For those of us that manage others, effectiveness is largely driven by the skills and motivation of those that report to us. So whether you are a CIO, IT division leader or a front-line manager, you need to spend the time to assess the currents skills, abilities and career aspirations of your staff and help them put in place the plans that can support their development. Yet, you need to do this in such a way that still supports the overall near-term objectives of the organization, and properly balances the need for professional development against the day-to-day operational needs of the organization.

There are certifications for competence in many different products. Having such certifications is very valuable and gives one a sense of the skillset of an individual. But how do you assess someone as a journeyman programmer, tester or systems engineer, or perhaps as a master in one’s chosen discipline? This evaluation is overly subjective and places too much emphasis on “book knowledge” rather than practical application of that knowledge to develop new, innovative solutions or approaches that the organization truly needs. In other words, how do you assess the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) of a person to perform their job role?

This assessment problem is two-fold:

  1. For a specific IT discipline, you need a comprehensive framework by which to understand the types of skills and knowledge you should have each level – from novice to expert.
  2. For each discipline, you also need a way to accurately assess the current level ability of your technical staff members to create the baseline by which you can develop their skills to move to higher levels of proficiency. This not only helps the individual develop a realistic and achievable plan, but also gives you insights into where you have significant skills gaps in your organization.

Until recently, both of these problems were not easily addressed. Defining competencies on your own within an organization is time consuming, expensive, frustrating and very likely to be full of inaccuracies. However, in 2003, a non-profit organization was founded called the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), which provides a comprehensive framework of skills in IT technologies and disciplines based on a broad industry “body of knowledge.”

SFIA currently covers 97 professional skills required by professionals in roles involving information and communications technology.  These skills are organized into six categories, as follows:

  • Strategy and Architecture
  • Change and Transformation
  • Development and Implementation
  • Delivery and Operation
  • Skills and Quality
  • Relationships and Engagement

Each of the skills are described at one or more of SFIA’s seven levels of attainment – from a novice to expert.

The SFIA framework is updated regularly to account for the rapidly changing IT environment, and significant updates were made in SFIA6, released in June 2015 – most notably around cybersecurity, digital and other hot topics. It is available free of charge for organizations that want to leverage it for their internal use. SFIA is now used in nearly 200 countries and, here in the United States, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Computer Society and the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) are partners with SFIA.

Although the framework helps define your needed competencies, it doesn’t tell you if your workers have the skills that match them.  Part two of this series will discuss ways in which IT organizations can now leverage skills assessments to much better understand the actual knowledge, skills and abilities of their current staff and to work with staff members to address skills gaps and develop individual professional development plans. By leveraging the SFIA framework and use of assessments throughout one’s organization, an IT manager is finally in a good position to understand and then work to fill organizational skills gaps that are hindering overall organizational performance. As IT managers, you are only as good as the team you develop.