How to Establish a Qualification Matrix

The qualification matrix (also skill matrix, competence matrix, or Q-matrix, one of the few examples where Q does not stand for Quality) is a simple tool to keep track of the qualifications of your employees. It keeps track of who can do what and how well. As a tool, it is not overly complicated but rather simple. Yet, there are still some things to consider for a qualification matrix. Let’s have a look at this basic but very useful tool.

The Basics

The qualification matrix is, as the name says, a simple matrix. On one axis are the different people in your group, department, or company. On the other axis are the different qualifications. This helps you to keep track of who can do what, and where you still may have gaps and training needs. The example here is a qualification matrix in its most simple form, merely showing who can do what. But more is possible. Let’s have a look at the different parts of the matrix.

Digital or Physical?

Paper-based qualification matrices are easy to handle, but hard to share and difficult for large groups of people and/or tasks. Digitally, of course, you are not limited by such constraints, and could keep track of an entire company. If so, however, you should be able to sort and filter to look at only the people you are interested in. This could be combined by having a digital whiteboard or monitor to show the qualification matrix.

However, managers usually underestimate the additional time and effort needed to go from paper to digital. For example, if a new task pops up on the shop floor, on paper you merely add a column. Digitally, you probably would have to get the proper access rights, learn how to set up an new digital task, and then set up the task. If the group manager has to do it, then it probably takes him more than an hour to do what should take five minutes. If this is done by a central department, it may take weeks before they get around to doing it. Hence, there are, with quite some justification, still many paper-based qualification matrices in industry.

The People

On one axis (often the vertical one) you will find a list of people. If the matrix is in written form (paper or whiteboard), then the number of people is often not too long, rarely more than thirty. Otherwise it becomes hard to keep an overview of things, and the board would become rather large. Often, the people are the current workers assigned to a department, line, or group.

Group of industrial workers.

Especially on paper-based qualification matrices, I often see photos of the employees. This can help you quickly see which employee is where, especially if some employees are less than literate, or (like me) have a hard time remembering names.

The sequence does not matter too much. It could be sorted by hierarchy, or alphabetical. Paper-based matrices often are sorted by how long someone has been in the department, simply because new people are added at the bottom and departing people’s rows are removed. Alternatively, new people are merely inserted wherever there is space from the departing people.

The Qualifications

Child at SchoolThe horizontal axis often has the qualifications. Such a qualification can be formal based on an exam (e.g., having an AWS D1.1 welding certification from the American Welding Society) or informal where the supervisor believes that person can do it (e.g., knowing how to operate the riveting machine). This can include technical skills, soft skills, education, experience, certifications, and other qualifications. It could be process related (riveting) or a general skill (speaking Chinese).

The qualifications should of course relate to the company needs. It is nice if Haoyu can play the saxophone and Naomi knows beekeeping, but both are irrelevant if the job is to make crankshafts. Especially for paper-based qualification matrices, only the relevant skills for the daily work should be listed. Digitally you can expand a bit into less frequently needed tasks, but then you will have more digital maintenance overhead.

While for the people the sequence did not matter, for the qualifications some sequences are slightly easier to track than others. If you have a manufacturing line, it is helpful to arrange the skills in the sequence of the line. For example, if your line does punching, riveting, testing, and packaging, then the qualifications should be in the same sequence. This helps keeping track of the needs. If you use also a work assignment matrix (where you assign workers to different processes for each shift), then it is Really helpful if the sequence of tasks for the work assignment matrix and the qualification matrix are identical! Some overarching qualifications (logistics, data entry, etc.) could be at the beginning or end. But this is not a strict requirement, and especially on paper-based boards, the sequence may muddle a bit over time.

The Matrix Elements

The elements in the matrix could be quite simple. Who can do what. However, often a finer granularity may be helpful. For example, if a person speaks Chinese, can he count to ten, or can he conduct business negotiations? Such language certification levels range from A1 (simple conversations) to C2 (fluent).

The shop floor could also benefit from different levels. Often, such levels are some sort of the following:

  • Cannot do it (no qualification)
  • Can work under supervision
  • Can work independently
  • Can teach others
  • Manage improvement process, verify and implement improvements (Note: everybody can thing about improving and suggest ideas, but one person has to manage this improvement process.

For easier reading, this is often displayed in sort-of PDCA circles, although it has nothing to do with PDCA (they are known as Harvey balls after their inventor Harvey L. Poppel). These circles show the qualification levels, from completely empty (no qualifications) to completely full (manage improvement process).

The assessment could be formal though a test, exam, or certification; or informal as assessed by the manager, the team, or (rarely) even the employee himself.

Please be aware that not all qualifications need such a grading, and a binary system is good enough. For example, the AWS D1.1 welding certification – either they have it or they don’t. A simple check mark would suffice, although for consistency you could also use PDCA circles, but use only a fully empty or fully filled circle (which also looks more impressive).

In some rare cases you may also include an expiration date of the qualification. For example, in Europe, truck driver licenses for hazardous materials need to be renewed every five years. In this case a date may help. But use such an expiration date only if necessary so as not to fill up the matrix with unnecessary data.

In my next post I will go into more detail on how to use a qualification matrix. Now, go out, manage the skills of your people, and organize your industry!

6 thoughts on “How to Establish a Qualification Matrix”

  1. Christoph,
    Great post and perfect timing for me, as my company is just starting to use Skill Matrices! We’re going to use the I L U O nomenclature (drawing four sides of a square, the letters don’t actually correspond to anything) for qualification levels to set the visual management apart from the familiar PDCA circles.

  2. This is a good one!
    We’ve been loosely thinking about having two matrices: One based on work instructions and the other based on skills.
    The skill matrix comes in handy when you have someone working on mechanical assembly, but they have self-assessed skill in troubleshooting PCBs: Try to uncover your treasure chest of employee knowledge!

  3. Nice post, Christoph. A fun fact for future reference, the “sort of PDCA circle” is referred to as a Harvey ball – which is generally credited to Harvey Poppel.

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