Skills, Knowledge and Experience.

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How often do we use the terms skills and knowledge interchangeably and/or erroneously?

Knowledge is information acquired through our experiences and the use of various sensory inputs. These include reading, watching, listening, touching, smelling. Knowledge refers to degree of familiarity we have with factual information and theoretical concepts.

Knowledge can be transferred from one person to another through training or it can be self acquired through research observation and study.

Skills on the other hand refer to our ability to apply our knowledge to specific situations.

Skills are developed through practise, through a combination of sensory input and output. It is essential, in developing skills to apply knowledge acquired to real world situations.

To make it simple, knowledge is theoretical and skills are its practical application.

Training by itself does not provide skills. For a skill to be realised knowledge must be applied.


In order for individuals to achieve a desired performance at a task they must be provided with opportunities to perform the actions required. Without the opportunity to practise they will not improve.

Much what is actually called training is basically nothing more than an information dump. Good training should be about activities, scenarios, and simulation.

“Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

  • The Learner Driver is required to apply their newly acquired knowledge of driving through consistent practise. It is only through an adequate demonstration of their skills that they are allowed to take to the road unaccompanied.
  • A newly qualified doctor or surgeon spends many years under supervision practising the knowledge they have acquired through training and learning through continuous experience. Hopefully potential errors being identified by supervisors prior to them being instigated.
  • An architect trained in say the use of an Architecture Framework (eg TOGAF, FEAF, etc) should not be regarded as a skilled practitioner until such time as they have applied their knowledge in real world situations and demonstrated real business benefit. A real danger is in saying ‘I have the skills because I am trained’.
  • A residential building architect, even when fully qualified still has much to learn. With each structure designed being different and in response to unique client requirements it is their experience that ameliorates the application of their knowledge.

When training is just about lectures, presentations, and quizzes we end up with individuals who know a lot of things but can’t do much with it. They have knowledge but few skills.

Experience is the glue that bridges the gap between Knowledge and Skills.

  • Without experience skills can never be developed.
  • Without experience new knowledge cannot be developed.
  • Without experience skills cannot be improved.

Unfortunately not everyone learns from their experiences. Some individuals are resistant to change. If an experience is negative then ‘there must be something else that is wrong’ Knowledge can be grown through appreciating the experiences for what they are. Many, though not appreciating their experiences are destined to make the same mistakes over and over.

Experiences, if acknowledged, will augment skills already acquired.

With experience (both good and bad) comes the knowledge of which of a variety of tools are best used in a given situation. It is only experience and the application of appropriate knowledge that allows skills to be fully developed and utilised.


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Building Capability

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Business Capabilities do not stand by themselves. They have both inputs and outputs and have explicitly defined service expectations. They may be hierarchical with established dependencies or inter-dependencies.

Business Capabilities are the fundamental components that provide an organisation’s capacity to achieve a desired outcome.

They can be thought of as describing the organisation’s potential. When looked at in full they describe a model representing all the functional abilities a organisation needs to execute its business model, fulfill its mission and realise its vision.

The relatively simple views provided by a Capability Model establishes the foundation for complex discussions on strategy and resource allocation.

Capability models do not in themselves reduce business complexity, but they do highlight the complexity in a manner that provides for higher levels of insight and perspective.

Before going to ‘market‘ it is essential that an organization understands both the capabilities it requires and its ability to deliver.

A business that understands its capabilities understands what it is able to do and how well it can perform.


A Business Capability

  • May be ‘built’ or enhanced as a consequence of a defined business strategy.
  • May deliver a service.
  • Is constructed from a collection of Business Functions
  • Is supported by one or many business processes
  • Consumes and creates Business Information

The delivery of a Business capability will not remain static. It is reasonable to assume that when first defined there will be aspects of the delivery that can be improved.

Capability Maturity Cycle

As a business grows and evolves it should continually reassess the capabilities it has to ensure that:

  • All capabilities required to deliver on the current Business Vision are defined
  • Each capability is delivering what it should.
  • New capabilities are developed or existing capabilities are improved in alignment with the Business Strategy.
  • Capability developments or enhancements are prioritised to provide the greatest long term benefit to the business.

A business when managing its capabilities should ensure that it has a good understand of what they are and how they relate to one another.

Establishing a Capability Model of related capabilities allowing a business user to drill down to greater levels of granularity provides the opportunity to establish:

  • what might be missing
  • what is redundant
  • which capabilities need to be improved.

A Business Capability Model should encompass all capabilities required by the organisation whether they are currently delivered or not.

A rigorous process of assessment should be established that enables decision makers to prioritise which capabilities should be the focus of attention when evaluating initiatives to be progressed to realisation.

Acknowledging Capabilities that are currently not provided or provided poorly realises opportunities that may be exploited.

Example of a Capability Model

Insurance_Capability_ModelHigh Level Insurance Capability Model
Insurance_Capability_Model_Detail1High Level Insurance Capability Model – Detail 1

Insurance_Capability_Model_Detail2High Level Insurance Capability Model – Detail 2


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Aligning Strategy to Vision

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Having a vision statement is essential for an organisation to know ‘why’ it is doing what it is doing. A vision statement supports the rationale for why an organisation exists. It provides both guidance and a means to assess the worthiness of any potential organisational activity. Vision statements articulate what the organisation aspires to be at some point in the future.

It is also critically important for organisational success that a Strategic Plan be established. A Strategic Plan describes ‘where’ you want your organisation to go. It does not necessarily describe how you’re going to get there.

However, like a detailed “travel itinerary,” without knowing where you want to go, making plans on how you will travel are meaningless.

Strategic planning defines the “where” that your organisation is heading.

When defining a Strategic Plan and the activities it will encompass care must be taken to ensure that progress will be made towards the realising the organisational vision.

All objectives and goals to be incorporated within a as strategic plan should be questioned as to how they contribute to the eventual outcome. It is important in defining a strategy that the question ‘why?’ be frequently asked.

  • Why is this being done?
  • Why not do this?
  • Why is this option better than another?

Asking why and also demanding an answer to the question ‘what impact will doing this have on progress to realising the vision should keep an organisation on track.

A business vision provides the focus essential to the shaping of the business strategy. The strategy will be influenced by current and anticipated business drivers, business constraints (financial, organisational, capability, …) and where the organisation actual sits (the ‘as-is’ scenario).

It may be essential that a Strategic plan adopt tactical solutions in order to better place it for the longer term. A clear vision therefore allows for better strategic and tactical decisions to be made.

Being able to ask “Can the organisation get there from here?” is important.

Like the travel itinerary sometimes detours are essential in order to arrive at one’s destination.

Without a Vision a Strategic Plan will result in an organisation arriving somewhere.

Is this ‘somewhere’ a place where the organisation really wants to go?

Vision_StrategyThe Vision and the Strategy are mutually supporting. Without a Strategy there is no clear cut way of deciding how the vision may be achieved. Without a Vision the Strategy has no focus and what is achieved may not be what is desired.


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Ability, Capability, Capacity and Competence

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Organisations often promote themselves by expounding on their capability to deliver goods and services to particular market segments.

Organisational capability is only one side of a many sided coin.


In an individual it is accepted that an ability is the skill or competency to perform a task whether it is physical or mental. An ability is something that is inherent as it is dependent upon the genetic makeup of a person.

An ability is therefore an attribute that is either there or not. Organisations do not inherently have abilities that can be exploited. Individuals within an organisation do.

A capability on the other hand is a feature, ability, faculty or process that can be developed or improved. A capability is a collaborative process that can be deployed and through which individual competencies and abilities can be applied and exploited. A capability can refer to an ability that exists in an individual but can be improved upon.

For example:

• A runner may finish a marathon in 3 hours but may through training have the capability to complete a course in less than 2.5 hours. • A student may be regularly obtaining average grades but with study could achieve significantly better. • A researcher may have good analytical skills that can be greatly enhanced if they are provided with appropriate toolsets. • A business decision maker demonstrates the ability to make good decisions but could make excellent decisions if provided with sufficient relevant information.

Within a business setting a Business Capability is the articulation of the capacity, materials and expertise an organisation needs in order to perform its core functions. Defining the Business Capability does not mean that the organisation can deploy it. It must have the capacity to do so.

It is essential that an organisation when defining its required Business Capabilities understands its capacity to deliver. When discussing capacity, it is important to ask “How much do we have?” and the related questions, “How much is needed?” and “When do we need it?”

Having the capacity to deliver goods and services is more important than just having the capability. If a required Business Capability cannot be delivered through capacity issues, then reputational and financial damage is likely to occur.

So what is the difference between Capacity and Capability?

A Capacity is the ability that exists at present whilst capability refers to the higher level of ability that could be demonstrated under the right conditions.

As well as understanding abilities, capabilities and capacity it is important for an organisation to be aware of its competence. This is the quality or state of being functionally adequate or having sufficient knowledge, strength and skill to deliver what is required. Competence therefore is another word describing the ‘know-how’ or ‘skill’ of an individual or business.

As an example:

  • I have the ability to run
  • I have the capacity to run a 100m race in 18 seconds
  • I have the capability to improve my capacity through training to 15 seconds.
  • As a runner I am incompetent as I cannot compete successfully.

Organisations focus on the capabilities that they require in order to succeed. With good strategies and forward planning in place they may also be cognisant of the capacity that they require in order to deliver successfully. Hopefully they will also be realistic about their competence to deliver quality products and services.

Unfortunately, organisations often fail to realise the benefit of their greatest asset – the individuals it employs. Individuals often have abilities that are frequently under-utilised within their workplace. This may be that the role in which an individual sits does not require the skills that demonstrate their abilities. Consequently, entire valuable skills sets may be unused through there being no organisational awareness that they exist or the imposition of organisational constraints to their being leveraged. Business Capabilities that could be enhanced remain stagnant through ignorance of the actual capacity within the organisation or reluctance to cross organisational boundaries.

A successful organisation will be aware of all of its assets, understand the Business Capabilities it requires, have sufficient capacity and be competent in its delivery.


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Understanding Business Drivers

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All organisations, whether large all small, are influenced by both internal and external drivers. How the organisation responds to them can affect its overall success. The following only touches some of the generic drivers that an organisation is likely to confront. Each organisation will have it own unique set which should be explored in detail.


Financial drivers

Financial drivers are directly associated with the costs of doing business and are most commonly considered in relation to achieving overall profit. Examples include:

  • Price of offered products and services.
  • Manufacturing or acquisition costs.
  • Capital costs.
  • Operational costs.
  • Sales volumes.
  • Margins.
  • Cost of debt.
  • Inventory.
  • Transport

Profit, even for a non profit organisation, is important. Ultimately if all capital reserves become exhausted the organisation will cease to remain viable. Profit need only be as large as required to maintain ongoing viability.

Non-financial drivers

Non-financial drivers also impact the bottom line, even though they’re not directly expressed in financial terms. Reputation for example can be expressed in terms of client satisfaction which can in turn impact the volume of products and services sold resulting in increased or decreased profit.

Broad Non-financial profit drivers include:

  • Personal
  • Market
  • Capability
  • Reputation
  • Ethical
  • Regulatory
  • Competitive

To these can be added:

  • Quality of the product or service.
  • Level of employee Training.
  • Employee satisfaction (morale).
  • Employee health and safety.
  • Behavioural – including culture and values.
  • Environmental.

Ranking your drivers

Once you have determined the drivers that affect the ‘business’ it is essential to establish why they are important and what impact they have on ongoing success. Ranking the drivers from most important to least important in terms of their impact on the business goals enables a prioritisation process to be applied.

The top drivers common to many businesses include:

  • increasing sales (turnover)
  • increasing productivity
  • reducing costs
  • reducing overheads.

These may not however be the most important to be satisfied.

Value Drivers Prioritisation: What is truly important?

Use the Business Strategy as a tool for ranking drivers.

  • Critical Success Factors (CSFs) are indicators that measure how well an organisation is accomplishing its goals. For example, a CSF for an agile software development may be the achieving of a high-level of client-developer interaction. For a Non-Profit organisation it may be the securing of 1500 monthly donors or obtaining 200 active volunteers within a pre-defined timeframe.
  • Future scenarios allow organisations to explore multiple potential futures and generate robust strategies and the early warning signs that indicate how the future may unfold. For example, the agricultural industry may use climate experts to create scenarios based on the critical uncertainties associated with major weather systems and plan for each range of possibilities and their associated risk profile.

Business-Driven Performance Improvement

To highlight the way that integrated strategic planning can help an organisation understand its business drivers for improvement, consider the organisation having a defined goal acquiring IT systems that supports the services it provides to its customers. The organisation’s CSFs could reflect the following operational areas that must function well to meet its mission:

  • identifying and acquiring IT systems that serve its customer’s needs
  • managing and tracking a budget that is adequate to achieve this goal
  • formally managing relationships with both key internal and external stakeholders through communication, managing expectations, and personal interaction.

Identifying and understanding the key drivers are essential to ensuring appropriate Business – ICT strategic alignment. Five key steps to follow are:

i) Tabulate business drivers, describing

  • their source (strategic plan, workshops, formal reviews, operational imperatives, legislation, customer demand, etc)
  • the technology sets that would satisfy these drivers – both applications and operations oriented
  • the “as is” assessment of ICT against those business-driven requirements. It is imperative to understand where you are before you can decide where you can go.

ii) Engage the relevant business executives, stakeholders and business process owners for a both a review and to challenge the Business Drivers analysis.

iii) Convert the driver versus ICT analysis into appropriate ICT strategy themes that provide an a context for considering Applications, Enterprise Architecture requirements and ongoing ICT Operations.

iv) Map ICT strategy themes through outline the initiatives proposed to the business drivers.

v) Sequence the initiatives taking account of known business priorities, projects in flight and the dependencies between initiatives.

Drivers do not always stand by themselves. They can exhibit degrees of interdependence.

A CEO whose remuneration is dependent on cutting costs may ‘succeed’ by instigating a programme of staff reductions and infrastructure freezes. Costs may be saved, the CEO may achieve their bonus but at what ‘cost’ to the business:

  • Stagnation through failure to grow;
  • Loss of market share through failure to innovate.
  • Loss if Intellectual capital through failure to retain knowledgeable personnel.
  • Loss of opportunity through failure to invest.

All Key Performance Indicators, before being set must have their impact, if achieved, assessed against the the vision, goals and objects of the organisation as a whole.

It is also essential to understand that individuals are also affected by personal drivers which do affect their decision making processes.

Personal drivers and their effect on business outcomes

  • Power/Control – provides the ability to influence and affect outcomes.
  • Wealth/Greed – provides the ability either spend or constrain spending.
  • Altruism – exercises selfless concern for the well-being of others.
  • Egotism – exercises self centred and selfish behaviour with little regard for the needs of others.



To succeed it is imperative to gain a good understanding of what the drivers are and acknowledge how they impact the decision making process. Balancing the needs of the organisation against those of the individual so as to achieve a defined shared vision is not an easy task. Personal drivers, if not channelled appropriately can have unintended consequences when assessing the eventual outcome.

  • Pure altruism without acknowledging any need for self interest can lead to a shortened business existence.
  • Greed might drive acquisition but affect wise investment.
  • The exercise of power and control might result in micromanagement and hence staff discontent.

Identification of key drivers, understanding their impact and managing how to best respond to them is fundamental to achieving enduring organisational success.


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