Steps to develop a career program for your IT staff

Recently, I took on a consulting project to temporarily manage an IT organization of 35 employees or so. One of the key initiatives of this interim IT Director role was to put in place a Career Development Program for the team.

If you need to do this in your organization, you might consider the steps I took .

1.  Define your existing organization structure – First, you need to quantify your existing IT organization structure so you have a sense of the current positions. This is a standard Organization Chart that probably looks something like the chart below.

organization chartEXHIBIT A

Instead of positions filled as shown in the example you would list employee names under the manager they report to.

2.  Define the Career Structure you want to manage to – This is not an Organization Chart, , , instead, it is a structure that defines the career positions that your staff will fall into. For example, there might be four levels of programmer positions, , , Associate Programmer, Programmer, Senior Programmer, and Programmer Consultant.

The chart below is similar to what we developed in the consulting project.

career structure

As you can see there are several skill disciplines (when viewed by columns), , , for programming, business analysts, desktop technicians, etc. This is not an Organization Chart, , , it is simply a Career Path Structure that shows the career progressions for each skill discipline.

If you have 10 programmers, seven of them might be at the Programmer Analyst position, two in the Senior Programmer position and one in the Associate Programmer position.

In addition, each position will have a range of salary levels that are appropriate for the level of skill and knowledge of the position.

3.  Revise and/or develop new job descriptions for all Career Structure positions – This is the hardest part and requires considerable time, , , but when completed you will have an updated set of job descriptions that match the Career Structure you plan to put in place. You will need your Human Resources Department involved in this one so your finished product complies to standards HR has for the rest of the company.

4.  Conduct a staff skills inventory assessment – One of the things you will want to do when you roll out your Career Planning Program is to show your employees a commitment to investing in their growth. Most organizations have “silos of knowledge” where all the knowledge and experience in a topic is contained in one or two people. This creates risk for your support organization so you need to determine where these gaps exist in order to develop additional depth, , , especially in mission critical support skills that are needed in your company.

To do this, list all the technical skills and application knowledge you need in your organization, , , then quantify who has these capabilities in your organization. There are many ways to do this, , , in this project I used a simple spreadsheet like the one below that made it easy for me to see where the knowledge gaps were.

IT Training Plan - General


In this example, I show you a section for the Business Analysts, , , you should have a similar skills inventory for each of your skill disciplines.

There are a few things to take notice of:

  • We list all the technical skills in the first column to the left, , , in this case each of the Business Applications we support as an IT Organization.
  • Next, we make a column for each of our Business Analyst employees
  • If an employee functional knowledge of an application, shade the appropriate cell beneath the employee’s name in green.
  • This clearly shows you where you have minimal functional knowledge. In these cases, you need to target training for these areas.
  • The red shaded cells represent the people we want to target training for each application.
  • Once you see where you need to focus training, you should prioritize your training efforts by highlighting the applications you want to prioritize. This is a subjective exercise based upon which applications you deem to be mission critical or more important and the applications that have the greatest risk due to lack of functional knowledge.

In looking at the sample, you can see Application A is in good shape with three people with functional knowledge. On the other hand, Applications B, C, and D only have one resource with functional knowledge for each, , , you need to do some training in these applications.

Application E has two people with functional knowledge. Ideally you would like to have at least three people capable in major applications so there is ample backup. That’s why we decided to train Bill on this application.

5.  Identify the most important training focus areas – Once you can see where your gaps are (where you have minimal expertise), you can identify which of these areas need to be prioritized for training. Focus on skill areas you’ve identified as mission critical and skill areas that have minimal expertise, , , applications shaded with orange in the sample above.

6.  Develop an IT Staff Training Plan – Every employee should have a specific training plan for the year. You want their training to be focused and that will help reduce the knowledge silos you have in your support organization.

The Skills Inventory shown in EXHIBIT C does this for you.

In the company I was with there were significant numbers of knowledge silos, especially in the applications the team was supporting. In this step, we did two things:

  • Targeted the employees to receive training for each skill
  • Identified the trainer to develop and deliver the training

All of what we needed to do in training for this organization could not be completed in a few months, , , maybe not even within a year. However, with a focus that’s prioritized based upon filling mission critical skill gaps we thought we would be able to make huge leaps in developing additional depth of knowledge throughout the team. Also, by spreading around the responsibility to deliver training you will be able to go faster.

7.  Deliver the Career Planning Program – I’ll write a BLOG post later on this topic and go into it in some detail, , , there are many things to consider when beginning to career council your employees, , , plus there are additional tools you will need to deliver your Career Plan message.

Be aware that when you deliver a Career Planning Program to employees who have not seen a program like this it is going to create some anxiety among the staff. When everyone finally sees where they fit within the Career Structure, there will be people who think they should be higher on the chart. Even if they are OK with where they are, they can be concerned about where someone else is placed on the chart.

Trust me, there will be issues so get prepared to handle them before you deliver the program.

When you deliver the Career Structure to the team, be sure you cover the program in detail including your training focus and have plenty of time for questions and answers, , , there will be many. Understand, you will not be able to make everyone happy with a Career Planning Program initially. What’s important will be to put a structure in place that provides a career path for your staff and a training program that invests in their development.

Over time, the noise level will diminish and you and your staff can use the program to provide a guide to help further people’s career, , , which is what it’s intended to do in the first place. To get there requires some work, an understanding of your team, possibly even some rough waters in the beginning of the implementation, , , but the benefits can be big in the long run.

One last comment, , , if you have a small organization of 12 or fewer people, it is difficult to have much of a Career Planning Program. For example, in a small IT organization there may be just one manager. The only way someone gets an opportunity to manage in the IT organization is if the current manager leaves for some reason or if the company grows enough to justify a larger IT organization with more IT managers.

success on targetIT employees want to succeed and they need a path for growth, , , it’s up to the manager to make it happen.

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