Lean bench has become a priority for my organisation: What are the best strategies to achieve this?
In conversations with prospects and clients, we have often heard that they would want the least number of people on the bench. This goal is praiseworthy, especially considering the substantial costs of maintaining a bench. However, the truth is that sometimes the bench size is larger than we want. Let’s look at what we should do to reduce the bench (without letting people go).
Understanding Bench Swelling
The most common cause of bench swell is enthusiastic hiring followed by a drop in allocation to billable projects, perhaps due to a dip in sales. Another common reason is that billable resources get added to the bench when a sizable project concludes.
Another scenario: a new corporate mandate lowers the benchmark for bench percentage to improve profitability. Suddenly, a perfectly sized bench was re-assessed as being too big. Whatever the cause of an oversized bench, the company must come together to bring it to a desirable size.
Impact of an Oversized Bench
Let’s be honest: having an oversized bench isn’t anyone’s ideal scenario. It puts immense pressure on L&D to streamline operations. A hefty bench means significant costs, with industry benchmarks showing that salaries for bench employees typically make up 5-10% of the total project budget. Moreover, training costs, which range from 2-5% of the total bench costs, add considerably to these financial considerations. For the people on the bench, it causes anxiety and stalls career growth. The goal is a lean and ready-for-projects bench.
Assessing current skills - competency mapping
L&D teams understand well that not all employees are the same. Each has a different training and skill set. We can extend this fundamental insight to infer that we can’t reduce bench size to just one number. Instead, it is a set of numbers describing the bench strength available for each skill.
Therefore, the first step is to understand available skill sets within the workforce comprehensively. Solving bench problems without this information is like trying to solve a puzzle without knowing what pieces you have. This is where competency mapping becomes crucial – it’s the tool that helps paint a clear picture of each employee’s skills before deciding on the best way forward.
The first step in the competency mapping is to identify target competencies. This is given to Techademy by the organisation’s L&D and project management team based on the skills required for current or upcoming projects.
Following the identification of target competencies, a detailed competency framework is created. This framework outlines the different competencies and their corresponding proficiency levels required for various roles. It serves as a reference point for assessing employees’ skills and identifying areas for improvement.
Techademy then designs personalised competency assessments, considering employees’ past project experiences, certifications, and current skill levels. The results from the competency mapping are analysed to identify trends, strengths and opportunities, thereby tailoring learning journeys to specific competency gaps.
After analysing the assessment results, Techademy recommends suitable roles and learning paths based on individual scores, aligning them closely with the business requirements. This personalised approach considers both the organisation’s specific requirements and the unique abilities of its employees.
The CURE to an oversized bench
In our experience, a lean bench is possible only when sufficient investment is made in the upskilling and cross-skilling of the existing bench. This approach equips the workforce to efficiently handle diverse project requirements, reducing the need for a large bench and enabling a more agile, lean organisation.
Post the competency mapping exercise, organisations often identify instances where certain skill sets are abundant while others are in high demand. It’s crucial to note that a personalised approach is essential in addressing these disparities, as a one-size-fits-all strategy might not effectively cater to the unique skill gaps observed.
Upskilling: Maximising Bench Potential for Project Readiness
Consider a scenario where an organisation identifies a surplus of software developers adept in “Python programming” but lack expertise in “machine learning in Python”, a skill needed for an upcoming project. To address this gap, an upskilling program is introduced, specifically tailored for Python developers, where they are encouraged to delve deeper into advanced machine learning concepts, such as models, neural networks, and data analysis.
This initiative bridges the skill gap and optimises the workforce, converting idle resources into a skilled pool primed for projects needing machine learning expertise. As these developers acquire new skills, they shift from bench assets to active contributors, easing bench-swelling challenges by aligning skills with evolving project needs. Ultimately, this up-skilling approach not only resolves immediate skill gaps but transforms the bench into a dynamic, adaptable, and skilled resource pool, alleviating the strain of bench swelling on the organisation.
Cross-skilling: Enhancing Competenciess
In another instance, an organisation might find an abundance of employees highly skilled in back-end development but lack cybersecurity expertise, a crucial tangential skill required for a new project. To address this gap, cross-skilling initiatives are introduced, aiming to diversify employees’ skill sets. Employees proficient in back-end development are guided through structured programs encompassing cybersecurity fundamentals.
This guides employees through diversified skill programs that complement their existing expertise, turning them into individuals capable of contributing not just to their primary roles but also to different project facets. As a result, the organisation transforms the bench from a specialised yet underutilised talent into a usable resource pool.
To reduce an organisation’s bench size, it is essential to understand the causes of bench swelling, such as over-hiring or project completion, and its impacts like increased costs and employee anxiety.
The solution lies in competency mapping to assess and understand employee skills, followed by targeted upskilling and cross-skilling. For instance, Python developers might learn advanced machine learning, while back-end developers could gain cybersecurity expertise.
These initiatives transform an oversized bench into a workforce aligned with project demands, significantly reducing the strain of bench swelling on organisational efficiency.