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In the IT consulting organisation for which I work, to stay ahead of the competition we have a constant need to develop our team's technical skills in new languages and frameworks.

However, the company is highly focused on billable hours. This creates a conflict between the need to grow and develop the team and innovate, versus the need to ensure billable ratios remain high.

I'd like to get some feedback on how others manage this issue in their organisations with a view to implementing those ideas in my own workplace. Financial resources to pay for learning and development activities are not a constraint in this case, but time is very much a constraint.

Many thanks for your advice

  • Fly in the best teachers money can buy? – meriton - on strike Dec 18 '18 at 0:06
  • And you think your needs are different from let's say an accounting office or tax advisor office that has a constant stream of legal changes people have to keep up with, or a law office that has to keep up with a ton of changes in procedure and law? – TomTom Dec 18 '18 at 8:27
  • @TomTom I'm puzzled by your question. I can't find any way in which OP implied that other fields don't have the same problem. OP described a situation OP is in, without regard to what other situations would have the same problem. – David Thornley Dec 19 '18 at 18:29
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A simple truth that's easier said than done applies: Hire people who are efficient, self-driven learners instead of experts at any particular platform or technology. People who understand the foundations and are able to apply them to the flavor of the month.

Some people want to do the same thing every day, or want to be able to mechanically regurgitate answers. Others are driven by the constant sense of change and the pressure to react quickly. Tailor your hiring processes to find the right people, and the problem - although still present - will become a positive challenge rather than something that quickly cripples your team.

I "grew up" many years ago in a similar environment. There were times where we were only successful because we spent the work day talking with clients and the evenings sitting in our hotel rooms trying to learn what we needed to do in order to deliver what we had just talked about. It was a rush and the people I worked with loved it. Those who didn't, quickly found their way into other career paths. You don't want an environment where people are "pushed" into a 24x7 mentality like that constantly, and you do need some degree of formality and encouragement to learn on the job, but having the right people on the team makes a world of difference.

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In the end, it's the billable deliverables and spent hours which generate income for the company and, hence, enables your paycheck.

Most of the times, it's by practicing on new technologies that resources will be more likely to learn and develop skills on it.

The main issue with your question is that you ask for resources to learn and develop their skills without committing some time, which is an oxymore.

They'll need to commit time into this objective so the main idea is to mix project realization and skills enhancing on new techs.

In order to allow our resources to innovate, do some tech-watch and to leverage their skills, we used to (in an AGILE context):

  • put 10% of the team velocity in improvement while doing the sprint calculation. These 10% could be used either to recover some of the technical debt or to PoC (perform a proof of concept) more innovative solutions of something done already (hence maybe using new technologies)
  • add an innovation sprint of 1 week for each Program Increment (SAFE methodology) in which resources could draw from a list of business needs and realize a solution supposed to be 'innovative'
  • Organize internal contests (on their free time; not to do during the project) during which several teams could compete on given topics with a prize to win. An example could be "How would you concieve the meetings of the future ?" in which you can implement IoT, gamification, etc...
  • Incitate proactivity and out-of-the-box mindset. If resources detect an answer to a need that can use new concepts/techs/frameworks/[...] that provides value with least risk, they should be able to propose it and PoC it.
  • have a recurring meeting in which developers could share with the community some things they learned or discovered which could be used in the project.

TLDR:

  • Time is needed to develop skills and learn new things. Money can't insert knowledge in a brain without time associated
  • You can mix projects needs with the implementation of innovative solutions if it's not to risky and doesn't destroy the planning
  • Resources can deliver a higher value with those innovative solutions and learn at the same time
  • In last resort, you can organize a contest with a prize to which teams can participate during their free time upon their will
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You normally develop your skills within your projects, not when on the bench/ in the time specifically allocated to learning.

People should be encouraged to take on roles that make them learn new skills.

Some huge companies have a problem with that as they put their employees in very small pigeon holes (you've done one project in functional SAP SD consulting in oil&gas, you will always do projects in functional SAP SD consulting in oil&gas), but that's really the main way you can learn while in consulting.

Some companies I know finance additional courses, certifications and similar, but these opportunities don't take place often enough to see it as a main learning channel.

  • So resume driven development? – Jim G. Dec 19 '18 at 13:23

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