The IT Professional and the Driving Instructor


“Don’t judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” – Nelson Mandela

The First Driving Lesson

Driving Lessons. We all did it. We all know how that very first one went. It was described to us that the clutch should be engaged, place the car in first gear, release the handbrake, release the clutch and press down on the accelerator… Only for the car lurch forward then stutter and lurch forward again. This process continues several times before the car stalls and comes to a stop.

The IT Professional and the Driving InstructorWhat did your instructor do after you managed to stop this pendulum effect? He made a suggestion: Slowly release the clutch during this whole process. And ‘Hey Presto!’ a smooth pull away. Something has happened that made this new skill occur automatically.

Driving Automatically

This process is described as the Conscious Competence Learning Model. It describes four stages of acquiring a competence. First there is the unconscious incompetence, then conscious incompetence, followed by conscious competence, and the ending off with unconscious competence. In the end, you do things without having to think about it!

So this implies in stage two (conscious incompetence) that knowledge does not give you the skill in doing something. This brings us to organizations that hire IT professionals. There seems to be a belief out there that if someone has been on training, they automatically have the skill. Only to end up with bruised egos and failure (or a stalled car).

What ends up happening is that new knowledge is not converted into skill. Only when the individual tries to use the newfound knowledge do they become painfully conscious of their incompetence. With no one to help them, they have no option but revert back to the old way of doing it. What a waste of time and money! Training alone in something does not develop a skill, it only creates the awareness of incompetence in doing something.

Many forecasts hinted at a new world that is coming. The world of Dev Ops or Continuous Delivery is going to put even more strain on your organization or your relevance as an IT professional. This new world will call on more skills per employee and wider ranging, complementary skills in teams.

“Kupe” Kupersmith, President, B2T Training and member of the IIBA Board wrote the following on a blog titled “The Business Analysis Space is Changing: What You Can Do Now”:

“More companies are everyone needs to perform business analysis to some extent on the team. Everyone needs the BA mindset because business analysis is not done in a black box or a vacuum. Business analysis is a true team sport.”

Though specifically talking about Business Analysis here, I think this is true not just for business analysts but all team members.
Imagine how your training costs will escalate if you have to either recruit or grow your people to meet these challenges. You need to ensure that money is well spent; any training that your organization invests in will need to have a good return on that investment. Your investment in training and skills development needs to be more effective, slicker.

How can you ensure a good return in your training investment? How do you ensure that crucial third and fourth steps of the learning model translates into real skill or competence?

Well, firstly, it is about a mindset shift in the individual and the organization; you have to accept that it is okay to fail at doing something as long as you learn and quickly and improve from it. Many management gurus implore the industry to allow their employees the luxury of failure and the opportunity at improvement. That is where you build real skill or competence. Once the organizational culture is open to this, create support structures (such as lessons learned, project retrospectives and mentorship)for this Fail-Learn-Improve cycle (FLI Cycle) to allow the process of translating knowledge into skill to take place.

Another important aspect is that the attitude of the individual that needs to acquire these skills needs to be an understanding the process of practice of the FLI Cycle. Individuals that are not prepared to go this route, sometimes a humbling process, are not the right people.

Organizations need to focus on the development of broad based skills, individuals with a wider skill set. This will make them more agile. This is something organizations will need in adjusting to the changing world. This agility is what will give them the competitive edge.

Individuals with wider skill sets across multiple disciplines allow for closer collaboration across different functions between team members, and will ultimately improve an organization’s ability to deliver solutions faster and cheaper.

Mentoring or coaching is critical to make all of this happen. In recent articles, Daniel Goleman and Paul Leonard stressed the importance of mentoring or coaching, and argued that its value should not be underestimated.

There are two ways of getting the mentoring or coaching you need. Firstly, self-mentoring happens through the FLI Cycle, and secondly, seek conventional mentoring (or coaching). This has through the ages been valuable in developing skills in people; think of the history of the Guilds of the Middle Ages, which showed that a master craftsman acted as a mentor to an apprentice. Nothing has changed in today’s world -in order to grow real skill or competence you need mentorship or coaching. How did the help from the driving instructor transform your driving?

Continuously developing wider skills is costly, but the rewards far outweigh this cost. In the end you will find that the results of what you do are effective and efficient; in other words, cheaper and faster.

Any IT professional will tell you the ‘one size fits all’ to doing something for all projects just does not work. Blind use of templates, standards and methods will effectively strangle your new culture and agility. Steer clear of process zombies and notation enforcers. ‘Assuring Quality’ based on template, methods and notation and not on delivering real business results is not effective nor efficient.

After Your Driving Lesson

The Dreyfus model (developed in 1980) of skill acquisition summarizes what we are trying to communicate. The novice or apprentice shows a “rigid adherence to taught rules or plans” and does not show “discretionary judgment”. The Expert or Master craftsmen, on the other hand, “transcends reliance on rules, guidelines and maxims”, and shows an “intuitive grasp of situations based on deep tacit understanding”, has “vision of what is possible” and uses “analytical approaches in new situations or in case of problems” (Wikipedia).To put it another way, an expert knows what is needed and does what is needed and no more.

Which of these is going to offer you the agility your organization needs to survive?

Acquiring the knowledge (training) just makes the individual a novice (conscious incompetence). The only way to allow the novice to become an expert is through the process of making mistakes and learning how to correct them with the help of an expert. Mentorship or coaching is a critical success factor in turning IT professional into the experts your organization needs in this new emerging world, where agility has become the norm.

Author: Robin Grace and Aldo Rall, IndigoCube

Indigo Cube enables and improves the productivity of the application life cycle. It specializes in the areas of software development, software deployment and software monitoring. The application of best practices and the development of requisite skills is core to all its solutions and it partners with some of the world’s leading vendors. Indigo Cube is ideally positioned to boost productivity and long-term return on investment in its focus areas.

Business Balls - Conscious Competence Learning Model -

Daniel Goleman–Perfect Practice makes Perfect -

Mentors - Paul Leonard -!

Wikipedia - Dreyfus model -

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