In a perfect world, technical teams would have all the skills and knowledge they need to embark on any new project. Unfortunately, this is rarely the case.
Therefore, you need to find an effective way to balance ongoing learning with effective delivery. Structured learning that revolves around communities of practice is a good way to achieve this. At Made Tech, this is something that we both rely on internally and provide to our clients, helping them to measure and manage an effective learning strategy for their technical teams.
Why upskilling your technical team matters
For your teams, the benefits of upskilling include everything from happy team members producing better quality work, to learning new skills without having to find a new job. From my personal experience, I know that a culture of learning and continuous self-improvement keeps me excited about going into work everyday.
Team satisfaction also leads to a range of benefits for the organisation as a whole, the most important of which is staff retention. This will enable you to avoid the constant, costly onboarding of new starters. Furthermore, stronger skillsets will inevitably lead to more effective deliveries, and will help your organisation to stay ahead of the curve in the ever-changing technology world.
It should be remembered that when we talk about upskilling your technical teams, it isn’t just about your developers. Upskilling needs to also encompass testers, business analysts, product owners, delivery managers, and anyone else involved in the delivery of technology projects.
Using communities of practice for upskilling
A community of practice is a group of people who share a passion for a subject and who regularly get together to improve in that area. These communities don’t necessarily need to be technically focused, and can be as simple as a Slack or Microsoft teams channel.
Communities of practice provide a great way to structure your approach to learning and upskilling. They can help you keep your people up to date with the skills and knowledge necessary to deliver the best quality work possible.
At Made Tech, we set up an internal community of practice called Learn Tech in 2017. All team members have 12 days per year of personal learning time that can be used flexibly, and it has greatly benefitted us by allowing us to upskill our teams to deliver better work for our clients.
It has also helped us to improve cross-team communication, and to build a strong organisational culture of learning.
How to start upskilling your team
When you start this journey in your organisation, leadership teams should ask what issues keep them awake at night. It’s a good idea to use this question to start forming your learning strategy around future planning and risk mitigation.
You should also think about how you can improve internal skillsets in order to decrease your reliance on outsourcing for certain skillsets, and you should plan to do this over the long-term with a phased, iterative approach. We recommend defining your strategy around three repeating phases, as described below:
Information gathering: You need to get your senior stakeholders in a room to map out the current skills gaps in the organisation. You should then collate this data, and sort it into lists of short-term and long-term gaps. As an output for this phase, you should aim to produce a list of essential skills which technical teams are missing.
Planning: Using the information you have gathered, you need to evaluate and prioritise your skills list, setting a direction of travel and some milestones that demonstrate progress. Then you can assess your organisation’s capability and capacity for delivering training, as well as ensuring that you have considered the time management implications of this strategy. At this stage, it is critical to define your measurement criteria.
Execution and measurement: It’s important to get your teams excited about your efforts to invest in their development, and so communicating your strategy is key. To do this, set realistic expectations with them, and iterate gradually rather than aiming for a big-bang transformation. We recommend a strong focus on both measurement and the continuous gathering of feedback at this stage.
Ensuring your upskilling is a success
Iterating through your learning strategy might involve referring back to your priority skills list and working through each one. Alternatively, it could mean going back to the information gathering stage to find the next big set of skills gaps you need to fill.
However your strategy evolves, make sure that you continue to upskill your entire technical team, think long-term about the benefits this investment can bring, and continually measure to ensure you progress.