Skill Gap

Is Your Skills Gap Negatively Impacting Product Development?

By Peter Winston

Skills gap. It’s a phrase in vogue these days as employers complain they can’t find workers with the technical chops necessary to excel in the digital age. The Wall Street Journal calls it a “significant gap between an organization’s current talent capabilities and the skills it needs to grow or remain competitive” and it’s a key concern to 73% of CEOs.

This skills gap obviously impacts tech companies, which struggle to find an adequate corps of employees experienced with the most leading-edge technologies. But, it also extends well beyond to even the most traditional, old-school businesses. Even they need to develop software to propel their products. Today, every company is in essence a technology company.

That’s why there’s so much attention being directed toward possible solutions for closing the gap, such as drawing more women to STEM careers, providing continuing education and on-the-job retraining, and enhancing the pay structure for those who do possess coveted skills.

But, while this skills gap is usually discussed in a long-term, macro sense, there exists another skills gap — this one referring to a deficit of the specific product development skills and experience needed to make an individual project a success.

It is this skills gap I’d like to address.

The Skills Gap is Endemic to the New Economy

As technology evolves at breakneck speed (Moore’s Law), companies face pressure to accelerate their product development efforts in order to keep pace. That means building new things, which require new skills.

Many companies lack the breadth of skills or experience to see a new product through the entire development lifecycle. That’s partly due to the fact that they’re aiming at a moving goal post. Staying current with the most cutting-edge technology is a major challenge for every business.

Even companies that manage to remain relatively up-to-date often run into trouble when forced to confront unexpected bumps along the way. They suffer, usually in terms of missed deadlines and cost overruns, because they lack specialized knowledge and experience pertinent to their particular project — one that relies on the latest tech.

Cheap Development Isn’t Cheap

Say your company has an idea for a groundbreaking new medical device that features an embedded touchscreen. You have the internal expertise to envision the product. Maybe you even have a working prototype. But, as you get deep into execution you discover that your staff is ill-equipped to handle the details.

You lack UX design experience, for instance, or a specific programming toolkit. Or, you’ve discovered firsthand that developing elegant software for a saleable product is much trickier than creating a prototype.

So, midway through your product development lifecycle you bring in outside resources to help. Perhaps you turn to offshore developers, hired piecemeal. Or, looking to save a few bucks, you find a developer online.

Typically, these folks are generalists so they can’t hit the ground running. That means you need to get them up to speed on your business, your product and your process — tasks that steal time from your development schedule and ultimately delay product launch.

Eventually, after educating your outsourced team and handing off many of the most critical development responsibilities, you finally build your new device. But, you busted both your schedule and your budget along the way. Plus, you never developed the requisite skills in house so the next time you go to build a new product you’ll again be forced to outsource.

Turns out, that low-cost solution wasn’t so low cost after all.

Partnerships Deliver the Right Skills at the Right Time

So, how can you respect your budget and stick to your schedule while also cultivating vital new skills internally?

Offshore developers or programmers found on Craigslist and hired for eleventh-hour assistance can solve only part of your problem. Sure, they may be able to help you get your project to the finish line.

But relying on them usually means either you exceed your budget making up for time lost while you were trying to figure things out for yourself. (Call that the “you don’t know what you don’t know” phenomena — you don’t know you need an expert until you need one.)

Or, you stick to your budget by allowing the schedule to slip. Either way, you never hone your own skills since the hired hands are doing everything for you.

There’s a better way. In my next blog, I’ll show you how to close your skills gap and enhance your internal skill set so you can develop your projects more effectively.