What Developing a Capability Looks Like

One of the high potential & high impact areas for L&D contribution is in developing strategic capabilities. Strategic capabilities increase a company's ability to implement its strategies effectively and make the necessary market moves.

Many L&D Managers and their teams are aware that “developing capabilities” is an area they can have an impact on. Yet, there are very few clear examples out there about how this looks like in practice.

This article aims to fill a bit of this gap. Together, we will explore an example and reflect on how you can contribute to developing sustainable capabilities for your company. 

In the first part, I’ll walk you through a case study involving a large program meant to develop the Product Development capability of a mid-sized Tech company. Once we gain clarity around all the factors impacting our goal, we will zoom in on the streams that benefit from L&Ds’ contribution.

Case Study: Context

  • Tech company with 500-1000 employees, focused on revenue growth, improving the products and services portfolio, overall productivity, and profit margin. 
  • Given that one of the company’s strategic directions relies on developing its digital products, a key investment that the client organization has made is in developing the Product Development capability.
  • The initial program team: The Strategy & Innovation Director, along with experienced representatives from different divisions of the company and myself as an adviser and facilitator for the whole project.

Case Study: Project Fundamentals

  • Clarifying the program’s main goal: “What do we aim for with this program?”
  • Clarifying desired outcomes for stakeholder groups: “What specific outcomes do we target that matter to different stakeholders?”

For example: for the clients, for the whole organization, for the Sr. leadership team: CEO and Directors, for the people who are currently working in product development roles, for the people who are currently collaborating with colleagues in product development roles, for the people who will work in product development roles in the future;

  • Clarifying the approach for the program: ”What is our main approach for achieving the program’s goal and desired outcomes?”
  • Clarifying key indicators: ”Which key indicators will we use for deciding and adjusting our actions during the program?”
  • Clarifying measurements: ”How will we measure these indicators?” (method, timing, frequency, resources needed)
  • Creating the roadmap (work streams x stages). Program roadmaps are usually organized in work streams - areas of activity that will help the progress of the whole program. You can think of these streams as categories of activities or smaller projects in the larger programs. Each stream is usually led by people with expertise and experience with the activities in the stream. Stream leads drive the progress for the specific workstream, acting as project managers who are accountable for the results of the stream.

An Overview Of Developing Strategic Capabilities

Before detailing the 8 work streams from the roadmap, it’s useful to mention that a capability is an ability in a specific context.

An organizational capability is the ability of an organization to do certain activities. You can check my previous article about organizational capabilities for a deep dive into the topic with an example from a Retail company.

When developing a capability, these are the 3 key elements to consider:

  • The relevant skills of the people involved;
  • The tools they have available to do the intended activities;
  • The right setup so that people can properly do their work when it comes to the intended activities.

Example: Developing A Sales Capability

The capability of a company to sell depends on the skills of the people involved in the sales activities, the tools they have available for doing the sales activities, and also on the right setup (e.g. clear processes, communication, and mutual support between colleagues, a proper bonus system, etc.).

The challenge of building capabilities goes beyond just having the right skills in place, whether through hiring, training, or external help. 

Building capabilities is a complex project that also involves the development or purchase (build or buy) of the proper tools that are needed for performing in that specific area of activity. 

Additionally, it’s about adjusting and evolving the organizational design of the areas adjacent to the activity area in scope, to create the proper organizational setup for performance.

In simpler terms:

  • Have people with the right skills
  • Equip them with the tools they need
  • Create the right setup so that the work can be easily done

Case Study: Program Work Streams

Coming back to the case study, the 8 work streams from the roadmap have been defined like this:

Stream 1 (S1): Steering

  • Stream led by the Director, with activities like monthly meetings to review and adjust the progress of the program;

S2: Inspiration and Mentality

  • Examples of activities: large group sessions, internal and external, having the purpose of exposing participants to examples and internal and external references about developing products;

S3: Developing skills

  • Examples of activities: courses, workshops, book club, group mentoring, book club, Ask Me Anything sessions;

S4: Delivering value for existing products

  • Examples of activities: developing work tools that are specific to the organization and working for deliverables needed for each product (e.g.: product vision, strategy, objectives, roadmap, prioritised backlog, metrics dashboard, new opportunities assessment, market sizing, set of experiments to be done, requirements and acceptance criteria);

S5: Individual support for leaders

  • Examples of activities: counseling formal and informal leaders from the product development area inside the company about current challenges they face and equipping them to be able to address the challenges;

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S6: Communication and Stakeholder Engagement

  • Examples of activities: creating and distributing messages about the progress of the initiative, info sessions, embedding comms materials in the existing communication channels of the organization, etc.;

S7: Recruiting and Onboarding new colleagues

  • Examples of activities: prioritization of open positions, recruiting for the new profiles needed, adjusting onboarding of new colleagues;

S8: Sustainability of the new capability

  • Examples of activities: adjusting the roles of product managers and product designers, adjusting adjacent roles, adjusting career paths for the roles in scope, integrating lessons learned from other work areas, adjusting the performance management system to support product development work, creating development plans for people in product management/design roles.

Case Study: L&Ds' Contribution

L&D Professionals can be key contributors to most streams and lead some streams that are closer to their core activities.

For example, in a capability development program like the one detailed above:

S1: Steering - they can contribute with updates on learning-related indicators (e.g. new behaviours that are already put into practice in various teams) and the effectiveness of learning interventions. Also, they can propose adjustments to the approach for the whole program, adjustments in resource allocation, and even new streams that are needed to achieve the program’s goal.

S2: Inspiration and Mentality - they can design, prepare, organize, facilitate, and/or host the large group sessions. Also, they can partner up with other colleagues that work on evolving the company culture and connect the dots between this program and other cultural endeavours inside and outside the company (e.g. with external communities of practice or professional associations).

S3: Developing skills - they can lead this stream, effectively architecting how the learning interventions work in concert to achieve the desired learning outcomes linked to skill development. They can review the progress, manage the resource allocation, and adjust the mix of learning activities on the go based on real-time feedback and all the L&D magic.

S4: Delivering value for existing products - they can contribute or lead the creation of job aids needed to create the needed deliverables: templates, guides, how-tos, cheat sheets, micro-learning, etc. Also, they can lead or help design effective working sessions that achieve the desired deliverables in a limited amount of time. They can facilitate knowledge sharing across teams, so they learn from the progress of each other, offer feedback, and review how the other teams have done their work.

S5: Individual support for leaders - they can lead the matchmaking between the leaders and the helpers (e.g. mentors, coaches, advisers, sparring partners, etc.), they can review the progress the leaders are making, they can contribute to crafting the leadership tools that are needed.

S6: Communication and Stakeholder Engagement - as communication materials are also learning vehicles (through which stakeholders learn about the program, the activities, the progress, the challenges, the lessons learned, etc.), L&D professionals can contribute to the design and creation of these materials, so they are effective in reaching their intended learning outcomes for stakeholders.

S7: Recruiting and Onboarding new colleagues - they can facilitate the sessions in which open positions get prioritised, and they can lead the (re)design of the onboarding process - given the fact that the onboarding period is mainly focused on learning and getting up to speed with the role, the team, the organization, the stakeholders, etc. They can also deliver various learning interventions that accelerate the onboarding process, along with monitoring the effectiveness of the onboarding activities across teams.

S8: Sustainability of the new capability - they can lead the career pathing efforts,
along with connecting the dots between roles (e.g. in this case, redesigned Product Management/Design roles and adjacent ones that exist in the company). As all the other streams are producing lots of lessons learned along the way, they can lead the integration of the lessons learned and knowledge management, so the new capability becomes stickier and more sustainable in the long run. Additionally, they can lead the efforts of creating development plans for the people in the roles in the scope of the capability development program.

There are lots of leadership and contribution opportunities, even in the examples above. The guiding principle is around matching what’s valuable for the progress of each work stream with what the L&D professionals are good at (or want to become good at).

As I recently mentioned to one of the L&D Managers that I’m closely working with, there is or should be a “learning” stream in any strategic program. Strategic programs come with change, by design. Change means that people need to learn: new skills, new tools, new ways of working, new behaviours, and so on. This means there is a huge opportunity for contribution and leadership from L&D professionals in the company. Capability Development programs are just one example of such strategic programs.

The 3 Essential Aspects of Developing A Strategic Capability

The key idea is that when you’ll have to develop capabilities in your organization, you might want to take into account the 3 essential aspects:

  • Developing the right skills
  • Equipping with the right tools
  • Evolving the right context

These go hand in hand with developing the capability of a team or organization, and not only the ability of a person or group inside the company.

This is why developing capabilities is not done only by organizing courses, workshops, etc. (activities that develop skills), but also through activities that enable the other two key aspects as well.

In the case study, developing skills was just one of the 8 streams of the program. 

We had to work a lot on evolving the right context, through:

  • S2: Inspiration and Mentality
  • S6: Communication and Stakeholder Engagement
  • S7: Recruiting and Onboarding new colleagues
  • And S8: Sustainability of the new capability

Equipping people with the right tools was done mainly through the job aids and templates that helped create the deliverables for S4: Delivering value for existing products. Formal and informal leaders were equipped individually through the activities in S5: Individual support for leaders.

Finally, S1: Steering ensured the integration between the activities and outcomes created by all the other streams and the coherent development of the overall capability.


A recommendation that I make to the L&D teams that I work with is to start by intentionally developing capabilities for the L&D team in the first place. 

For example, these days many teams are developing better Consulting capabilities, as this accelerates progress on their L&D strategy and better positions the L&D team.

Developing the consulting capability for the L&D team translates to:

  • Developping better consulting skills for the L&D team members;
  • Equipping the L&D team members with consulting tools that help them understand the real needs of stakeholders, make and negotiate proposals, etc.;
  • Adjusting the way the L&D team works to “make space” for better consulting activities.

Enjoy developing capabilities and making more impact on how the company executes its strategy!

As a strategic adviser and lifelong learner, Bülent Duagi works with Managing Directors and General Managers of 🇷🇴 Tech companies to help them make more impact by using strategic thinking at a personal and organizational level.

He explores links between L&D and organizational capabilities, business results, strategy, value creation, community, and other adjacent topics via his Linked Learning newsletter.

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