Disciplined Agile

Levels of Competence

Figure 1 overviews an extension to Noel Burch’s Hierarchy of Competence, showing the original four learning levels and an additional fifth level to reflect a self-learning mindset. This hierarchy reflects our learning journey for a given skill or knowledge area. You may be at level 4 (unconscious competence) when it comes to data analysis but level 1 (unconscious incompetence) when it comes to exploratory testing. Not only do we want teams that are cross-functional, as individuals we want to become cross-functional as well.

Competence Hierarchy

Figure 1. The hierarchy of competence (click to enlarge).

A common strategy in the agile community is to strive to become a “generalizing specialist,” someone with one or more specialties (perhaps you love data analysis, user acceptance testing, and R programming) who also has at least a general knowledge of their profession (in this case, solution delivery) and the domain that they’re working in. A generalizing specialist is the happy medium between being a specialist, someone who knows a lot about a narrow competency, and a generalist, someone who knows a little about a wide range of competencies. Having team members with a more robust set of skills is a key strategy toward leaning out your team and eliminating waste (you’re less likely create additional artifacts to cater to specialists and less likely to have to wait for them). The Grow Team Members process goal captures several strategies for how to improve your skills and knowledge.

February 2022