We have a VALUE problem in IT

We have a VALUE problem in IT

We’re valuing the wrong things, or some of the right things but in the wrong proportions!

 

Value?

 

Value-stream mapping is all the rage in the technology world, and rightly so. IT should always be about the outcomes that we deliver or enable for our business and our customers or other stakeholders. IT for IT’s sake is pointless – a little like having a car but not being able to drive or not needing to go anywhere. But just like the car, there are different ways of seeing the value. You buy the car for a certain price – at that point, this price could equal the value. However, the price you can get for the car will reduce the moment you drive it away from the dealership, and continue to reduce the older the car gets. Another expression of value for the car is that it helps you do something you want or need to do – get from one place to another. The moment the car stops working, the value it has to you reduces because it no longer helps you with the outcome you need – getting somewhere!

 

In the Digital, IT and technology-based world we live in, I think most people and organizations would admit that they are dependent on technology. Twenty or thirty years ago, when the technology failed, we had manual workarounds which allowed us still to get the outcome or value that we needed. These days, when the technology fails, there is often no manual option. Also the impact of failing is more critical and often more visible and potentially damaging. IT is no longer just ‘supporting’, it is a business enabler and often a differentiator, which requires new business focused skills from IT.

 

As our critical dependency on technology has increased, the value of people with technology-based specialisms has also increased. If we don’t have the people to design and build the technology, and keep it functional, we get no value from the technology itself. The IT job market is very competitive, particularly with many businesses and governments reporting massive skills shortages. However, when we advertise a job, or when we try to ensure our existing staff stay by giving them development opportunities and other benefits, we often focus too much on training and certification which merely shows they have some theoretical knowledge. In theory my car has value to me because it could get me to another place, but in practice just owning a car is of limited value if I haven’t done the following:

  • Studied the theory, so I know the road signs and the other rules of the road
  • Put my knowledge into practice with an experienced instructor sitting next to me to provide coaching and stop me doing anything dangerous because of my lack of experience
  • Keep practicing until I’m proficient enough to take my driving test
  • Pass my driving test and keep practicing driving so I can become competent

 

After these steps, if I need to go anywhere, the car could be of value to me – I can use it to get me where I need to be!

 

Knowledge has theoretical value, but only actual tangible value in terms of achieving outcomes if we couple it with practical experience – skill (“can do with proficiency”) and competency (“significant professional experience”). In addition, we only get real value if our skills and competencies are the ones that are needed to be applied to achieve the outcomes our organization needs – the context or ‘why’! Back to the driving analogy, why do you want to learn to drive? Is it for social reasons, to get to work, or you want to become a professional driver driving a limo or bus. These reasons for learning and developing skills and competencies will influence the way you go about learning and applying your knowledge, and the precise skills and competencies you target, as well as the level of achievement and experience required.

 

The value of most training and certification is that it allows an individual to acquire knowledge and demonstrate that can explain how to do something in theory. It does not tell a potential or existing employer whether they have had the chance to put that theory into practice, apply the knowledge and develop a skill or proficiency.

 

 

The well-known 70/20/10 model illustrates this quite well, showing that about 10% of a professional’s development is off-the-job formal training. Most training focusses on Knowledge, with exams testing the theoretical knowledge, and the certificates or exam results showing that someone understands.

 

Many job adverts ask for certificates – so we’re focussing on 10% of what we need.

 

We have a problem

 

The problem is that we over-value the training, exams and certificates. We ask for certificates because it’s easy, and there’s a whole industry that has evolved to promote and provide the training, exams and certificates. It’s easy to ask for and to verify. There aren’t many training providers who will potentially undermine their value proposition by admitting that it’s only 10% of developing professional competence.

 

So, the first thing we need to do is to admit we have a problem. We don’t want to stop training, as it is still valuable, but we need to find a practical way of balancing this and of measuring and confirming skill / proficiency and competency.

 

The value of people

 

What is the value of a professional to our organization?

  • Someone with no knowledge, no skills and no competencies = about 0%
  • Someone with theoretical knowledge, but has never put that knowledge into practice = better than 0%, maybe 10% initially. If we let them do some work in our organization, it will help build their skills, but they will likely make mistakes as they learn. This level of knowledge is often tested through formal training exams and certifications, with the pass mark being the measure used.
  • Someone who has already put the knowledge into practice, maybe in a simulated environment or in the work place but with limited experience = even better, perhaps 30% to 50%. They are likely to make fewer mistakes, achieve the desired outcome more of the time. Below we suggest ways of measure this level of skill or proficiency.
  • Someone who has put the knowledge into practice many times, has practiced the skill and carried out the activity enough times that they can achieve the desired outcome almost every time, and has therefore mastered the skill and could be considered fully professionally competent = maximum value! This is what we confirm when we assess competence.

 

Common and Agreed Definitions

 

Next, we need to define the terms and how we’re going to assess, certify or endorse them. We have to be able to recognised the difference between Knowledge, Skill/Proficiency, and Competence.

 

We also need a common language or agreed consistent way of describing these things. As there is limit knowledge is just knowing something, we need to describe the activities we need people to do, the things they produce or deliver, and the outcomes they achieve.

 

This is where a framework like SFIA comes in. SFIA is the global skills and competency framework for our digital world. It is used in nearly 200 countries, and provides descriptions of skills and competencies. SFIA has been around for over 20 years, and is regularly updated to ensure it describes the evolving skills and competencies landscape. Of course, you can also map knowledge to these skills and competencies, and the training and certifications that demonstrate knowledge, as having the underlying knowledge is definitely needed.

 

 

Example: Incident Management

  • KNOWLEDGE: I take the ITIL Foundation class, and pass the exam. I have a certificate that shows I have some theoretical knowledge – enough to reach the pass mark. My digital credential or certificate is effectively demonstrating that I have knowledge underpinning a number of skills, including incident management, but I don’t have the skill or proficiency yet.
  • SKILL / PROFICIENCY:
    • I take my newly acquired ITIL knowledge back to work, and I start applying it while I work on the Service Desk, improving the way I identify, register and categorise incidents. I may need a little coaching and supporting from my Team Leader or more experienced colleagues to translate the knowledge into how it works in operational reality. I’m now starting to develop the skill of Incident management at level 2, as defined by SFIA https://sfia-online.org/en/sfia-8/skills/incident-management
    • I keep doing this for an extended period of time, refining how I apply the knowledge, dealing with slightly different scenarios, eventually getting to the point where I can do what SFIA is describing on my own without instruction. If I achieve a quality outcome the majority of the time, I could now claim I am proficient in the Incident Management skill at level 2.
  • COMPETENCY:
    • I continue practicing this activity until I have extensive professional experience, and my development focus is no longer at level 2 – I’ve mastered level 2, and am working on level 3, and potentially some other skills. At this point I could be assessed and demonstrate that I have Incident Management at level 2 as one of my fully developed competencies. With this experience I might also be able to demonstrate Customer service support at level 1 https://sfia-online.org/en/sfia-8/skills/customer-service-support

 

 

SFIA provides a mechanism for measuring value, because it gives us a consistent globally-recognised and adopted set of definitions we can measure against. We can use it to assess, certify and endorse individuals, as well as defining the skills we need. The value we are demonstrating will vary depending on whether we are confirming knowledge, skill/proficiency, competency or all of these. With Competency, the value measured is aligned to achieving the business outcome.

 

A certification scheme which uses SFIA as the basis, and does it according to a set of best practice principles, provides the ability to measure value, recognising the difference between knowledge, skills and competency, all using the same currency or common language – so that these are transferable and relevant everywhere, not just within a single organization (as with any in-house developed competency frameworks) or within a single country or region (a couple of local country or regional skills and competencies frameworks exist, but nothing with the user base or geographical reach of SFIA). https://sfia-online.org/

 

Accreditation or Certification for professionals whose skills and competencies are described by SFIA

 

Any certificate, digital credential or badge, accreditation, award or professional profile should clearly state Knowledge, Skill / Proficiency, or Competency, and include the SFIA element that this has been demonstrated for, or specify the collection of SFIA elements if certifying overall Competence in a role, job or professional profile.

 

Technical jargon warning! (Don’t worry, I’ve summarised it, but also included the detail for those who want it)

Summary:

  • Knowledge: “can explain”
  • Skill (or Proficiency): “can do with proficiency”
  • Competency: “significant professional experience”
  • Competence: “overall competence in a role, job or professional profile”

 

Detail:

The suggested criteria for accreditation and certification is as follows:

  • Knowledge: “can explain”
    • Knowledge is about knowing something – it is not the same as applying that knowledge.
    • An individual should provide sufficient evidence that they possess the relevant knowledge appropriate to a particular SFIA element. A minimum cognitive level of “can explain” should be demonstrated, but a candidate may also meet the higher cognitive level of “can discuss”.
    • Certification for Knowledge can be awarded against any SFIA responsibility attribute – Autonomy, Influence, Complexity, Business Skills or Knowledge, for example “Autonomy at level 2”.
    • Certification for Knowledge can be awarded against any SFIA Professional Skill at any of the levels SFIA defines that skill, for example “Risk management (BURM) at level 5”.
  • Skill (or Proficiency): “can do with proficiency”
    • Skill is about applying knowledge and developing proficiency – which could be done in a controlled environment such as an educational institution through, for example, simulation or substantial project work.
    • An individual should provide sufficient evidence that they have applied the relevant knowledge and performed the activity at the performance level of “proficient in the skill” i.e. they can do what SFIA describes on their own without instruction, possibly in a controlled environment.
    • The issue of a certificate or digital credential for Skill should be viewed as demonstrating the individual has also met the criteria for Knowledge, and therefore anyone successfully assessed at this level will not need a separate certificate or digital credential for Knowledge for this same SFIA element.
    • Mandatory requirements: Failure to satisfactorily meet any of the following will result in the accreditation application being rejected.
      • Demonstrate practical experience of carrying out the activity described by SFIA (85% or more of the SFIA description)
      • Whilst instruction may have been given during the development of the skill, certification of achievement under this scheme requires that the activity has been carried out independently without instruction being given while performing the activity.
      • Activity successfully performed several times to the expected level of quality
      • Achieving the expected outcomes or deliverables
      • Evidence provided is recent, i.e. no longer than 7 years ago
      • Skill developed sufficiently as to be ready to apply this skill in a professional working environment
    • Certification for Skill / Proficiency can be awarded against any SFIA responsibility attribute – Autonomy, Influence, Complexity, Business Skills or Knowledge, for example “Autonomy at level 2”.
    • Certification for Skill / Proficiency can be awarded against any SFIA Professional Skill at any of the levels SFIA defines that skill, for example “Risk management (BURM) at level 5”.
  • Competency: “significant professional experience”
    • Competency is applying the necessary knowledge and skill in a real-world environment with full professional responsibility and accountability. Experience in a professional working environment represents the difference between demonstrated skill and demonstrated competency.
    • An individual should provide sufficient evidence that they have applied the relevant knowledge and skills and have significant professional experience of performing the activities described by SFIA in a professional working environment through the performance of a role, job or function. They must consistently achieve expected objectives and a successful result on an ongoing basis, reliably at a professional level.
    • The issue of a certificate or digital credential for Competency should be viewed as demonstrating the individual has also met the criteria for Knowledge and Skill, and therefore anyone successfully assessed at this level will not need separate certificates or digital credentials for Knowledge or Skills for this same SFIA element.
    • Mandatory requirements: Failure to satisfactorily meet any of the following will result in the accreditation application being rejected.
      • Demonstrate practical experience of carrying out the activity described by SFIA (85% or more of the SFIA description)
      • Provide evidence that this experience of performing the activities described by SFIA is in a professional working environment through the performance of a job, role or function
      • Activity has been carried out independently without instruction being given while performing the activity.
      • Activity performed several times or over an extended period of time (12-months or more)
      • Achieving the expected outcomes or deliverables
      • Consistently achieve expected objectives and a successful result on an ongoing basis, reliably at a professional level
      • Evidence provided is recent, i.e. no longer than 7 years ago
    • Certification for Competency can be awarded against any SFIA responsibility attribute – Autonomy, Influence, Complexity, Business Skills or Knowledge, for example “Autonomy at level 2”.
    • Certification for Competency can be awarded against any SFIA Professional Skill at any of the levels SFIA defines that skill, for example “Risk management (BURM) at level 5”.
  • Competence: “overall competence in a role, job or professional profile”
    • SFIA is used to assess roles, jobs, professional achievement, or other forms of overall competence where a number of SFIA elements are combined and assessed together, for example “Business Analyst” or “Chartered IT Professional (CITP)”
    • In these cases, the certification body has defined overall competence for each credential as a group of individual SFIA competencies at certain levels.
    • Certification scheme which define roles, jobs, professional profiles such as certifications for professional status, may use SFIA to define a set of criteria. As an example, a body may create and award a credential for “Expert CIO”, and define the characteristics or requirements in SFIA terms – maybe Autonomy level 7, Influence level 7, Complexity level 7, Business Skills level 7, Knowledge level 7, Strategic planning (ITSP) levels 6 and 7, Governance (GOVN) levels 6 and 7, Organisational capability development (OCDV) level 7, and Performance management (PEMT) level 7.
    • The SFIA Foundation could endorse the use of SFIA on the basis that individual SFIA competencies are assessed following the SFIA accreditation scheme principles. The SFIA Foundation are not endorsing the structure of the credential and thereby saying that this represents a universal view of what makes an Expert CIO, as there may be several different views on this. The details of the credential should be published and accessible, showing which individual SFIA competencies have been assessed and demonstrated satisfactorily.
    • The SFIA Foundation do award a limited number of accreditations that demonstrate overall competence, defined by a set of individual SFIA competencies. These include SFIA Accredited Practitioner, SFIA Accredited Assessor and SFIA Accredited Consultant.

 

The terms Competence, Competency, Competences and Competencies, are often used inconsistently or interchangeably. Other terms such as Knowledge, Skill, Proficiency, Experience, and Capability, are also widely used. This whole area can be quite complex, with various international standards using the same terms in slightly different ways. To improve clarity and avoid confusion, the SFIA Foundation has tried to provide clear definitions of how these core words are used when applying SFIA. Recognition of these different terms will help when mapping to SFIA and awarding certifications or credentials. This provides the opportunity to further mature some practices, including the ability for individuals and employers to distinguish whether a credential or training certificate is indicating that someone purely has the theoretical knowledge (Knowledge), if they have applied this knowledge to become proficient in a skill (Skill / Proficiency), or they have fully developed an individual professional competency (Competency), or have been awarded for their overall competence as defined by a role, job or professional profile (Competence). This will help avoid misunderstanding where an employer asks for a qualification of knowledge when they really expect someone who is fully experienced and has mastered a specific competency. Alignment within the industry is strongly encouraged in order to improve understanding and consistency, supporting individual professionals and organisations.

 

End of detail!

 

Action – what needs to happen?

 

  1. Support the change. Professional Membership Organizations, Certification Bodies, Training Providers, technology and learning & development leaders, should acknowledge the issue and support the move to recognise the difference between Knowledge, Skill and Competency, signing up to do this using SFIA and aligning their schemes to a defined set of principles. The SFIA Foundation should publish these principles and requirements, to ensure everyone is doing things in a consistent way.
  2. Map to SFIA. Training providers, examination institutes and certification bodies, should map their offerings to SFIA, and adjust their certifications to confirm that they are teaching, testing and certifying Knowledge. Employers with internal training courses should do the same. The SFIA Foundation can provide guidance for mapping to SFIA. This is quite easy to do, and there is guidance available if you do it yourself, or support if you want someone else to do it for you.
  3. Be clear and transparent about the need. Employers should specify their needs in job descriptions and role profiles in SFIA terms, being clear about their criteria in terms of Knowledge, Skills and Competencies. Sometimes they will require or accept someone with purely knowledge (perhaps as a trainee, apprentice or graduate recruit), for other roles they might need someone with demonstrable skills or proven competencies.
  4. Improve development plans. Individual professionals and their managers or employers, should ensure that development plans are balanced, with activities for developing Knowledge, Skills and Competencies, preferably in the appropriate proportions (recognising the 70/20/10 model). Becoming competent may start with training and knowledge, but then the development plan actions need to include the opportunity to put that knowledge into practice and develop skills, increase proficiency, and ultimately achieve full professional competency.
    • This shouldn’t become an extra overhead – in fact it should save you time and effort. Most managers have one-to-one meetings with their direct reports, talking about development and performance. Using SFIA will give you better data for those existing discussions, making them even more effective and better aligned to value for the individual, the manager, and the organization. For those who want it, there is training and support available.
  5. Assess consistently. Assessors should be suitable trained and experienced, to ensure consistency. The SFIA Foundation has defined a syllabus for SFIA Assessors, and can award accreditation and a digital credential. Guidance is provided for assessment using SFIA – both for self-assessment and for Assessor-driven assessment.
  6. Recognise and realise the value. Be clear what you are recognising people for, and the value that this gives. As your organization needs to achieve business outcomes, you need more than just theory, so don’t only look for certifications and qualifications that confirm knowledge.
Matthew Burrows