In the age of digital transformation and information-based economy, one of the key trends in management is the transition from traditional practices to the development and training of employees within the company instead of buying the talent. Leading enterprises are already investing huge amounts of resources in professional development of their teams, as they understand that this is one of the crucial growth factors.
Software developers, designers, product managers, marketers and other tech roles have become the most valuable and versatile asset for any business.
However, in the dynamic and ever-changing tech industry, these professions also come with the additional challenge of knowledge becoming outdated, fast. With new programming languages and technologies appearing every day, there is no other option but to stay up-to-date on trends and look for ways to develop and expand your skill set.
For tech roles, the learning never stops and this is something both the manager and the employee should always account for.
In this guide, we’ll lead you through the main steps of the professional development of a tech team.
After reading this e-book, a manager will be able to build a strategy on professional development of teammates, upgrade their skill level and skyrocket the effectiveness of the whole company.
Step #1 Find Skill Gaps
As tech skills become obsolete fast, companies must cultivate the learning culture by motivating employees to develop professionally and holding regular reviews. It’s also crucial to make sure employees’ skills match the needs of the business.
The very first step on your path to manage the growth of a tech team is to identify what skills it lacks to be on top of the latest industry trends.
The tool you’ll need: Skill review
A skill review is the most powerful and versatile tool you can use to establish the diagnosis before starting to build a professional development strategy. At this stage, with the help of a review, a manager needs to:
Evaluate the skills of the whole team
Identify the skill gaps of every member
Let’s find out how to organize a good skills review and how to analyze its results to create a development plan that will really work.
Benefits of Holding Regular Reviews
It is worth mentioning, regular reviews can help solve a number of serious issues your tech team might be facing, such as:
Lack of growth opportunities and skill training
Signs of developer burnout
Low levels of job satisfaction
Lack of feedback culture
Poor communication between teams and departments
By conducting regular skill reviews, a manager gains priceless insights, both into the team's performance as a whole, and each member's progress, strengths, and weaknesses. These reviews should go both ways - a regular feedback session is also an opportunity for a manager to provide guidance and direction for their team members. And of course, managers and team leads should also be reviewed by their reports and colleagues, as well as by upper management.
How to Organize a Review
Now, it’s time for the important questions: who does the reviewing? And how do you go about setting up this process? The short answer is, it’s a team effort. The best approach is conducting 360-degree reviews.
To put it simply, 360-degree feedback is a system in which employees receive confidential, unbiased feedback from the people who work around them and, in turn, provide their opinions about their colleagues’ performance and professional growth.
Advantages of 360-degree review:
Provides a full picture of each employee’s and team’s skills
Makes it easy to spot development opportunities
Allows people to know how they’re seen in the company and makes their opinions heard
Increases self-awareness, builds confidence and boosts morale
Empowers the employees, improving their job satisfaction and reducing turnover
Creates a culture of openness, feedback, and collaboration
Who Should Write a Review?
If we consider the review of a software developer as an example, the main goal here is to assess their hard skills, with a focus on possible skill gaps. This will be the best indicator of their day-to-day performance and the quality of the product they're able to deliver. If a certain developer is lacking, a performance review will help you build a roadmap to bring them up to speed and improve their skills.
At the same time, you need to evaluate how well each employee fits in with the rest of the team, what their professional goals are, and how they see their future with the company.
To get all these important insights, you need as much data as possible. This is why each developer and software engineer needs to be reviewed:
By the manager
By the product team
By the rest of the department
By themselves (self-review)
Engineering Manager (Team Lead) Review
The same idea applies to managers and team leads. And while hard skills and proficiency with tools aren’t that relevant for engineering managers, knowing how they perform in relation to their team, and the company in general, is incredibly important.
This is why managers and team leads need to be reviewed:
By their direct reports
By the CTO
By the product manager (product team)
By themselves (self-review)
What Do You Evaluate in a Review? (Skill Matrix Templates)
How to Review a Developer
Here is what a 360-degree performance review of a Python software developer may look like. Remember, you need as much data and as many different perspectives as you can get. This means you'll need some input from the rest of the team, in order to determine where each dev stands on their:
Core skills: Python, Web frameworks, Database search, Git, Design patterns
Optional skills: Task scheduling, Algorithms, Real-time communication
This skill matrix will help you be strategic about the roles of reviewers and the questions you ask them.
How to Review an Engineering Manager
When it comes to evaluating the skills of engineering managers, the same principle applies. You need to gather insights from as many sources as you can, which means going both to the upper management and the lead's direct reports. Here is what a skill matrix for an engineering manager looks like:
Soft skills: Personal skills, Communication
And this chart will help you to find out what to write in a review of an engineering manager, depending on the role of a reviewer.
After a Review
As a result of a 360-degree assessment, you’ll get:
A diagnosis of your team, in particular, what skills it lacks
An understanding of what skills every team member needs to improve in order to fill these skill gaps
In the picture below, you can see how analysis of review results is displayed in Vectorly. The radar chart reflects the whole teams’ review result, highlighting the gaps. While a table shows a member’s review result and what skills he or she has or doesn’t have.
Now after completing Step 1, it’s time to identify areas of growth for each team member to develop the lacking skills, thus filling the skill gaps of the whole team.
The main goal here is to make sure professional development of employees matches the needs of the business. A manager should focus not only on a particular employee’s situation, but also account for where the company itself is going; its priorities, goals, and targets.
At this stage, a professional development plan can become your most powerful and valuable tool. Without a strict plan and a well-thought development strategy, any professional growth that occurs will be sporadic and might not benefit the company that much, at the end of the day.
The tool you’ll need: Professional development plan (or PDP)
In this part, you’ll get info on how to create a professional development plan for your employees based on the results of a review, so that their development will meet the goals of the company.
What is a Professional Development Plan?
A professional development plan is designed to outline the goals, required skills and competency development, and objectives that a staff member must meet, to promote ongoing improvement and career advancement. This is usually presented as a list of meaningful steps, complete with points of action and a strict timeline.
In a nutshell, a professional development plan is a simple instrument that will help you stimulate and provide guidance for your employees' professional growth. Think of it as a road map that defines the skills, strategy, and education needed for your employees to advance in their careers and meet their professional objectives.
Why Should a Company Implement a Development Plan?
A properly implemented system of PDPs will allow your company to:
Fill the team's skill gaps and increase employees’ performance
As previously mentioned, a high-quality PDP doesn't simply focus on individual employees. At its core are the current goals and priorities of the company at large, a certain strategic vision provided by executives and managers. One of the most common pitfalls in this regard are major skill gaps in knowledge workers and this is what a PDP process can help prevent.
Make promotion decisions transparent, ensuring that everyone knows what they need to do and what skills to develop to get promoted
A PDP can also provide a feedback channel, allowing you to create a hierarchy of skills that your employees will then use to navigate the corporate space, ensuring high levels of vertical and horizontal mobility within the company.
Increase employee retention and loyalty
More transparency within the company and clearly outlined professional development roadmaps and the goals of the company can improve employee satisfaction, increase retention rates, and loyalty.
Protect developers from burnout
A clear professional development plan can also help protect your employees from burnout. After all, there is nothing worse than uncertainty, and many corporate environments fail in that regard, often keeping their employees in the dark in terms of where they currently stand and which way they are moving in the corporate hierarchy. Also, a development plan helps developers to deal with unmanageable workloads and get their own personal goals.
Focus skills are the main areas of potential development for your employees, which will cover any existing skill gaps the team might be currently struggling with.
This is part of the reason why you should first review your team as a whole and only then focus on what each individual employee can do to cover the potential blank spots in the team’s expertise.
Add activities to a development plan
The next step is to come up with an actionable list of tasks, designed to help you cover the skill gaps and develop the focus skills within your team.
These tasks have to be added to each employee’s to-do list and include:
1) Training and learning activities, aimed at structured professional development
2) Working tasks in Jira, Asana, Gitlab, etc, for the employee to practice their focus skills
The combination of learning activities and working tasks aimed at developing focus skills will help to easily integrate education into the workflow of the team and get better results.
How to Choose What Learning Activities to Add to a Development Plan?
It’s quite clear what working tasks a manager should add to an employee's development plan. It should include those skills from everyday working activities that are aimed at building or developing a certain skill. It will help to ensure focus skills are being used in practice.
But how to decide what learning activities should you add to a PDP and where do you get those? To help you with that and save your time, Vectorly has gathered useful sources for developing tech skills.
The first and the easiest way is to use Vectorly’s Growth Plan which automates this process. Vectorly analyzes the working activity of your team members for you and offers specific activities from the knowledge base, integrated with the service. All you need to do is choose between the offered recommendations and add the task to the employees’s to-do list.
The other way to find relevant learning activities is to use our biggest knowledge base which you can find in the Appendix section of this guide and get for free.
You’ll be able to pick resources for every tech role in your team and add these activities to their development plans.
After Creating Development Plan
As a result of this stage, you and your team will have:
A clear understanding of what skills should be upgraded by each employee to increase the overall team’s performance
A to-do list with specific tasks both practical and educational to develop these focus skills
And that’s only the beginning of the professional development process since now the main goal of Step 3 is to successfully implement this plan.
Step #3 Monitor Progress
Once an employee has received their tasks and embarked on their development journey (Step 2), the manager needs to go to the Step 3 - monitoring, which is a very important part of the professional development strategy. Because at this stage, a manager’s goal is to help their employees successfully implement their development plans.
The tool you’ll need: 1-on-1 meetings on personal development
Once you have created development plans for your employees, it doesn’t mean you’re done. In fact, this is where the real work starts since team members start implementing their tasks and a manager should be the one who monitors their progress and helps them achieve their goals.
At this stage, a manager’s tasks are:
Сonstantly track the progress
The best tool to monitor the development process is holding 1-on-1 meetings with teammates. Schedule special meetings with your team members in the calendar, during which you’ll discuss their activities and the challenges they face on their development journey.
Adjust the professional development plan, if necessary
In essence, this is a never-ending process. If your employees successfully complete their PDPs, they need to be provided with a new plan, and if you find some of them struggling with certain aspects of their PDPs, the manager needs to make adjustments and add to or change the tasks of the employees lagging behind.
What is a One-on-One Meeting and Why Is It Crucial For a Tech Team?
A one-on-one meeting is a scheduled conversation between a manager and an employee. It helps in fostering effective teamwork, collecting feedback, and brainstorming avenues for professional growth. It can also improve the employee’s mood, increase their motivation, and keep them happy and productive.
One of the main benefits of one-on-one meetings is that this tool helps to develop team members professionally. At one-on-one meetings, you can ask employees how they want to grow and what are their expectations from their work at the company. Finding out such personal traits will help to make timely decisions about assigning or canceling tasks, or even changing the employee’s position in the company.
Needless to say, one-on-one conversations can promote overall business growth. They help the manager immerse themselves in the company's processes and culture rather than simply managing everyone from above. This is a chance for them to get up close and learn things they would never have learned from the “top.” In a safe, honest, and transparent environment, it’s easier to work on business metrics and create a high-performance team.
Organizational Tips on How to Hold One-on-one Meetings
How to Schedule a One-on-One?
Try to avoid making one-on-one meetings spontaneous. Why? Because both you and the employee need to prepare! Tell them about the meeting at least 3-4 days in advance and send an invitation letter.
Here's what to include in this letter:
The date and time of the meeting — do not oblige, but allow them to suggest a better schedule if necessary.
Reason for the meeting — why it will be useful for the employee.
The topic of the meeting and sample questions — this will minimize any potential anxiety and give the employee time to think about the agenda.
Tasks — what information to prepare for the meeting.
The time you take to write will be time well spent! It’s absolutely critical because it can help prevent schedule disruptions or awkward silences that might have happened had the employee been ill-prepared.
The best place for a one-on-one meeting is a private and quiet place. Open spaces aren’t good. You and the employee will be distracted, and it might be difficult to relax and speak candidly. (And speaking of the tone of a conversation, there’s no need to speak with an air of “officialdom” — that will only cause unnecessary stress.)
You can have a one-on-one meeting in-person or online. If it’s virtual, be sure to use the camera so that everyone can see everyone else’s facial expressions and get a sense of their emotions. After all, lots of communication is non-verbal.
As mentioned, be sure to make an appointment in advance so that the employee isn’t surprised or overly inconvenienced. Furthermore, don’t schedule the one-on-one meeting for after work. That would infringe on the employee’s personal time and they may resent you.
According to a study on productivity, employees can be roughly categorized into three groups depending on their circadian rhythm: morning person, afternoon person, and low-at-lunch person.
Depending on the type, some hours are considered by an employee as more productive for work. So it might be a bad idea to disrupt employees during their peak hours. So, you can find out what types your teammates belong to and make a personalized meeting schedule for more effective conversation without interfering with their productivity.
Ideally, the skill review is held once a quarter. Then, you should hold meetings to monitor the progress every two weeks. During these meetings, a manager updates development plans or organizes a repeated review and creates a new development plan.
Thus, you can make the process of professional development of your teammates more effective and continuous, cultivating the learning mindset in the company.
Agenda For a One-on-One Meeting
During the one-on-one meeting, cluster the questions into several blocks. This will keep the dialogue structured and facilitate a smoother conversation.
An effective one-on-one meeting is not just about discussions. It should be aimed at solving real problems and making decisions. So, as a result of a one-on-one meeting on personal development, you should:
Evaluate the progress of an employee on completing the tasks
Discuss what challenges did he or she faced during implementation of their development plan
Record all agreements and add new tasks to a development plan as you discuss them
Schedule the next meeting on personal development
As we have already mentioned, the process of monitoring and adjustment of development plans is continuous. That's why you need to make these meetings a regular practice.
Key Factors for a Successful Professional Development Strategy of a Tech Team
Now you understand how to create a professional development plan, step-by-step, and integrate learning into the working processes of your team. Let’s list the strategies that help make the professional development process really effective.
Here are the main factors of a successful professional development:
Factor #1. Hold a review to identify skill gaps, and do it regularly. Before starting to create a development plan, first, you need to find the weak places. By doing this, you’ll save lots of resources, concentrate on the important things, and get better results. Implement this practice on a regular basis to keep the focus - once a quarter would be ideal.
Factor #2. Mix working tasks and learning activities.
The tasks contained within the PDP should offer a diverse and varied mix of educational and practical assignments. This will allow you to easily integrate this training process into your workflow, increasing the effectiveness of the learning process and saving time for development.
Factor #3. Hold regular meetings and make adjustments.
Professional development needs to be seen as a continuous process. A manager should regularly review and update the development plans. If an employee has successfully accomplished his/her development plan, you should create a new one. And if the process is underway, you can amend the existing tasks and add new ones. It should not be a one-time meeting; make it regular and schedule these discussions in your calendar.
Factor #4. Don’t be afraid to rely on external tools.
Using services, such as Vectorly, will help you keep all employee development and training processes on one platform, thus streamlining and optimizing this process.
Appendix. Knowledge Base
To make the process of learning easier both for developers and their managers, we have prepared the biggest free knowledge base ever which includes useful sources to grow the skills of a tech team and develop them professionally.
In this knowledge base for major tech roles, you’ll find:
Online Courses Platforms to Grow Tech Skills
Skills Tests & Challenges
Top 20 Books a Software Developer Must Read
Popular Mentorship Platforms
BONUS! List of Mental Health & Therapy Platforms to Deal With Stress and Burnout
Go via the link and choose the relevant sources for your team!
If you want to put the process of professional development on autopilot, try Vectorly and we’ll help your team grow in the right direction!