Capability, Communities of practice

Introducing Capability Profile Mapping

Capability profile mapping

A little while back I wrote a post on skills and capability mapping with communities of practice, I have been developing this work further into an organisational-wide approach, under the name of Capability Profile Mapping.

Capability Profile Mapping is a powerful approach for organisations, individuals and teams to create a shared understanding of their current capabilities and gaps and direction, against delivery needs and organisational direction. It also allows people to take a proactive role in their own capability growth.

I gave a talk about Capability profile Mapping at MapCamp 2019, which introduced Capability Profile Mapping alongside an example of how to put it in action. This blog post covers an introduction to it and a follow-up post will cover the first example.

Skills mapping, what is the problem?

Speech bubble: We want to understand the skill level of people across the organisation
Speech bubble: We want to understand the skill level of people across the organisation

Lots of organisations ask this question, which is understandable. They don’t always ask it in the right way. Knowing what skills you have is important, it helps to you know where to put learning budgets, how to blend teams and who to hire. The problem isn’t the intention, it’s in how it is often executed.

If the exercise carried out by a central team that is not close to the work, it can be too high level to make it actionable.

To illustrate this during my talk I proposed a scenario. I asked the audience a question, like one I have seen asked in a skills mapping exercise in the past.

What is your skill level as a product manager? 1, I am an expert (stand up). 2, I need some training (hand up). 3, I need full training (sit down)
What is your skill level as a product manager?

Some people stood up, more put their hands up and more again stayed seated. As you might expect

So I asked again, in a different way.

I told them that they would only get a pay rise if they said they were an expert

A lot more people stood up.

So I asked again, this time saying they wouldn’t get any training unless they say they need it now

As you might imagine, this changed the answers once more and now we had a lot fewer experts.

How we ask the question changes the results we get

This mirrors what I have seen happen. If organisations ask about skills at too high a level, with consequences like pay or access to training, then the responses can vary wildly. This means we can’t trust the results of the exercise and it can be a waste of time.

I once heard of an organisation that carried out a skills mapping exercise by spreadsheet. They took the list from an industry body, then asked everyone to do fill out the sheet with their line managers. The line managers were keen to support their people and wanted to make them look good. The results reported they had 85 user researchers when in reality there were fewer than 10.

This over-reporting doesn’t help anyone know where to put their training budgets, what capabilities they need to grow, or who to hire.

Approaching this differently, Capability profile mapping
Approaching this differently, Capability profile mapping

The difference between skills and capabilities

When I started out looking at skills and capabilities, I noticed people used these words interchangeably. I believed that defining them better would help with what I was trying to do. So I did that like this:

Skills are abilities that people can learn, develop and demonstrate
Skills are abilities that people can learn, develop and demonstrate

This covers both technical skills and “soft” skills. For example: creating in PhotoShop, committing code to git, active listening or using empathy.

Capabilities are the application of knowledge, skills and experience to achieve an outcome
Capabilities are the application of knowledge, skills and experience to achieve an outcome

We can think of

Knowledge as understanding theories
Skills as the practical application of those theories
Experience as doing that a lot in different circumstances and environments

The same skills will appear in many capabilities.

We use capabilities in order to achieve outcomes. It is not about collecting skills and making everyone an expert in everything.

It is about the application of knowledge, skills and experience. This means that people’s approaches and behaviours are inherent in capabilities.

The Lenses for capability profile mapping

The lenses for capability profiles are individual, practice and team
The lenses for capability profiles are individual, practice and team

The lenses for capability profiles mapping are individual, practice and team

Individual means people in the organisation. Each individual will have a unique profile, and we should encourage this kind of diversity.

Practice a group of people that do the same thing (sometimes described as roles). Each practice will have a unique profile.

Team (or programme) are groups of people that have been brought together to achieve delivery outcomes. Each team will have a unique profile, depending on its delivery outcomes.

As well as this, there are timeframes. These are:

Now (0-6 months), current needs
Next (~6-24 months), upcoming needs
Future (~2-5 years), the future direction of the organisation and the industry

This makes three capability profile set types, with eight capability profile map types. Shown in the following grid.

The capability profile lenses

The three capability profile map sets are

Individual : Now > Individual : Next > Individual : Future

Practice : Now > Practice : Next > Practice : Future

Team : Now > Team : Next

There is not a map for teams in the future. I’m assuming, if practices know where they, the world and the organisation is going then that will cover any necessary capability gaps.

Each of these capability profile sets is an area to invest time to map out, which is done in different ways, with different people depending on the set.

Once those maps are made, they should be updated regularly.

What can Capability Profile Mapping do?

Having Capability Profile maps can help organisations to understand where their gaps and opportunities are, help individuals and practices take a proactive role in growing capability and feed into many different areas such as:

  • Understanding and updating current and future job descriptions
  • Feed into career paths and learning pathways
  • Seeing the gaps in organisational capability
  • Making plans for growing capability for the future
  • Feed into hiring plans for interim and permanent roles
  • Focus for graduate schemes
  • and more…

In the next post, I will give an example of creating a Practice: Now capability map.

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