Nowadays, so much new technology and knowledge is arising that one cannot even keep up with the latest developments in all aspects of a specialist field. This is quite a shock, to be honest. Instead of burying our heads in the sand and watching others overtaking you, instead we start running. To ensure that this doesn’t become uncoordinated, knowledge acquisition and knowledge management must be arranged in your team. This works most effectively with a Service Champion concept, which I am happy to introduce to you.
But before we get to the tasks of a service champion, we need a skill matrix. This is known in many IT companies for coordinating the knowledge status of a team, however, for presales consultants it will be used somewhat differently. In the matrix horizontally, the subject areas are listed that include the field of activity or topic. This list must not grow too extensive, up to 12 topics can be mastered. A very detailed list is not creating more information, because it makes self-assessment much harder and is more time-consuming to cultivate; any increased value is eaten up by the burden to understand all details inside the team and keep it up-to-date.
All team members are listed vertically. They assess themselves two to four times a year on all subjects. One field means the topic is known and you can easily survive a 15 minute conversation with a customer. Two fields are earned when typical application cases are practiced and mastered. If you can handle almost all cases, but in rare cases you still may need help, you should color three fields dark. Four fields stand for the meaning that you are a professional on the subject, know almost everything about it or have good contacts with the community of the topic and are available for the team as a trainer. The double X “XX” marks a Service Champion.
This skill matrix is designed for the self-management of the team, where everyone can see which knowledge is available and whom to ask. In addition, the self assessment is mutually influenced and directed. Some personalities hide from the spotlight or persons with a high degree of self-confidence, who enter high ratings. However, in projects these discrepancies are certainly levelled out. Such knowledge about personalities is also useful in other contexts. Extroverted team members may be suitable for certain customer constellations. Modest individuals may be exactly right to tackle a new, very challenging architecture.
Skill matrices are commonly used in IT operations to ensure existing knowledge is preserved and maintained in daily operations. For example, when assembling a night shift, all knowledge areas have to be available with 3 dark fields as a rule. This particular aspect of a skill matrix is not very important for managing consultants; there might be certain areas that currently are not in great demand and thus do not necessarily have to be broadly covered. On the other hand, within a field of knowledge there might be a new aspect or a new focus, that is highly demanded in the market and therefore has to be learned quickly by a large number of consultants.
The following example shows a Managed Workplace, which is now complemented by a Microsoft Modern Workplace. Dirk has a very good mastery of Managed Workplace (green), but he lacks knowledge in the new areas (yellow). If you want to establish targeted new areas, it makes sense to list and manage them separately. It would not be wise to list only the new area, as even old elements still have their worth. Ernie as newcomer of profession already knows much better about new aspects (green), however he also has to get to know about existing elements (yellow). Even though some topics in the Skill Matrix are divided into two columns in this way, the maximum number of topics (columns) should not exceed 12.
A Service Champion coordinates and evolves his topic. Most important is that he has a great interest in the topic, it must be fun, challenging, whatever his motivation is. Bert is the Service Champion for automation in the example below, although he does not master the subject as well as Ernie. This doesn’t matter at all, sometimes there is even an advantage when Service Champions familiarize themselves with a topic. Whilst a senior professional will go through a new version of a training in a very short time to test the applicability for team colleagues, a beginner will examine this training in much more detail.
As in Frank’s example, individual team members can cover two topics as Service Champion. Newcomers, trainees or laterals may not have assigned a topic as a Service Champion in their first year.
A Service Champion is the primary contact partner for his topic:
- Is contact person to all in-house units dealing with the topic
- Maintains relationships with manufacturers, market analysts and communities
- If the filter for available information
- Provides all necessary documents for the presales job
- Manages the training plan, coordinates trainings
- Coordinates all requirements, development tasks, innovations or phase-outs regarding the topic
Let us look closer to this duties
1. In-house contact partner
Within the company, he is well known and a popular contact partner for exchanging activities related to his field. The Service Champion decides for himself to what extent the exchange will benefit the team. If his expertise is requested within communities, the Service Champion just coordinates and maybe assigns someone else. If the team is required to contribute, this is rated and if necessary delegated to someone in the team. The Service Champion is deliberately not just another expert in the company, who has to be involved in all actions related to his area of championship or even a designated resource on the subject. He only keeps contact beween presales and other departments.
2. External contact partner
Again, the Service Champion balances the fact that he covers all communication channels in order to obtain relevant information for the team. Typically, this is slightly more information than was needed in the end. Collaboration in communities and vendor forums is also the duty of the Service Champion. The expenditure that arises here needs to be fed back into the team if applicable. For emerging areas, a higher share of work hours is usually tolerated than for areas that progress within the usual scope. For topics with a promising future, attention must be paid to the fact that time investments must be reduced in time if the topic does not develop as expected.
3. Sharing of relevant information
Service Champion screen and spread information on their topic. By means of the Skill Matrix, information for target groups shall be edited, such as information that everyone needs to know, up to information for specialists in the topic. A Service Champion should have such a high level of visibility that information reaches him. However, there is no need to subscribe to every information channel or accept every piece of information. As a expert in his field he can control all of this.
4. Ensuring and enhancing the tools
Our consulting work is supported by structured procedures, templates, checklists, portfolio items, reusables, positive customer examples, and much more. The Service Champion ensures that these documents are kept up-to-date and at a high quality level. Although he is responsible for ensuring that the material is available, he is not responsible for its completion. Generally, he coordinates the creation and ensures the quality. If some mandatory documents are not provided for new or significantly changed parts of the offering, he must request them and, if necessary, escalate their production or report the danger of jeopardizing timely delivery.
New ideas, methods and innovations should be encouraged by the Service Champion. Typically, he drives the development of innovative tools, coordinates research work, ensures viability, finds opportunities for feasibility studies, beta test customers, etc.
5. Training coordinator
Using the skill matrix, training needs can be estimated, not every topic needs to be covered by each team member. For new subjects, special topics or subjects that are about to be discontinued, it may be sufficient if only a few consultants have mastered the relevant topic. The number of consultants with a given level of training, e.g. “knows nearly all”, is determined by the market and/or planned by the team.
Service Champion determines the training program for each skill level. For this purpose he looks at reference books, whitepapers or training courses from the market, develops training courses on his own, prepares overviews, offers coaching and shadowing. The training modules are maintained in lists and divided into “must”, “should”, “could”, so that team colleagues can see whether training is so important for the subject area that it must be carried out (with certification). There are certainly also trainings that are useful but not necessary “should” or trainings that are dedicated to a broader area, for example, and are thus complementary. The category “could” also covers trainings which are very technical, hence useful for understanding the inner mechanisms of the services, but which are more supplementary for consulting purposes.
Manufacturers of software and services in many engineering industries do not provide a training path for consultants. Training for administrators and simple overview training for sales are usually offered here. In these cases, the service champion must create a good mix of existing materials. With very technical web-based trainings this can be an hint to watch the training only up to minute 42. Books, white papers and slides may be provided in the form of excerpts. An excellent complement to this is a 30-minute video conference in which the Service Champion conducts a tour of the material and answers questions from team colleagues. It is ideal to record a video conference in this format and then use it as a recording session. For established topics it is also worth carrying out a classroom training every other year. For this purpose, the Service Champion can use existing material and develop a lot of content by answering questions of the participants.
For less asked for topics, a complete training course preparation and organisation is definitely unsuitable. Instead, maybe one or two colleagues can join a project as shadows to learn the relevant subject. Shadowing in this context means accompanying an experienced team member, taking notes, asking questions and learning the field of work. After they have reached a certain state of knowledge, they start to carry out tasks themselves under the supervision of the service champion ” reverse shadowing “. It is important to perform these activities like a training course. The Service Champion has to have the proper space for explanations and questions. This type of shadowing training is very well suited for experienced consultants to learn an additional topic, as they can often transfer knowledge through transformation and ask the right questions at the right time. This type of shadowing is not suitable for beginners, they mainly learn the mimicked part and cannot classify certain elements of the daily program. For this reason, one should initially teach new employees on the core topics where a well-structured training program is available.
A Service Champion is also encouraged to invest time in discussing and customizing training plans for his colleagues. When doing so, he or she can take into account the personality and focus of the colleague and advise on content and schedule. The Service Champion is responsible for ensuring that his topic is represented in the team in line with the market. Pursuing standards and training levels is an aspect that is in competition with other subject areas in the team, so this should be done in consultation sessions involving all Service Champions and, if required, a decision on prioritisation should be agreed upon by stakeholders.
6. Early-life-support and service retirement
When changing and introducing services, technologies or procedures that fall outside the consulting team, the Service Champion is the team’s representative, for example member of the Change Advisory Board. He coordinates support from the team, short-term knowledge enhancement, assistance in the start-up phase, etc. The Service Champion also keeps his team up to date in the event of retirements or substantial changes.
Furthermore, it can be useful to arrange for special assignments on issues where the team is required to provide assistance beyond the role of advisor, and it often makes sense to coordinate such assignments via the Service Champion.
Finally, I hope this blog post provided some suggestions for your consulting teams and was not too generic or abstract. However, please let me know if it was, either here on the blog as a question or in a personal conversation. Do not hesitate to contact me.