Competence tracking, a big lie

In the past two years, I’ve been asked for several times to evaluate my competence using Excel sheets. The process is always the same: there’s given an excel sheet with an enormously high number of different skills, technologies, techniques and frameworks. My task is to select a competence level for each of them. Usually there are three different levels; no freaking idea, medium and hero. Now in my opinion, this whole competence tracking is pointless, because:

  1. Everybody lies: And by everybody I really mean everybody. Weakly performing colleagues will choose higher competence levels, because they want to seem better professionals. Such a way they can avoid unpleasant questions, discussions with their managers. On the other hand, best people will lower their imaginary skill-level. Ever heard of the Dreyfus learning model? According to that model, people reaching higher and higher professional levels are not the ones with the best teaching capabilities. However, in an organization, usually they are in charge for leveling up new colleagues. Of course they want to avoid teaching people, so they simply lie.
  2. The scale is not accurate enough: The fewer stairs on the scale, the easier to under or overestimate someone. But as you increase the stairs, it is becoming harder and harder to place people on the scale. Getting back to the above mentioned three-stairs scale: who’s medium and who’s hero? Someone using (e.g.) Spring framework for three months; are they clueless or medium. And what about someone using it for two years? Are they hero? Maybe. But what if they are using if for RMI only? Still hero? I don’t know… Hard to say.
  3. Nobody takes it seriously: People most likely will forget about the whole thing, and fill up the stuff superficially – at the third or fourth request. It’s usually told that “it doesn’t take more than five minutes”, and surpriseee, people won’t spend more time with the spreadsheet. By the way, they won’t ever update the table by themselves, even if they acquire new competences. That means that the whole competence tracking process needs heavy management supervision. This can include multiple check-send remainder mails-check cycles, which is wasted time. On the other hand, can competence decrease? If soemeone doesn’t use a technology for ages, is that lost competence? Even if it is, I bet no one would ever track that in a competence file.
  4. Because not the technologies themselves matter: Think of people in your organization whom you consider the best. Are they the ones who can enumerate thousands of technologies and frameworks they’ve ever used, or the ones you can give any kind of job, and you can be sure it will be done right? Which group would you rather work with? As it is commonly said: not knowledge itself matters, but its derivative (= the ability to learn new things).
  5. Because tracking knowledge is booooring: I don’t think this needs furter talk.
In my opinion, the only valid competence measurement process regarding a person is to ask some of their coworkers, what they think about that certain person from the point of view of professionalism (on a scale of ten, for example).

Author: tamasgyorfi

Senior software engineer, certified enterprise architect and certified Scrum master. Feel free to connect on Twitter: @tamasgyorfi

3 thoughts on “Competence tracking, a big lie”

  1. Hi Tami!

    Ask someone to tell his/her experience about that person…
    I remember this kind of measuring.
    And I also remember some people who said:
    “Please tell good things about me, and I will tell good things about you…”

    My opinion is:
    If you want to measure the knowledge, just go to the smoking area or to the kitchen, listen and write notes.
    These are the places where people usually tell the truth. 😉


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