Tapping into the full potential of an organization's human capital, especially in a project environment, remains a difficult challenge. In this paper, we look at the cognitive processes by which individuals develop expertise and the educational roadblocks that prevent organizations from maximizing the contributions of their resources. By outlining alternative learning processes, the report challenges organizations to reconsider the effectiveness of their educational infrastructure and consider alternate models for learning.
As a writer on the subject of IT project failures, it is impossible to avoid being drawn back to the issue of training. Effective training is a critical element in most human endeavors, and the failure to provide appropriate training is a contributing factor in the majority of the failures I review. Although most of the people who participate in these failures have the raw intelligence needed to succeed, a lack of effective training stifles the ability of the organization to leverage that intelligence into an effective delivery capability.
Few would argue that expertise is a critical component in the success of any project. A team with the necessary levels of expertise is far more likely to succeed than a team that lacks expertise. Despite the obvious correlation, the nature of expertise and the processes by which expertise develops are issues that are poorly understood by most organizations. As a result, many organizations struggle to develop the advanced skills needed to successfully deliver today's complex projects.
Perhaps because expertise is hard to quantify, in practical situations (such as when hiring) many organizations simply equate expertise to the number of year's experience a person has or their level of training. Despite this fairly simplistic perspective, when challenged, most people recognize that expertise is something more than that. While experience and training are the raw materials from which expertise is formed, there is a further process by which experience and knowledge are dis-tilled into the invisible commodity we call "expertise."
That step is often poorly understood and in many practical situations individuals are left to manage that portion of the learning process on their own. Some people have the natural ability to make that leap by them-selves, but others find it more difficult. The net result is that many organizations are left with a wide variance in the capabilities of their team, and studies commonly report a 10:1 variance in the performance (in terms of both productivity and quality) of individuals performing the same role within the same organization.
1. Boehm, Barry W., Chris Abts, A. Winsor Brown, Sunita Chulani, Bradford K. Clark, Ellis Horowitz, Ray Madachy, Donald, and Bert Steece. Software Cost Estimation with Cocomo II, Prentice Hall PTR, 2000.
2. DeMarco, Tom, and Timothy Lister, Peopleware: Productive Projects and Teams, 2nd edition. Dorset House, 1999.