Competency Management In 5 Steps: Map Your Team’s Skills Visually

Product designers are experts with a very diverse toolkit. Competency maps help assess a designer or researcher’s unique combination of capabilities, to find out where they are and where they are going. Good team competency management is key for high-quality work, so, we recently mapped the whole team. In this article, we present a step-by-step guide on how to do it yourself.

We at UX studio love learning. Each member of our team eagerly improves their own skill-set all the time. As a company, we aim to make sure everyone gets to develop themselves in the areas most important for them.

In an effort to improve competency management in our team, we wanted to create a personal competency map for every person at the company.

Competency Management_UX Map Comparison
Two examples of competency maps.

The competency map shows where each person stands in terms of each skill, showing which areas they should focus on. It will also help later when they want to track their progress in developing those skills. The maps serve goals not only on a personal but also a team level for team leaders because they can get a better overview of the team skill-set as a whole.

Competency maps can benefit any team, product or otherwise. Follow the five steps described below and learn to design your own competency map in no time.

Step 1: Set up a list of key competencies.

Just to make it clear: product designers have come to no universal agreement on their key competencies. Besides, the competencies change constantly, and so should your competency management. Find tools and adapt them to your needs. We did exactly that here at UX studio.

Ultimate lists and expert articles about the basic UX and product design competences fill the internet. Dr. David Travis wrote a great article about the competencies of user experience that we liked. Also, the product team at Vend seemed to have used a similar method for their mapping activities. So, based on these two approaches, we created our own tool and are sharing our experience here.

As a first step, we listed fourteen key competencies we use more or less during all product design projects. Based on years of experience in our team, they include:

  1. General User Research
  2. User Needs Evaluation
  3. Usability Evaluation
  4. Metrics and Measurements
  5. Information Architecture
  6. Prototyping
  7. Interaction Design
  8. Visual Design
  9. Writing
  10. Client Management
  11. Professional Cooperation
  12. Business and Strategy
  13. Development
  14. Workshop Facilitation

Naturally, teams all come in different forms. The above competencies include those we find most useful for our work. In teams of other types or domains, the list and hence competency management itself will likely look completely different.

So, don’t hesitate to rewrite all this. This aims to give a holistic understanding of what your team members must know.

Step 2: Define what those key competencies mean in practice

What do those competencies mean in practice? We identified skills and actions showing someone has it or not.

We defined the following lists of knowledge and skills you should be familiar with in terms of each key competency:

General User Research: Explain the importance of user research, not just before designing the product but also during design and after deployment. Identify the needed research methods and create a research plan. Deliver research insights in a structured way to promote research and keep accessibility in the future (e.g. research system or any other method). Understand how to write a hypothesis and how to control and measure variables. Find the target group and recruit users from the target audience. User Needs Evaluation Gain domain knowledge (competitor research, industry, cultural insights). Identify the best solution to summarize user needs and goals. Create personas or jobs-to-be-done sentences through interviewing potential users. Create a customer (and user) journey. Identify areas of improvement and communicate the journey to the rest of the company so they can understand where to add value. Plan and execute field research. Structure and conduct an effective interview that gets beyond the surface opinions (what users say) to reveal user goals (what users want). Report, analyze and present the discovery research results to the wider team. Usability Evaluation Use established usability principles and guidelines to predict likely problems in user interfaces before testing (heuristic evaluation). Plan and execute usability tests (e.g. moderated vs. unmoderated test, lab vs. remote test). Record, analyze and present the data from usability tests to the wider team. Prioritize usability problems based upon evidence. Metrics and Measurements Create a measurement plan according to the business and user goals (e.g. AARRR, HEART) Create surveys. Plan A/B tests. Understand how to implement effectively and the limitations of existing analytics. Cooperate with data analysts and developers during implementation. Analyze, interpret and report data from analytics, user surveys and customer support records. Pair metrics with qualitative data to understand users behavior behind the numbers. Information Architecture Carry out a card sorting and tree testing; analyze the results Analyze a journey map to identify and construct an information architecture. Breakdown large IA changes into small and comprehensible deliverables based upon resource constraints Prototyping Organize, structure and label content, functions and features using appropriate design patterns and create a screen flow. Explore multiple approaches to a problem before deciding on a solution. Create interactive, shareable prototypes to demonstrate and test a design solution. Interaction Design Understand the benefits of different user interface models and use them appropriately (e.g. knowing when to force a user down a guided path with a wizard or modal, or when to let them go their own way). Use the correct component from the pattern library to provide affordances and shape the user experience, e.g. choosing the correct control for an interface such as segment controller instead of a radio button. Understand established and evolving standards as well as best practices for human-computer interactions, and express them in our design language. Simplify the user interface by using animations where appropriate. Understand the opportunities and limitations of the technology that will express the design solution, and work with developers to determine its implementation. Document requirements and explain the expectations around an interaction (specification for the developers). Visual Design Use fundamental principles of visual design (contrast, alignment, repetition and proximity) to de-clutter user interfaces. Understand and use typography, icon, grid and color systems to lay out pages. Create illustrations that fit within our guidelines to reinforce and extend our messaging. Understand, use and evolve the common brand and design language and explain its importance (look and feel, moodboards, design guidelines). Create motion design animation. Collect and organize all the reusable complements guided by clear standards that can assemble to build any number of applications (Design System). Writing Create and edit macro and micro copy. Understand, use and evolve the common content and writing style (tone of voice), and explain its importance. Manage multiple languages to make it understandable for translators and content team and users. Establish harmony between written and visual communication. Client Management Plan and schedule work to prioritize and maximize delivery efficiency. Effectively explain and present the results of your team's work in a well structured way. Engage and maintain communication with stakeholders; manage their expectations. Promote the value of design thinking; grow the client’s user-experience competency. Professional Cooperation Learn to make modifications in work methods, processes in case unexpected issues. Cooperate with other team members; constructively critique their work and collaborate for a common path. Promote and support the team’s ongoing professional development. Cultivate a team with strong interpersonal relationships (know and manage people). Simplify collaboration with developers in an agile way; provide specifications. Business and Strategy Understand and support the client in business plan decisions; understand the business model and monetization opportunities. Explain the cost-benefit of user experience and design activities to the business and make suggestions how to measure and monitor their effects on their success. Feature prioritizatio;, support the client in product strategy considering the related impact and effort needed. Development Web development (HTML CSS) Web development (Javascript) Android development iOS development Workshop Facilitation Find the right method and tools; create a workshop plan for the product need and know how to modify when unexpected issues come up. Soft skills: Handle different personalities, time management, assertive communication, support the team decision. Effectively synthesize the information and push the participants towards their workshop goals (effective decision making and action plan). Ensure participants understand the workshop’s outcome and take further actions.

If you want to copy/paste this list, you can find it here.

Step 3. Set up different levels of knowledge.

Now we have finished with some basic goal-setting toward improved competency management, we now need a scale.

This serves to measure each individual’s knowledge level in these areas. It will also set a good framework for discussion to help people identify their strengths and weaknesses. Return to it and assess the progress over time.

Six levels to measure the level of knowledge:

  • 0 – Completely unfamiliar: Doesn’t understand the competency.
  • 1 – Novice: Understands the competency and its importance.
  • 2 – Advanced Beginner: Demonstrates this competency under supervision or with encouragement.
  • 3 – Competent: Demonstrates this competency independent of supervision or encouragement.
  • 4 – Proficient: Encourages or supervises others in this competency.
  • 5 – Expert: Develops new ways of applying this competence measured on the world stage.

You can see the empty competency map here. For our team, I created this and the colorful maps in Sketch. In case you don’t use software like Sketch or Figma, or you aren’t that confident in your design skills, I suggest you start with a simple spider web / radar chart using Excel or simple online tools like Vizzlo.

Competency Management_UX Competency Map Scale
Our empty competency map – now it’s time to make one for everybody!

Have you read our e-book Product Manager’s Guide to UX Design! Download it for free now!

Step 4. Assess each team member using a competency map

Congrats! You’ve finished designing your competency mapping tool! This marks major progress for improving competency management. Now try it out, use it and change it if needed.  

Here, I share our experience and method for applying it. Feel free to find your own way.

We needed each team member to give their own input, but also some others to give their own assessment of the person. So, we did the following:

  1. We created a Google form with the list of competencies and levels.
  2. We formed groups of three and asked everyone to fill out the form for themselves and two others they worked within the past months. (Learning that novices tend to overestimate and experts tend to underestimate their competency, we realized that we get more objective results if we mix them.)
  3. We discussed the results, similarities, and differences during one-on-one meetings with the studio leader.
  4. We added the final conclusions to the map. 
  5. Discussed three to five possible competencies they want to improve in the following months.

The final result looked like this:

Competency Management_Product Designer Map

Map of a senior user researcher who would like to focus more on Metrics and Measurement, Prototyping, Interaction and Visual Design and Workshop Facilitation.

Step 5. Competency prioritization: Synthesize the results with product life-cycle

Now every team member has their map, which skill development should you focus on first? How can you determine the most crucial areas of expertise for your team to have right now?

According to the Lean Analytics book, we can define five stages (empathy, stickiness, virality, revenue and scale stages) for a product lifecycle.

As you go through on those stages, you’ll need different competencies. Therefore, it might make sense for a team leader to change the team, or improve your team members’ competencies accordingly.

Empathy

This stage identifies the real problem and real solution. It also addresses the question: Will anyone care? At this stage, you basically need “user needs and evaluation” competency, someone to learn the domain knowledge, do competitor research, field research and interview the potential users. They must also easily summarize and transfer the learnings to the team with personas, jobs-to-be-done sentences or customer journeys.  

Stickiness

Get the maximum amount of validated learning about customers with the least amount of effort. In other words, experiment with an MVP and quickly validate, or most likely invalidate your assumption. You definitely need a proficient level of information architecture, prototyping, and interaction design competencies to create prototypes, visual design and development skills to make it an MVP, and usability evaluation to learn from the feedback.

Virality

This simply involves starting user acquisition and growing the user base. “Metrics and measurements” forms one of the basic skills at this stage, so learn what to do, measure, and make conclusions. Also, bring all the other skills from the stickiness stage.  

Revenue and Scale

Starting to charge people and scale the product basically requires all your team’s competencies, especially the “Business and Strategy” to do feature prioritization right and product strategy.

Competency Management_Product Lifecycle

You need different competencies as you go through on the product lifecycle stages.

Your personal to-do list: How to get started with competency management?

1. As a product owner building up your own product team,

  1. Determine your stage in your product lifecycle
  2. Choose possibly necessary competencies and hire accordingly.
  3. Improve your team members’ competences by considering the next stage of your product’s lifecycle.

2. As a design lead managing your own team,

  1. Copy this form and ask each team member to complete it for themselves and two others they work with.
  2. Discuss the results one-on-one to objectively identify areas where the rating differs, and where they want to improve.
  3. Visualize the competencies in a map for everyone individually.
  4. Find patterns for the whole team and organize learning possibilities for them. This might take the form of a course they participate in as a team, or proficients who can teach the beginners. You might need another person to cover some of the needed competences for your team.

3. As a recruiter,

  1. Use the competency descriptions listed above for writing job postings.
  2. Use the competency areas to search for designer portfolios.

4. If you are or want to become a product designer,

  1. Use the tool as a benchmark to define the needed competencies.
  2. Map out your own and define areas for improvement; visualize it.
  3. Use the map and the list of competencies in your portfolio

Competency Management_UX competency Maps

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