Summary

IgnitionOne is a digital marketing solution company helping customers with SEO, media optimization and lead generation (among others). Regrouping teams from Belgium, US and India in a rapidly evolving business, the company faces its own lot of challenges, notably in skills management.

Preliminary

We continue to schedule meetings with key people at companies developing software in order to observe and learn how they currently manage the skills of their developers. Last week, Christophe and I went to IgnitionOne (Belgium) to meet Frank Verbist, SVP Engineering, Nicolas Callandt, Project Manager and Dominique Rolin, Team Leader. Here are some of their insights and challenges in skills management.

IgnitionOne

As per their own website,

IgnitionOne's goal is to simplify the fragmented digital marketing landscape, giving marketers the online solutions they need, united under a single digital marketing suite.

Combining PHP front-ends with .NET profiling back-end, IgnitionOne uses the whole Web technology stack (HTML, CSS, lots of JavaScript) to deliver its various products and offerings. Roughly 40 developers split between three continents are working on those various technologies.

Developer skills

Facing a quick growth and willing to improve their follow-up on their developers skills, IgnitionOne developed its own tailor-made skill dictionary, applying it to each developer to create what is here dubbed a "Character Sheet". Inspired by a company-wide template related mainly to soft skills, it was extended to include two other categories: business skills and technical skills, this last category being refined in:

  1. Technical skills: PHP, JavaScript, competency in various software or tools
  2. Product: knowledge of the existing code base and applications
  3. Quality: various metrics around bug fixing, commits and unit testing

The "character sheet" is reviewed bi-annually during an evaluation, and it is used to assess which skills are missing, and also to start a discussion on the goals of each person (what they want to do, to learn, to achieve).

Objectives

IgnitionOne did start this program with a large array of objectives to attain:

  • Metrics: adding some transparency and objectivity in a person-to-person evaluation process
  • Communication: use the sheets as a way to communicate and start discussion on skills
  • 360° feedback: get reviews from the developer himself, his boss and its peers to get a "360° view"
  • Training: identify closely training requirements
  • Personal development: get facts about a person evolution and ambitions

The skills dictionary is also used to set expectation related to each function and level of seniority, which allows to give SMART objectives to people aiming to embrace a new function.

Challenges

While this is a major step forward for IgnitionOne, they want to improve and iterate on it to address some points:

  • Bring everyone onboard: this initiative was launched in a progressive way, and "tested" in a team first, and need to be extended
  • Need to put some indicator/objective metrics, as the current system is purely human evaluation
  • Information need to be available outside of the team (may be one of them could help on the current problem), especially with the international situation

As for every skills program, the key to success is most probably in the first point, understood in a broader meaning: bringing everyone onboard is not only assuring that all people are in the program, but most importantly being sure that they are there as actors. We are convinced that well done skills management programs are beneficial for both the company and each of its members, and the people engagement in it would probably be the best indicator of success.

We would like to extends our thanks to Frank, Nicolas and Dominique for their insights on IgnitionOne skills management.