Building IT Capabilities and the SFIA Framework

IT organizations swim in a sea of changes where challenges are always imposed to deliver better products and services faster. Strategizing on what needs to be done and when is a must for any organization to survive these challenges. There is always this technology or that product which is promoted by their respective vendors as a quick cure and hot fix for your challenges and problems. Without strategy, you could easily be drifting in a sea of constant panic procurement and end up strangling your task force.

But, is strategy your only tool to survive your challenges and deliver high quality and focused services and products? Both, literature and experience, shows that a strategy without proper execution yields a state of idealism, the product of which is just piles of documents that collect dust on the shelves.

One important aspect of proper strategy execution is to have a capable and competent task force to handle it. Capable and competent boils down to having the right set of skills in the people who will steer that ship towards its strategic goals. Say hello to “capability management” where the engine executing the strategy is lubricated by the needed skills, both behavioral and professional.

A Capability Management Framework

The goal is to organize and operate IT within a capability management framework (see Figure 1). The typical flow of this exercise is to start from a business strategy, and device an IT strategy that translates it and aligns business and IT. The IT strategy highlights its role and value to the organization, and the direction and mechanics it will employ to fulfill that role. From the IT strategy, buckets of IT capabilities are identified which helps IT to fulfill its role, and execute its strategy. Project management, relationship management, enterprise architecture, and service management are examples of such buckets of capabilities.

Figure 1: Organize IT within a capability management framework; adapted from (Gartner, 2016)

Both, IT strategy and IT capabilities – that are required to execute the strategy – influence how IT will be structured and organized. IT organization structure is defined by identifying the required functions (e.g. Systems Analysis and Technical Support) and roles (e.g. Analyst, Architect, Manager, Specialist, and Engineer). Moreover, it defines how these functions and roles interact to execute the strategy and operate IT. The latter is called IT “interaction model” which highlights important processes and rules of engagement that govern IT management and operations.

The last step, IT Capability Management, is different from the rest of the previous steps in that it is a continuous exercise; a cycle that never ends. This cycle is captured in a program of “capability management” which is the focus of these pages.

7 Stages for Building and Managing Capabilities

IT capability management consists of six capability stages centered around a core stage of “organize”. These progressive stages build on each other to find the right direction, structure, and capacity to run IT. Each stage takes from few weeks to few months, from envisioning to commitment, based on the size and complexity of the IT organization, and the level of details required. The seven stages of capability management are:

  1. Organize: Build and formalize IT organization structure. Design jobs and formalize roles and responsibilities.
  2. Acquire: Recruit people and set your selection criteria according to skills and capabilities defined.
  3. Deploy: Assign work and map to org structure. Set objectives/metrics for performance management.
  4. Assess: Assess capabilities/skills of employees against assigned jobs.
  5. Develop: Learning and development plans for all individuals targeting to bridge gaps in capabilities and performance.
  6. Appraise: Analyze current performance against set metrics. Identify reasons for current performance and suggest solutions.
  7. Reward: Build employee value proposition and plan compensation and benefits.

The premise of such capability management program is three-fold: 1) targeted recruitment & selection, 2) informed training & development, and 3) effective performance management.

These important areas of any organization, IT or non-IT, small and large, cannot be easily met without the explicit development and use of a competency framework. A competency framework is defined as a structure that sets out and defines competencies such as problem-solving or people management required by employees working in a whole or part of an organization (CIPD, 2016). Competencies can be professional or behavioral supported by experience and qualifications. In the world of IT, professional competencies can be IT governance, project management, change management, … etc. Behavioral competencies address the soft part which spans an array of cognitive, relational, and emotional skills. Examples include: communication, problem solving, team work, and leadership.

Professional Skills from SFIA

In the case of professional skills, you don't need to reinvent the wheel. SFIA, the Skills Framework for the Information Age, describes skills required by professionals in roles involving information and communications technology (SFIA, 2015). SFIA defines a total of 97 skills in 6 categories and 17 subcategories. SFIA categories are: Strategy and Architecture, Change and Transformation, Development and Implementation, Delivery and Operation, Skills and Quality, and Relationships and Engagement.

SFIA also defines a 7-level structure with generic levels of responsibility and skills described at one or more of the 7 levels for each skill.
Figure 2: The seven levels of responsibility in SFIA

The complete list of SFIA skills can be found here: A to Z. The complete list of level descriptions can be found here: Levels of responsibility.

Not all skills are required or should be used, as it would render the exercise fairly complex. For small IT organizations, only a subset of the skills required to address the general buckets of capabilities can be used. In clients I serve, I usually end up using half or less of all skills defined by SFIA.

Behavioral Skills

Unlike the case of professional skills, there is a lack of reference framework for behavioral skills. What you could do is to brainstorm and define a set of behavioral skills that are important for your organization, its strategy, and the culture that you would like to develop. If you happen to be an IT organization that belongs to a Saudi government entity, then the 7 competencies defined by the HR program of Ministry of Civil Services could be your target. These are: Sense of Responsibility, Collaboration, Communication, Results-driven, People development, Professionalism, and Leadership.

Or you could pick from the following list of common behavioral skills, each with a brief 3-point description:

  1. Analytical Thinking:
    • Thinks critically/logically
    • Uses criteria for checks
    • Detail-oriented
  2. Coaching and Mentoring
    • Knowledge transfer
    • Trains/develops others
    • Helps raise awareness
  3. Communication:
    • Team Communication
    • Presentation
    • Persuasion & Influence
  4. Continuous Improvement
    • Initiative to improve
    • Hard to satisfy
    • Improve for results
  5. Customer Focus
    • Values customers
    • Delivers with quality
    • Innovates in service
  6. Decision Making
    • Decisions within authority
    • Fact-based decisions
    • Team Consult/Feedback
  7. Leadership
    • Inspires others
    • Delegates appropriately
    • Lead with influence
  8. Managing People
    • Sets goals for people
    • Develops people
    • Aligns performance
  9. Problem Solving
    • Positive attitude
    • Thinks outside the box
    • Sees others' perspectives
  10. Process Orientation
    • Structural thinking
    • Thinks methodologically
    • Works procedurally
  11. Strategic Thinking
    • Sees the big picture
    • Aligns with priorities
    • Measures outcomes
  12. Teamwork
    • Collaborative
    • Respects roles
    • Resolves conflicts

The levels of these skills can be defined simply as a five-point scale from low to excellent.

  1. Low: Never or rarely exercises the skill
  2. Fair: Sometimes exercises the skill
  3. Good: Often exercises the skill
  4. Very good: Usually exercises the skill
  5. Excellent: Consistently exercises the skill

Working on a capability management program will help your IT organization to be focused on building capabilities that matter. It will help in clarifying roles and responsibilities, and crafting a framework for competencies that guides all its human resources activities whether that be recruitment & selection, training & development, and performance management.

References

CIPD. (2016, 7). Competence and competency frameworks. Retrieved from CIPD: http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/factsheets/competence-competency-frameworks.aspx
Gartner. (2016, 4). Organizing for Success. Retrieved from Gartner: https://www.gartner.com/doc/3295017/organizing-success
SFIA. (2015). SFIA reference guide. Retrieved from SFIA Online: https://www.sfia-online.org/en/reference-guide