Recently, I asked one of my favorite project managers how she became that indispensable team member, the person most in demand for the critical projects. “I remember when we recruited you for the IT team,” I said. “You came to the table with this terrific base of knowledge. Where did you get that from?”
This is an effective way to drill for an answer to a difficult, wispy question; I was not asking for theory or conjecture. I was looking for a specific example of a clearly defined success. Month over month, after she first started working with the system, how did she develop her skills? And her answer was fairly straightforward – you just dive right in, and figure out the answer for yourself.
With most digital systems and processes, standard training is fine for the baseline stuff – how to navigate the screens, where are your core menu options located, and the necessary workflows for common transactions or processes. But this digital superstar let me in on the “secret”; the most valuable things to learn were the online help system, the knowledge base of previously answered trouble tickets – and Google.
Armed thusly, a reasonably talented person can find the answers for themselves – or find someone else who can help solve the issue. Building this extended community of experts can develop your knowledge base, collecting the myriad little details that will make up your highly valued brilliance. At this point in the “training” process, it is either sink or swim – you have to figure it out because no one else will. And if you survive the first month or so, and wish to remain working in this role / on this team, you will learn; very rapidly, sometimes by rote, sometimes by inventing new knowledge.
After a few months, the folks that survive this process will have demonstrated a knack for self-directed learning, plus an interest in being known as the person that can answer questions. This leads to the next step – people that can generate their own questions. Thoughtful people, true analysts, who see opportunity emerging from the funny patterns of noise in those help desk tickets, program bugs, incoming emails, water-cooler questions, and recurring problems. They can apply systems-level thinking to issues with business processes, data, or technology, with a deep appreciation for the domain – the specifics about your customers, markets, and operations.
Yes, this training and development takes some time – but there is a way to build an environment that promotes this thinking every day. The key is to focus on problem-solving with knowledge retention. As your team identifies and kills root cause issues dead, they can (must!) capture knowledge around solutions and workarounds to avoid solving the same problems over and over again.
To be clear – this is not something you can systematize away. It takes the right kind of person on the team, one with an innate sense of curiosity, self-confidence, and some basic digital aptitude. Put those kinds of people in the right environment, and you will be able to internally develop that critical digital talent that is desperately sought after in the marketplace.
# 10 March, 2019