Editor’s Note: Knowledge of technical skills is important for recruiting and managing technology based enterprises. This paper explores available resources for storing and accessing this information.
Managing Hard Skills: A Tool Set Used in
the Software Industry for Associating Projects
D.V. Chandrashekar, J.N. Bhargava ,and B.V.H. Kameswara Sastry
Tools for managing hard skills are used in many companies. Here, we investigate different types of actual usage in a medium-size software consulting company. We expected this type of tools to be in use for allocating resources for new projects, but also found three other types of usage: Searching for competence to solve problems, finding areas for new projects, and skills upgrading.
Keywords: Skills Management, Knowledge Management, and Software Engineering.
Managing Hard Skills
Software engineering is knowledge work, where it obviously is critical to have employees that are skilled. We can divide skills in two broad groups - hard skills knowledge about technology issues, and soft skills - competencies of a more personal and social flavors, like organizing and handling complexities in project work, enabling people to contribute with their resources, and customer communication.
It is of major importance to get the right people with the right soft and hard skills to work on a software development project. Many companies have developed knowledge management tools to assist them in the tasks of managing hard skills, by surveying what kinds of knowledge people have, and make an index often called a "company internal yellow pages". We will refer to the process of surveying and indexing and making this type of information available as skills management. This paper will focus on hard skills.
There are many software tools for managing skills - for example, companies that offer jobs on the Internet usually have some kind of database where you as a job-seeker can store your competence profile (see for example www.stepstone.com). The contents of such tools can be: "Knowledge profiles, skill profiles and personal characteristic profiles that define subjective assessments of the knowledge, skills, and personal traits required for the different work-roles" . In order to have such a working system, a company needs to select a set of skills that they are interested in, have a system for evaluating the employees, and make this information available to different user groups. We wanted to know more about how tools for managing skills are used in a specific organization. What purposes do such tools serve, and do they satisfy needs other than the expected use in resource allocation? In order to examine these questions, we interviewed 14 developers, managers and project managers in an ethnographic study at Computas - a consultancy company that develops knowledge based software and has about 150 employees. The company has no traditional departments, but is organized in projects and a set of processes, where knowledge management is considered to be one important process. We now go on to describe their skills management tool, and what different types of usage we found. Note that we do not look at technical implementation of skills management systems, but refer readers with such interests to other literature . A more thorough description of our findings is available in .
The Skills Manager Tool
The skills manager is a part of the Intranet at Computas, and every employee has access to it. You can select a skill from a taxonomy of around 250 different hard skills, related to the core competence of the company. When you select a skill, you can find which skill level people have, from "expert" to "irrelevant". In addition to indicating their skill level, people also indicate which level they want to have in the future. When viewing skills, it is shown in black if people are on the level they would like to be on, red if this is a topic they do not wish to work on in the future, or green if they want to develop their skills in this direction.
People are prompted to evaluate themselves when projects finish and when new skills are introduced in the system. Anyone can suggest new skills to the system, which will be included by the manager of the "competence center" process.
A Variety of Usages
When we think of usage of Skills Management systems, we would normally think of resource allocation. But when we interviewed people at Computas, we found four different groups of usage of the skills management tool:
Searching for competence to solve problems
The developers often need to know something about a topic that they are not very skilled in themselves. A developer describes a "short term" usage in solving problems: "Of course, when I wonder if there are anyone who can help me with something, I look up in the skills management system to see if anyone has the knowledge that I need". When you get a list of people with a certain competence, you can also e-mail one or all of them. Or you can just print a list of people and ask them yourself, as another developer is usually doing. Of course, this depends on that people rate themselves in an honest way. "Some overrate themselves and other underrate themselves strongly", according to a developer. Another developer is critical to the categories of competence in the skills management system: "when it comes to more detailed things, like who that in fact can write a computer program, and who that can find a solution - you do not find that there". When we look at more long-term usage, we find one developer who often finds a group that knows something about a subject on the skills management system, and asks them questions by e-mail. But usually, only some will answer, "you learn after a while who it is any use to attempt to get anything out of".
As one newly employed said: "Contrary to a lot of other companies that uses such a system, here at Computas we really use the system for resource planning." Another comment is on the same track: "I think that the skills manager is a useful tool, but a tool that still has got a lot of potential when it comes to practical use. Those who do the resource-management they already use the tool a lot in the daily resource allocation work."
Finding projects and external marketing
Another usage of the system is for the sales department. One manager said that "Even sales can use it [the skills management system], to find new directions to go in". That is, to find what types of projects that suits the company well; combining strategic- and competence development needs. We can also think of another usage that we did not hear from anyone (probably because we did not talk to people in the sales department) - namely to use the system as external marketing; as "proof" of a highly skilled workforce, although this might be seen as biased information by the customers.
At Computas, people are allocated to projects on the basis of what you have in the Skills Manager. In this way, people position themselves for future projects by indicating what knowledge they want to develop as a part of their career plan. And it is "natural to ask for an update on competencies when a project is finished". An employee sees the Skills manager in light of intellectual capital. "[We can] say that we have that many man months with C++ competence, or Java, and we see that there is an increase in this competence, and then we can evaluate that." And by stating what they want to learn about in the future, people can develop their competence by working on relevant projects.
We interviewed people in a software consultancy company about how they are using a skills management system - a part of the company's knowledge management system. We expected the tool to be in use in resource allocation, but also found that the tool is in use for "problem solving" in that people use it to get to know about who knows what in the company. Most people say that they use it to solve problems on a short term, but some also say that the system let them know who to ask the next time. People get to know others in the organization by knowing who to ask. Further, the skills management system is in use for resource allocation, to find new projects for the company and to support skills upgrading. Some are critical to how people evaluate their skills. Others questioned the level of detail of the available skills. Further, it seems that some miss the possibility to include more soft skills. In all, it seems that the usage of the tool is very much implanted in the daily work, and supports a multitude of functions.
1. Karl M. Wiig, Knowledge Management Methods: Schema Press, 1995.
2. Irma Becerra-Fernandez, "Facilitating the Online Search of Experts at NASA using Expert Seeker People-Finder," presented at Third International Conference on Practical Aspects of Knowledge Management (PAKM2000), Basel, Switzerland, 2000.
3. Torgeir Dingsøyr and Emil Røyrvik, "Skills Management as Knowledge Technology in a Software Consultancy Company," presented at Learning Software Organizations Workshop, Kaiserslautern, Germany, 2001.
About the Authors
D.V. Chandrashekar is Assistant Professor , Department of Computer Science, T.J.P.S College, Guntur, Andhra pradesh – India. Chand.firstname.lastname@example.org
Prof. J.N. Bhargava is a fculty member Department of Management Studies, Allahabad University, Allahabad – India
B.V.H. Kameswara Sastry is a Faculty member, Department of Management Studies, T.J.P.S College, Guntur, Andhra pradesh – India
|April 2009 Index|