Knowledge management through competency models

    The Matrix, a film by the Wachowski siblings, is full of meanings: philosophical, religious and cultural, and sometimes it finds conspiracy theories . There is another point - team. The team has a seasoned team leader and a young specialist who needs to be quickly trained, poured into the team and sent to complete the task. Yes, there is a specificity with leather raincoats and sunglasses in the room, but otherwise the movie is about teamwork and knowledge.

    Using the “Matrix” example, I’ll tell you why to manage knowledge in a team, how to integrate their management into the workflow, what is “competency” and “competency models”, how to evaluate expertise and transfer experience. I’ll also analyze cases: leaving a valuable employee, I want to get more, knowledge management in the development process.

    Timlids are worried about different issues. How to build a super team faster and better? It seems that there are budgets, and there are projects, but there are no people or they are slowly learning. How not to lose valuable knowledge? People sometimes leave or management comes and says: “It is necessary to reduce 10% of employees. But so that nothing breaks! ” Will there be an afterparty on KnowledgeConf ? All these questions are answered by one discipline - knowledge management.

    Knowledge Management is the Key to Answers

    Surely you have experience how to grow a team or how to fire people, but you have no experience how to organize parties after conferences. You ask, what are the similarities? In mindfulness of action.

    I came up more meaningfully to the question of how to work with people, after the words of HR:

    - Do you need senior developers, but let's get the juniors, and let us grow the senior ones?

    How long will it take to make a senior from a junior? 2 years, 5 years, 25? And how much - to develop the site of the conference KnowledgeConf ? Probably not more than a couple of months. It turns out that we developers are able to evaluate features: we have the practice of decomposing software systems. But we don’t know how to decompose people.

    People can also be decomposed. Each of us can be digitized and decomposed into “atoms” of knowledge, skills. This is easily demonstrated by the example of the story from The Matrix, a film that is already 20 years old.

    Welcome to the Matrix

    For those who have not watched or have already forgotten, a brief non-canonical presentation of the plot. Meet the heroes.

    The main character is Morpheus. This uncle owned different types of martial arts and offered people pills.

    A strange woman, Pythia, she has cookies, and she is an oracle. But now in Russia there is a fashion for import substitution, therefore - a soothsayer. The Pythia was famous for answering questions with ambiguous phrases.

    Two bouncers and team members - Neo and Trinity.

    Once Morpheus was caught with pills and he was dragged to his headquarters by the "secret agent" Smith with the call sign "Elf". Trinity and Neo set about pulling Morpheus out of the jail. They did not understand how to do this, and therefore decided to ask a smart person. Came to Pythia:

    NiT: - How do we get Morpheus?

    P: - And what do you have for this, what you can do?

    To solve a problem, certain skills or competencies are needed - the ability to solve a particular class of problems . What competencies does a team need in order to achieve its goals?


    Each of us has a large number of competencies, each of which is a combination of three components.

    Competence is knowledge, skills and character.

    The first two terms are our skills or Hard Skills . We know and are able to do something - one knows how to get from St. Petersburg to Moscow, the other - why the hatches are round. There are also practical skills, such as quick printing or clicker skills. Each of us has character traits - these are Soft Skills . All together are competencies. Neo and Trinity have their own competencies: Neo knew how to fly, and Trinity shot well.

    A set of competencies allows you to act more meaningfully, competently and successfully.

    Competency Model

    Consider the example of developers of what the competency model consists of.

    Practices and tools. To program, you need to know at least one programming language, the principles of building complex systems, and be able to test. We also know how to use different development tools - version control systems, IDEs, and are familiar with management practices - Scrum or Kanban.

    The staff and work with him . These are competencies related to the formation of a team and work in it, with feedback and motivation of employees.

    Subject area . This is knowledge and skills in a specific subject area. Each one has her own, big or small: fintech, retail, blockchain or education, etc.

    Let's go back to the Matrix. All the competencies that Neo and Trinity have in their team answer three simple questions: what we do, how we do it, and who does it . When Pythia told Neo and Trinity about this, they reasonably remarked: "A cool story, but we absolutely do not understand how to build a model of our competencies."

    How to build a competency model

    If you want to build a competency model so that you can use it later in your activity, start by understanding what you are doing.

    Create a model from processes. Decompose step by step what skills, abilities and knowledge are needed to carry out the next stage of your work.

    What you need to successfully complete the process

    The competencies Neo and Trinity required to free Morpheus included shooting skills, tricks, jumping, and beating the guards with various objects. Then they needed to understand where to go - the skill of orientation in the building and using the elevator. In the end, helicopter piloting, machine gun shooting and the use of a rope came in handy. Step by step, Neo and Trinity identified the necessary skills and built a competency model.

    All activities are decomposed into the knowledge and skills that are needed to solve a specific problem.

    But is only a model enough to use it in knowledge management? Of course not. A list of skills is a worthless topic in itself. Even in the resume.

    To understand how to better manage your knowledge, you need to understand the level of that knowledge in your team .

    Knowledge assessment

    To decide what everyone will do during the rescue operation, Neo and Trinity need to understand who is better at what skills.

    Any system is suitable for evaluation . Measure even in pink elephants, if only the system was one. If in a team you evaluate some employees in boas and others in parrots, it will be difficult for you to compare them with each other. Even with a factor of x38.

    Come up with a unified rating system.

    The simplest system familiar to us from school is grades from 0 to 5. Zero means a complete zero - what else can it mean? Five - a person can teach something. For example, I can teach you how to build competency models — I have five. Other stages lie between these meanings: I've been to conferences, read a book, and often practice.

    There may be other rating systems. You may well choose a simpler one.

    There are only 4 options, it is difficult to get confused.

    • No knowledge, no practice - this is not our person, he is unlikely to share knowledge.
    • There is knowledge and practice - it may well share knowledge. Take it!
    • Two intermediate points - you have to think about where to apply the person.

    It can be complicated. Measure depth and width as we do it in Cloveri.

    Decided on the scale? But how to assess the level of competencies that you or your team own?

    Common Valuation Methods

    Self-esteem . The easiest way came up with Neo. He said: “I know kung fu!”, And many believed - once said, then he knew - the chosen one after all.

    The self-assessment method works, but there are nuances. An employee can be asked to evaluate how much he or she owns a particular skill. But as soon as the influence of this assessment on something monetary appears, the level of knowledge for some reason rises. Alright! And all the experts. Therefore, as soon as money appears near the assessment, immediately remove self-esteem away.

    The second nuance is the Dunning-Krueger effect .

    The incompetent do not understand their incompetence due to their incompetence.

    Interviews with experts. We are called in the company to assess the level of employees in order to further develop development plans. Employees fill out self-questionnaires on their competencies , we look at them: “Cool, another expert, we’ll talk now.” But when talking, a person quickly ceases to look like an expert. Most often, this story happens with the Joons, sometimes with the Middle. Only at a certain level of development of a specialist can self-reliance be relied on self-esteem.

    When Neo said he knew kung fu, Morpheus suggested checking whose kung fu is cooler in practice. It became immediately clear - Neo only in words of Bruce Lee or in practice.

    Practice is the hardest way. Determining the level of competency through practical cases is more complicated and longer than an interview. For example, I participated in the competition “Leaders of Russia” and in total we were tested for 5 days to determine the level of 10 competencies.

    Developing practical cases is expensive, so they are often limited to the first two ways: self-esteem and interviews with experts . These may be external experts, or they may be from your own team. After all, each member of the team is in some ways an expert.

    Competency Matrix

    So, when Neo and Trinity were preparing to save Morpheus, they first figured out what competencies were needed to carry out the work process. Then they evaluated each other and decided that Neo would shoot. Trinity will initially help him, but then he will lead the helicopter, since Neo is not friends with helicopters.

    The model together with the grades give us a matrix of competencies.

    That's how competent knowledge management led Neo and Trinity to victory, and they saved Morpheus.

    How to manage with models

    The story about men in glasses and leather pants is interesting, but where does the development come from? Let's move on to the case studies of real-life competency models built from your processes.


    Everyone who turns to HR for a new employee hears the question: “Who do you need?”. For a quick answer, we take a description of the vacancy of the previous person and send to look for the same. Is this right to do? Not.

    The task of the leader is to reduce the number of bottlenecks in the team . The less competencies that only one person owns, the better the team. Less bottlenecks = higher team throughput = faster work. Therefore, when searching for a person, use the competency matrix.

    The main criterion for selection is what skills your team needs to close with this person.

    So you increase the bandwidth of your team.

    The main question that needs to be answered when creating a new vacancy is: “Who do we really need?” The obvious answer is not always the right one. When we say that we have problems with system performance, is it necessary to take an architect for a decision? No, sometimes it’s enough to buy and configure a piece of hardware. And these are completely different skills.


    How to quickly adapt specialists who have recently come to the team and so far on a trial period? It’s good when there is a knowledge base, and when it is relevant, it’s generally excellent. But there is a nuance. It is connected with the fact that a person learns in three ways.

    • Through the theory - reads books, articles on Habré, goes to conferences.
    • Through observation . Initially, we are gregarious animals - the first monkey took the stick, hit the second, and the third organized the course “Seven Effective Wands of the Stick”. Therefore, observing someone is a familiar way of learning.
    • Through practice. Scientists involved in cognitive systems say that the first method is good, the second is wonderful, but the most effective is through practice. Without practice, adaptation is slower.

    Practice? Let's throw a man into battle right away? But one he may not stretch. Therefore, we usually give him a mentor. Sometimes it doesn’t work:

    - I have a lot of my own business, but I still got this load. You are a team leader, they pay you for it, do it yourself!

    Therefore, the option that we use when building a team development plan is a lot of different mentors for different skills . An expert in prototyping pulls up the front-end in creating prototypes, an expert in testing teaches you how to write tests, or at least shows what he usually does, with the help of which tools and checklists.

    Microeducation and mentoring by a large number of specialists works better than one mentor.

    It also works better because most of the problems in companies are related to communications. If you immediately teach a person to communicate and exchange a lot of information, then perhaps there will be no communication problems in the company. Therefore, the more people are involved in human adaptation, the better.


    - Where to find time for training? There is no time to work!

    When you use competency models, it’s easier for you to understand how to learn right in the process. What practical task to give a person to gain knowledge.

    Many of you know about the Eisenhower matrix , which says what you can delegate and what you can do yourself. Here is its counterpart to knowledge management.

    When you want to constantly cultivate knowledge in a team, do it at least sometimes in pairs - let people do one thing at a time . Even if it is urgent and important, let the beginner deal with it with the expert - at least write down why the expert solves this problem in this way, let him ask what is unclear - why this time the server rebooted, and the previous one did not reboot.

    In each square of the matrix there is always a lesson for the second person. A novice can almost always do everything on his own, but sometimes you need to look after him, and sometimes actively help.

    This is a way to teach people when there is no time for training, and there is only time for work. Attract employees to the things that they are capable of at the moment, and develop in the process.


    One employee comes to each team leader and asks the question: “ How do I get more?” And you have to urgently come up with what the employee needs to do so that in three months he will be raised his salary.

    With a competency matrix, the answers are in your pocket. We recall that the team needs to be duplicated and to spread the knowledge of different people as much as possible. If we understand where the problem is in the team, of course, the first task for the questioner is to improve this area.

    As soon as you use the competency-based approach, a more meaningful direction of employee development immediately begins. With the matrix of competencies there is always an answer to the question of how to get more.

    To get more - develop the competencies needed by the team.

    But be careful. A common mistake that we observe when we advise companies is to set the direction of movement without asking about a person’s desire to go there. Is there any motivation? Does he want to develop in load testing or do test automation?

    An important point when we talk about the development of a person is to understand his motivation : what he wants to learn, what interests him. If a person is not interested, knowledge will not enter. Our brain is so designed that it is very afraid of change. Change is expensive, painful and energy needs to be spent. The brain wants to survive, so it tries to escape from new knowledge in any way. Go for lunch or smoke. Or play. Or read social networks. Yes, yes, to do what we usually do when we need to learn something.

    If there is no motivation, learning is useless. Therefore, it is better to learn a little, but what is interesting. When the brain is interested, it is not a pity for it to share energy for the sake of new knowledge.


    What to do with the knowledge of employees who leave? There are times when a person leaves the company. Often, after he signed the statement and slammed the door, it turns out that he was doing something important, but they forgot about it. This is problem.

    When you have a competency matrix, you understand where there are bottlenecks in it, who is your only person who can shoot or fly a helicopter. As a team leader, you must solve problems before they come : if you have only one person able to fly a helicopter, teach someone else.

    Duplicate people before they leave or they are hit by a bus. Most importantly, do not forget that you need to duplicate yourself. The team lead that can leave is good, and the team will continue to work.

    And finally.

    What we don’t understand scares us. What scares us, we do our best not to do it.

    There are tools that allow you to more meaningfully engage in management in the organization. One of them is a management model based on the digitization of the process and people for more meaningful actions of managers. Based on this model, we better hire, develop and manage people, create products and services.

    Apply competency models, be more meaningful managers.

    If you are interested in the topic of the article, and you feel the need for a structured knowledge management in the company, I invite you to April 26 at KnowledgeConf , the first Russian conference on knowledge management in IT. We have gathered many important topics in the program : onboarding for beginners, working with knowledge bases, involving employees in knowledge sharing, and much more. Come for working experience solving everyday problems.

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