick up to remedy can be more clearly discussed. Knowledge gaps can then be filled and your team can get to work to becoming truly cross-functional!