Project Management Solutions – The Skills Matrix

Your day started off just fine. You got to the office a little after 8:00, chatted with some of your co-workers a bit while you were getting your morning coffee and then settled in at your desk. You fired up your laptop and started checking your email. And there it was…

There was an unopened email waiting for you from your HR Department that strikes fear into even the most hardened of corporate lifers. No, this was not your notice to pack your bags and clear out your desk…but close.

The subject of the email was “Employee Skill Inventory due in Two Weeks.”

You knew exactly what was in this email before you even opened it. The company was asking everyone to provide an assessment of their skills and abilities and send it back to HR. HR would then compile this into a master list that would provide a holistic view into the capabilities and talents of the company as a whole.

It’s undoubtedly not as insidious or underhanded as you initially believed, but it still comes across as an uncomfortable email that results in some awkward conversations. It’s hard to objectively judge and grade yourself. Plus, it’s always going to be in the back of your mind on whether this is a tool that is being used to “weed out the weak”. Nonetheless, you fill it out and send it back to HR for them to begin their process.

You may or may not have gone through such an exercise yourself, but, the reality is that this is a pretty good project management tool to use with your teams as well. Everyone looks for project management solutions that provide visibility into the capability of the team and the Skills Matrix is just such a solution.

Project Management Solutions – The Skills Matrix

Just what is the skills matrix and how can this project management solution help you optimize your team’s performance?

The Skills Matrix is especially important if you have just been assigned a brand new team that you have never worked with before. Or, you may be in the position that you are taking over a project that someone else was running and you have never worked with this group of people.

A Skills matrix is a table that includes a list of the team member’s names down the left side and then various skills and capabilities listed across the top. At each intersection of the employee’s name and the skill, there is an indication (typically a number) of how proficient that person is in that particular area.

The following three steps will help you put the project management solution of a skills matrix together.

#1. First, you would include such areas of proficiency across the top as Management, Leadership, Client Service, Project Management, Technical, Help Desk, Documentation, and so forth. Or, drill down into specific technical skills that the person possesses such as being able to develop in certain programming languages, testing skills, etc.

There is no set rule as far as what needs to be across of this project management solution for determining skill sets. It’s up to you and your particular needs at that time.

#2. Next, you would come up with some type of scoring mechanism for each area of proficiency. There are a couple of ways of doing this, but the most useful and flexible is a numbering scheme. Below is a schema that could be followed:
a. ‘0’ – This person has no proficiency in this particular area.

b. ‘1’ – This person has a very basic understanding of this particular area.  They will do fine as long as they have some type of supervision that is closely monitoring their work.

c. ‘2’ – This person has an intermediate understanding of this particular area. This means they will be able to work with minimal to no supervision in order to get the task complete.

d. ‘3’ – This person has an advanced understanding of this particular area.


This person would be a good candidate for supervising, managing, or teaching others how to do a particular task.

3. A numbering system works particularly well in the project management solutions of a skills matrix because it allows you to do some objective analysis of your team. These numbers could be calculated horizontally to arrive at an average score per person or determine who needs training, or if there are certain gaps that need to be filled in your organization.

Finally, go down the list of names on the left and determine their level of proficiency across the top. This can also be done in a number of ways. You can do it yourself based on what you know, you can ask your team member to fill it out themselves, or you can even sit down and go through this exercise together.

What is Needed for this Project Management Solution?

Your team will need to have the utmost trust in you as a project manager and your motives for assembling such a skills matrix. As mentioned from the beginning, this could be seen as the “beginning of the end” as people with lower skills and proficiencies feel they are being objectively identified, given a number, and then put on a list of people to be shown the door.

How can you overcome this concern? There are a number of ways, all of which start with you being very open and clear with your project team that the skills matrix will be used to:

    • Identify Gaps – Once you’ve put the Skills Matrix together it may become readily apparent that there are some pretty big gaps within your team. These may not have been as recognizable day to day because people are filling in and trying to do the best they can, but when it is laid out in black and white on paper it becomes much more evident that there are areas that need to be shored up.
    • Identify Growth Opportunities – Another reason for using a skills matrix is to identify opportunities for someone to learn new skills or move into different functions within the company. Just because a person scored a ‘0’ or a ‘1’ in a particular area doesn’t mean that they wouldn’t be interested in learning more about that particular skill or proficiency. This can help identify and start that conversation.
    • Identify Training Opportunities – In conjunction with identifying growth opportunities above, it may be that a person really enjoys what they are doing and they just want to get better at that particular job. You can use this matrix to come up with a training plan that will help them reach their goals. This results in a happier, more educated, and higher performing team member for you and your project.

 There is one more thing you would want to do, especially if you are working in a matrixed environment: Take the time to discuss what you are doing with your team’s functional managers. You may find that they have already done something like this in the past that can be used as a starting point.

You can also ask them if you can run the results by them once you have them compiled. At the very least, it will be good to let them know what you are doing so they don’t feel blindsided when their resources tell them that you’ve been grading them! That opens a can of worms that is very hard to close.

The Skills Matrix is one of many project management solutions that you can use to keep up-to-date with what your team knows and those areas they can improve. Plus, put this as an annual event on your calendar (maybe around performance reviews) that people update this matrix with the new skills and capabilities they have acquired over the previous year!

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