How to minimize the loss of competence when your IT core employee leaves
November 18, 2019

It’s never fun when an employee leaves. In an IT department, it can have major consequences for the operational stability or speed of the necessary IT development.

Fortunately, at CapaSystems we have a low turnover of staff. Nevertheless, we take the task seriously and always make sure that important development projects stay on track if a key employee decides to leave.

When an IT employee in the development department leaves the company, there are typically two types of risk that are crucial to deal with:

  • The loss of user/customer knowledge that the employee has built up
  • The loss of technical knowledge about the solutions that the employee has worked on

This article gives you some suggestions on how to minimize these risks.

User knowledge in record time

End-user and customer knowledge typically take a long time to acquire. You must have met the customers, talked to the users and tested many solutions before you know the actual preferences of your users. That is why it can be extremely difficult to take on the role of a new IT developer if you take the place of a seasoned employee with many years of company-specific experience.

Although user knowledge and knowledge about users’ needs is built up over time, as IT Manager, you can still help your new development staff to take a shortcut in the learning curve.

User personas kickstart the imagination

First and foremost, as IT Manager, you can ensure that your knowledge about users is written down and formalized. To give your staff a clear picture of the typical user, it’s a good idea to use so-called “user personas”, which are known from, among other things, Scrum methodology.

A persona is a fictional description of a typical user. The description typically includes knowledge of the typical user’s age, education and usage patterns, so it’s easy for your staff to form a picture of the user.

A user persona improves your staff’s imagination and empathic abilities. A persona means that your newly appointed employee can imagine for themselves that it’s problematic, for example, to make the font too small or buttons too small if your typical users are aged over 50. Such a mistake for many 50+ users, means they have to find their reading glasses.

Such a persona is also extremely useful if you need to outsource some of your IT activities.

User Journeys identify the user’s problem

Just as the persona provides an understanding of the end-user, you can also work with User Journeys that describe what it is your user wants to achieve. A User Journey contains some steps that best illustrate how the user gets through the product. Typically, a User Journey will contain up to 15 steps that best represent the scenarios in which a user interacts with what you are designing.

When you write down both the user persona and the User Journeys they want, you give new employees an edge in understanding the end-user. Something that allows you to maintain a high standard of user-friendliness of the services you develop, even if an experienced employee has found a new job.

Teamwork ensures competence survival

When the pace picks up and the deadline for your development project draws nearer, it’s easy to choose the solutions that can get the project in the bag. It means all hands on deck and full speed ahead. However, while efficiency is essential in today’s IT departments, it’s not necessarily the answer here.

In development projects, the increased speed often means that quality assurance goes out of the window. Not necessarily the quality assurance that is about the end product is in order, but the quality assurance that means that other IT staff can take over a task from a colleague.

It’s also quality assurance that there is more than one employee in the IT development who has looked at the code that has been written, and who understands the code and agrees with the way it is written. It’s quality assurance because it ensures the quality and support of the programs you have developed, even if an employee leaves.

Two cooks on the code

At CapaSystems, we always recommend that at least two other employees in the department know your code and can take care of the coding that has been made. Having several brains on the case not only ensures the immediate coding quality, but also that technical understanding is not lost when you lose an employee.

Therefore, you must never compromise on this type of quality assurance, not even when it’s difficult and the deadline is looming. If time is scarce, it’s always better to prioritize your tasks and drop something, so that the system is also secured for the future.

The transfer of knowledge is a management responsibility

As IT Manager, it’s your responsibility to ensure that your development does not grind to a halt if a core employee suddenly leaves. It’s your responsibility to ensure that development projects can continue, and that support can still be offered for IT solutions that are already implemented in the company.

To safeguard your IT department against a fatal loss of competence, you must be at the forefront and insist that User Journeys, user personas and technical wireframes are documented so that new staff can quickly get up to speed.

What is your employee plan B?

As IT Manager, it’s not just the formal written records of your development that need to be in order. You must also have thought through the various scenarios that may arise when an employee leaves.

You need to know what will happen if John, with 15 years of experience, suddenly wants to try his hand at a new company. Who should hold the keys to his projects? And who should answer the questions when they arise – because the questions will arise.

Therefore, in a world where talented IT staff are sought after, you, as IT Manager, need to have an emergency plan ready for when – not if – one of your core employees suddenly announces that they have decided to seek new challenges. You will need to know that someone else can take over the tasks and you must have made preparations both in the short- and long-term.

With comprehensive and understandable documentation of your development projects and with “emergency plans” ready at hand, you can, as IT Manager, ensure maximum protection against the consequences that a significant loss of competence can cause. And that’s one of your primary duties: To safeguard your company against quality fluctuations in your IT development.