The two key pillars of any lean enterprise are continuous improvement and respect for people. Knowing you team’s skillset and improving your team’s skillsets will help your company to overcome the many future challenges of the changing business landscape.

Creative minds fuel new ideas, while respect for others facilitates teamwork. Ideas and teamwork work hand-in-hand to produce continuous improvement. That said, often, even when people want to pitch in, they either can’t or they’re ineffective due to lack of knowledge. This is where the skill matrix becomes beneficial.

What is the Skills Matrix?
The skill matrix is a visual management tool that illustrates the versatility of the various skills and competencies of each person in your workforce. More importantly, it easily (visually) communicates the number of tasks that each individual can do and to what extent,

That is, a skills matrix is not simply documentation of who needs to be cross-trained or who can do what. Thus, it shouldn’t be archived in a filing cabinet somewhere but rather be used as a tool for visual management.

Skills Matrix Chart

Skills Matrix

Succession Plan Gaps
One of the most powerful benefits of a skills matrix is visually identifying gaps in succession plans. Knowing which employees can carry out different tasks in the company, helps you to know the extent to which you’re able to operate as usual even if one employee is out sick for a period of time or decides to leave the company.

This is a common problem for many companies. Without proper documentation or continuous training, people are only skilled to carry out the task that they are already doing, leaving a void when someone leaves the company or cannot come to work. Using a skills matrix can alleviate dependency on just one person.

The Skill Matrix is made up of 3 elements:

  • Person
  • Skill
  • Competency chart (i.e. a pie chart): Illustrates the level of mastery the person has achieved for each given skill.

Why Use a Skills Matrix?
This is mainly used to develop a multi-skilled workforce through cross-training or even upskilling. Having a flexible workforce is necessary in today business climate where customers’ needs are rapidly changing causing us to do a variety of tasks. A versatile workforce will better meet these changing demands.

Multi-Skilled Workers
Employees who are being asked to learn more skills to become a multi-functional worker, may think what’s in it for them? There is a direct link between education, training and how much a person can earn. Obviously, a better skilled and educated worker has more potential for earning more as they can also carry out multiple tasks. It really boils down to skill development.

Employers today, regardless of industry are in search for flexible and skilled workers. They are also willing to pay more for cross-skilled workers who can step into any position on the team.

Remember that the continuous improvement cycle begins with a documented standard. Taiichi Ohno, the father of the Toyota Production System (TPS) put it this way, “Where there is no standard, there can be no improvement.”

Because each skill requires a standard, the ongoing maintenance of a skills matrix can help identify where standards are missing and need to be documented. Once documented, improvements can begin, replacing old documentation and prompting new training.

The key takeaway is that when you make an improvement, the outcome should be a new standard and people should be trained in that new standard.

Develop Future Leaders
When working in a team, part of the lean organization work culture is having a team leader. The team leader is responsible for supporting the team and must be able to perform all the processes as well as train others to properly perform all relevant job tasks.

This is another way a skills matrix is helpful. It enables you to visually identify candidates for future leadership positions within the company. This is also a good way to encourage people to become cross-trained, highlighting the leadership opportunity in the future.

Job Enrichment
It’s not fun coming in to work with the same tasks every day. No variety drives monotony. In a lean organization, the continuous improvement pillar requires everyone to use their experience and ideas to resolve problems. This also means finding better ways or processes.

The respect for people pillar, on the other hand means that jobs are made to be more rewarding and less boring. Studies have proven that when people have more responsibility and see the fruits of their labor, it increases job satisfaction, engagement, productivity and retention.

Needless to say, all jobs must be safe. Organizations continue to provide safer working environments. However, doing the same task for hours on end can lead to repetitive stress injury. Even repetitive administrative or intellectual work can lead to depression. All of these negative consequences can be lessened by having a cross-trained and flexible workforce which you can rotate throughout the day. This promotes movement and also exercises their mind.

How to Use a Skills Matrix
Experimenting is a good idea in starting off with the skills matrix. Remember that one of the principles of 5S and visual management is to make problems visible right away. Because of this, the Skill Matrix should be a pen and paper exercise to start off. This will make it simple to create, update and post in the workplace.

  1. Select People: Decide on who will be cross-trained. Pilot the project starting off with one team. You should have a Team Leader who knows the work well and can carry out the training for the team.Make a list of the people on the team including all shift lines and put it on the vertical column in your chart. Adding in their photo is a great idea to make the skill matrix more customized.
  2. Identify Processes: Identify the processes you want to cross-train across different departments. Rather than defining every process in great detail, start off with common processes that everyone agrees on. You can always improve this later on.
  3. Define Skill Levels: Decide on whether you just want a simple definition of the levels or a more granular levelling system. Normally, four or five levels is recommended.
  4. Conduct Initial Skill Assessment: Assess people’s skills in various jobs. Remember to exercise respect for people. Some may feel offended if they see that they have fewer skills compared to others. On the other hand, this can also be motivation for them to increase their skillset. To avoid any misunderstandings, make sure to reiterate that these evaluations are not on a personal level but rather on a company level for cross-training.
  5. Set Individual Improvement Targets: Have an objective standard in place before any cross-training takes place. Ahead of time, prepare standard methods to prevent arguments about whose method is better. Remember that this can always be improved at a later time. Once you have created your first pass skill matrix, it is normal to see gaps. It is the Team Leader’s job to set goals to fill in these gaps based on business needs, individual interest and priorities of the team. Once targets are established, you are ready to commence cross-training for your team.

Getting Started with Cross-Training
There are some tools and concepts that can assist in carrying out cross-training more effectively. This will make closing your skills gap more achievable.

  1. Job Instruction: This four-step method for supervisors and team leaders helps them effectively train people in their job. Likewise, trainers should be well skilled in training others. A job instruction serves as a timetable for tracking, who needs to be trained, when the training will take place and for what skill.
  2. Job Rotation System: Most companies fail at this. The absence of job rotation is the reason people get stuck with the same job for an extended period of time without progressing. So, when planning for cross-training this should be taken into consideration. A good way to pass on the skill is for people to experience other jobs and this can be done with job rotation.

Barriers to Cross-Training
Because the Skill Matrix does mean that workers will be working in different departments and carrying out different processes, issues like multiple pay grades and job classification can stop people from freely working in other areas. If such barriers exist in your company, it needs to be removed before commencing cross-training.

The lack of documented standards can also be a cause of vagueness when identifying the levels of training and can lead to less effective and slower training sessions. There are other barriers, but these are just some examples.

Using a skills matrix in your organization can equip your company and make your workforce ready to face new challenges. This visual management tool coupled with other principles in 5S will bring you closer to becoming a lean enterprise.