Planning Your People Investment

© 2002 Johanna Rothman. This article was originally published by Cutter, June 2002.

As we come out of the economic downturn, it’s time to start planning your organizational investments. Aside from the standard capital equipment investments, what about your people investment? Maybe you’re thinking, “Hey, my people are lucky to still be employed!” But as the economy turns up, you’ll eventually need your people to do different things and/or need more people. Have you started to think about your people investment strategies?

In the mid to late ‘90’s, many organizations hired people without all the necessary skills, thinking that a warm body was better than no body. If you were in that position, you’ve probably laid off many of those warm bodies, because you realize that warm bodies just aren’t enough to perform the work. The people you have left can all perform the work, so it’s time to assess your peoples’ skills for the upcoming work. It’s always cheaper to invest in your current staff than to hire new people.

IT is a communications business. How good are your people’s communications skills? Define the communications skills you need for your changing business, possibly in areas such as requirements elicitation, project management, facilitation, catalyst skills, customer-handling skills, writing skills, negotiation skills, and presentation skills. Which skills does your group need? How much training is necessary? This may not be the time to invest in training, but now is the time to plan for the kinds of training you and your staff need.

Do your people have domain expertise? If you’re in the product development business, does your staff understand how your customers use the product? If you’re supporting the product sales and delivery of the business, does your staff know and understand the workflow? Do they understand what’s important to the users of the software and why? This may be the time to invest in in-house presentations about your products and how they are used, to build domain expertise. While you’re at it, document these in-house presentations, so that when you hire new people, they can more easily learn your business.

Are you considering moving to a new technology? If so, do your people have adequate development, design, debugging, and general problem-solving skills in that technology? If you’re planning to move to a new technology, now is the time to investigate how best to help your staff learn and use the new technology.

Sometimes, it’s not a new technology, but a shift in how you use technology. With the web, more people have had to learn about performance and reliability and how to create high performance, high reliability, high availability web-based systems. Do you need to invest in your infrastructure by creating test suites for changes to those systems? Do your people know how to design for the way you’re using technology? Do they know where to look for problems?

Once you’ve reviewed your technical training issues, it’s time to create your hiring strategy. It may seem crazy to plan a hiring strategy before you have open requisitions, but advance planning saves you time and money.

Here are some considerations in developing a hiring strategy now:

  • Will you need more people to do similar projects to the ones you have now? If so, you’ll need more people who have similar skills and talents to the ones you have now.
  • Are you transitioning to a different kind of technology? If so, you’ll need more people who have a different technical skill set, or the ability to learn a new technology quickly. They may even require different personal talents, such as communication skills, than the people you have now.
  • Are you filling in the talents and skills you don’t have right now? If you’re planning to pay off some technical product debt, you may need more of one kind of person, such as testers or designers.

Plan for your people investments now, while you’re not in the crush of making the people investments happen. Your group will be more successful performing the work, and this, in turn, will make everyone more satisfied with your IT group’s contribution.

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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