Align Your Staff’s Capabilities with Upcoming Projects

by Johanna Rothman. Originally published in Cutter's Business-IT Alignment E-Mail Advisor, July 7, 1999.

“There is nothing permanent except change.” — Heracleitus

As our industry has changed from mainframes to client-server to distributed systems and the Web, the tools we use to develop and test our software have changed. How do we keep our staff aligned with new technology and trained on the tools we'll be using in the future?

Well, the good news is that things don't normally change overnight. As managers, we don't need crystal balls to foresee many of the changes that will happen in our departments. We can ask our staff to help us foresee the changes they think will happen, even if they don't know when those changes will happen.

Since we can foresee some changes, we can take both long-term and short-term approaches to aligning our staff's capabilities with new technology.

Here are some relatively inexpensive, long-term solutions to the general training dilemma:

  1. Plan training time each week. Get your staff to tell you what they'd like training on, and have each of them volunteer to investigate one area. They can report on the status of their investigations and then present information about that area to the rest of the group.
  2. Attend local professional society meetings. During the meetings (many of which are free or very low cost), industry, academic, and professional speakers explain technologies and techniques with examples of how to apply those techniques.
  3. Start an article or book study-group. Each person chooses an area of investigation, and his or her job is to bring in an article or book for the group to study.
  4. Set up brown-bag lunch meetings during which each person discusses a particular area of his or her expertise.
  5. Hold periodic expository talks from each department in your company. You can use this time as a focus group: a time to get your users to tell you about the challenges they face in their work. Use the results of this focus group to think about how you can help them with their challenges.
  6. If you've bought a tool and already had training, organize an inhouse “user group” meeting, during which users can share their problems, tips, techniques, and tricks.
  7. Invite outside experts to talk about specific technology or projects. These experts could be professional consultants or speakers, or they could be a knowledgeable friend or colleague.

For major transitions to new technologies and applications, you'll need short-term training in addition to the above techniques:

  1. Attend conferences. Many conferences provide tutorials and talks with a focus on leading-edge techniques.
  2. Hold inhouse skills-based training classes. This is preferable to sending people to outside classes because any good instructor will tailor their instruction based on your specific needs.

Make training part of your weekly work and you won't have to worry about aligning your staff with new technologies and tools.

Like this article? See the other articles. Or, look at my workshops, so you can see how to use advice like this where you work.

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