The people within your project can make or break your success. Not only do you need strong collaborators with flexibility and cooperation, but you also need people with the right skills.
The best team players can still ruin a project, however, if they lack the right skills to get the job done.
Fortunately, project managers can build processes within the software they use to identify skills and the right people for the job. These tools can also help evaluate gaps mid-project and prevent future problems.
Follow these steps to ensure your project doesn’t fall behind because of a knowledge gap.
Before You Begin a Project
Proper documentation and planning can prevent skills gaps from forming mid-project. This requires project managers to evaluate the exact skills needed to get the work done and find the places where they’re lacking. By following this method and building a team around the right skills, project managers can reduce the risk of having to pause a project in order to onboard a new vendor or team member.
Conduct a Skills Gap Analysis
Nikoletta Bika at Workable offers advice for project managers who are conducting their own skills gap analyses. Start by listing skills that will be needed throughout the project, she says, and the level of expertise required to complete them. Then, using some kind of rubric (1 to 10, high/medium/low), score each of your employees’ levels of expertise.
There are a few actionable steps managers can take when they identify skills gaps in their organization. They can build training tasks into a project so employees learn as they complete their work, they can extend deadlines to leave room for training employees, or they can hire additional help to quickly and effectively complete the tasks.
Choose Your Team Based on Skills
Jappreet Sethi writes there are two factors to consider when assembling your project team:
- Are the skills required to complete the project represented in the team members?
- Do the team members also possess the soft skills to accomplish a task?
Failing to account for both of these factors could create skills gaps in the future.
“Team member selection should focus initially on selecting a potential membership pool based first on task skills and then on teamwork skills and not the other way around,” Sethi writes. “Knowing one another and familiarity is no good if the task cannot be completed as per specification.”
Finding the right people might mean working with new vendors or collaborating with people who you haven’t agreed with in the past. If you’re all professionals, you should be able to work together to reach your end goal.
Look for T-Shaped People
Rikke Friis Dam and Yu Siang Teo encourage project managers to find T-shaped people when they’re assembling a team. T-shaped people have a deep knowledge of their field and an advanced expertise, but also have the ability to understand the basics of other disciplines.
T-shaped people differ from the jacks of all trades because they focus on one particular skillset even though they could learn others. They can understand the big picture of a project and how their specific roles make a difference.
Create a Culture of Transparency
The culture of your company and how you manage projects will determine how comfortable your team members feel when talking to you about their skills gaps.
“There are some businesses where skills gaps develop out of fear rather than ignorance,” the team at Synerion writes. “Employees recognize that they don’t possess the needed skills to succeed but feel as though management will punish or demoralize them for voicing their lack of education or training.”
This is particularly true at the employee level, where new hires can feel as if they weren’t perfectly honest about their abilities when they were hired. By creating an open culture that’s dedicated to education, you can encourage employees to be upfront about their weaknesses so you can make appropriate changes.
Test Your Employees and Vendors
If you’re not sure your employees or vendors have the skills they say they do, test them. The team at Administrate suggests administering practical tests, whether as a written test to assess expectations or as a task to validate abilities. Your employees might think they can handle something, but tests can ensure they fully understand what is expected of them.
Addressing Mid-Project Skills Gaps
In a perfect world, you could identify skills gaps early on and assemble the best team for the job. However, gaps in knowledge often reveal themselves mid-project, and PMs are left scrambling to fill them. There are a few steps you can take to reduce the impact of your skills gap and prevent gaps in the future.
Look for Alternative Solutions
Instead of closing the skills gap, consider choosing different processes that don’t call for the skills your team lacks. Jeffrey Dalto at Convergence Training writes that looking for alternative ways to complete a task can expedite a project, which is always preferable to having to set aside time for training sessions.
For example, if a company lacks business analysts to manipulate data and identify trends, it could outsource analytics to a third-party provider or look for analytics software. This would be faster in the short run than training someone internally on how to analyze and report data.
Review the Impact of the Change
When you’re making decisions about how to overcome skills gaps, review the potential impacts of changes both in the long and short run. Elizabeth Harrin has five factors you should consider before you hire additional talent, train your team, or invest in a machine replacement:
- Budget: Which change options will cost the most?
- Benefits: Which change will have the greatest benefits?
- Timeline: What impact will each option have on your timeline?
- Resources: How will your decision impact your existing resources?
- Risks: Will your change reduce or increase risks?
For example, hiring a contractor with the right skills can keep your project on time, and it offers an immediate solution. However, the contractor’s salary can push you over-budget, and is still only a Band-Aid on the problem.
Conversely, training your team internally can increase your resources in the long run and decrease project risks. However, training can take a long time and cause your project to fall behind.
Each change has its pros and cons.
Document Any Changes in Teams or Processes
If you find yourself bringing on new teams mid-project or changing the plan when a skills gap arises, thoroughly document the change within your project management software. This will alert you of skills gaps that you need to address during your post-project review and help you take the necessary steps to close them.
“All changes to your project should be documented using an agreed upon change control process that was established at the beginning of your project,” Denise O’Berry writes. “It can be tempting to ‘document this stuff later,’ but later never comes.”
Project documentation within your software will also help you in future projects so you don’t make the same mistake.
Make It Easy for New Team Members
The project management steps you take today will determine how you handle a crisis tomorrow. Documentation shouldn’t just be limited to project and personnel changes. By thoroughly documenting your project from day one, you’re creating a history that a new vendor or team member can understand.
Sam Flood at Magenic writes that this documentation will help your new team members in three ways:
- You will have a record of your project processes and can easily share them.
- You will have documentation of how to use your tools effectively.
- You will have a written timeline to help people understand the current state of your project.
This will simplify the onboarding process, as your new team members will be able to understand what they’re getting into, how you historically solve problems and how to navigate internal processes. Easily communicating this information is crucial to staying on time with your project.
Closing the Skills Gap for Future Projects
Roy Maurer at SHRM reports that 36 percent of workers worry about falling behind in acquiring new skills, and 33 percent feel their current skills fall short of where they should be.
However, while both employers and employees might acknowledge a skills gap, the burden still falls on the employer to fix it. Further, more than 75 percent of employees feel their employers should create a clear path for career development. This means they’re only going to develop those missing skills if management explicitly states it’s necessary for advancement.
The good news is that your team members are likely to be responsive to your training offers. Once you have everyone in agreement for training, it’s up to management to pick the right program that will get results.
Michael Li has three criteria to look for in your organization when you invest in training:
- Hands-on practice. Creating actual assignments and opportunities for people to prove themselves will beat any lecture or seminar once the skills have to be performed in the field.
- Accountability. Determine how the success of the training will be measured. Does the training program offer assessments at the end? Will performance get reported back to management?
- Breathing room. Look for training opportunities that let employees develop their skillsets themselves. This allows employees to learn at their own pace and evaluate themselves when they’re ready.
Proven training techniques ensure your team is equipped with the right skills when you need them for a later project.
Develop Mentorship and Apprenticeship Programs
Almost 90 percent of executives think apprenticeships will help close the skills gap, Aleksandr Peterson writes at TLNT. However, fewer American companies than ever take on apprentices.
Peterson recommends assigning mentors to lower-level employees to help identify skills gaps and motivate these employees to advance their skills. By building up their skills, you can prepare them to grow in the company, as well.
Upskill and Backfill
Dan Biewener at TrainingIndustry.com recommends two tactics to keep the skills gap closed within your company: upskill and backfill.
When a company practices upskilling, it uses training programs and apprenticeships to increase the skills of employees with the goal of promoting them in the future. Once the upskilled employee is promoted, his or her position is backfilled by entry-level employees or new hires.
Instead of taking a chance on an expensive recruit, companies build up their current team and promote internally. This also means companies can fill positions faster, as they already have top talent waiting in the wings.
Infuse Cross-Training Into Your Culture
Chris Cancialosi at gothamCulture compares project management to running a military operation. If one of your teammates lacks a critical skill, how can your company hope to achieve its goals?
“Regardless of your industry, today’s businesses can’t risk failing because they lose a key player at a critical juncture,” Cancialosi writes. “It’s essential to cross-train your employees so losing one won’t mean the end of your company.”
When you see projects slowing down because of a skills gap, make a note and create a cross-training plan. This way, when there’s another gap, a different team can jump in to solve the problem.
Project managers can also build these cross-trained employees into their plans by listing backup team members to take over if the main choices aren’t an option anymore.
Hire Based on the Exact Skills You Need
If you do need to hire additional talent for a project, turn to your top players to determine what qualities are needed.
“Make a list of common skills and traits that employees who excel in various roles possess, and use them as a benchmark for determining how other employees and new hires will perform in specific roles,” writes Andre Lavoie, CEO of ClearCompany. “Identify which traits are needed, and which skills can be taught to close the skills gap.”
In this way, the skills gap analysis comes full-circle. Making a post-project hiring decision will reduce your skills gap and improve your overall project analysis before you start the next one.
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