When a new team is looking to scale, I am no longer surprised at the lack of documentation and process in onboarding.
At The Development Factory, we help a lot of companies build world-class teams. Good hires sometimes go wrong. Sometimes an unfit person gets through the interview process, but more likely the organization fails to foster the hire from day one.
Why do teams embrace user onboarding with their products but not with each other?
The excuses are plenty:
“We only hire senior level people.”
“We are too busy to train right now.”
“Nobody reads the documentation.”
“Starting with our team is intuitive.”
The “missing manual” is expected for new organizations, but this is something we observe in organizations that are two, five, and ten years old. An onboarding process exists for all successful projects we have backed.
For engineering teams, lacking a meaningful onboarding process is very expensive. Attempting to build a local development environment or deploy code without documentation is frustrating on the individual. Idle engineering translates to burning cash.
One ambitious example of engineering onboarding is Etsy. They strive for first-day deployments. The principle forces teams to continually improve.
At The Development Factory, our onboarding manual is our latest offering. There are four steps we advocate to ensure seamless onboarding. First, the employee equipment should be set up with the correct software on day one. Second, access to a branded internal wiki. Third, new hires need an assigned mentor in the organization, and lastly, new hires need a job to do.
Let’s dig deeper.
1) Equipment ready and access granted to services
Having a workstation ready and equipment ready for new hires is often overlooked. If you arrived at the hair salon and your stylists didn’t have scissors, how would this feel? How do your customers perceive your unequipped team? How about trying to cook a meal without a knife, pan, or heat?
Once a new hire has accepted the offer, it is critical to get moving on this task. Coaching the hiring managers on buying equipment the same day the employee signs is the most effective way to achieve success.
2) Documentation embracing the company mindset
When documentation does exist, we see wordy, poorly written, and brandless streams of conscience.
There are five primary sections engineering teams should have documented in a public wiki before deciding to scale.
How we behave together?
This section holds our “code of conduct” and “discrimination policies.” What are acceptable times to have meetings?
How do we work?
Common documents in this space are the SDLC (software development lifecycle) and release management protocols.
How do our systems look?
This section contains architecture diagrams and application stack descriptions.
How do we create?
Stored in this section are engineering documents describing code conventions and test coverage.
How do we start applications?
Applications required specific instructions to start development. Place READMEs about getting applications and services up and running in this section.
Documentation needs to be “precursory and participatory,” says Writethedocs.org. Before the employee starts have documentation prepared, then empower the new hire to embrace and contribute to docs regularly.
The brand of your teams’ documentation is critical to embracing the mindset of your business. If you have a fun and internet savvy culture, do not hesitate to add gifs and easter eggs to your docs. If your serious and ambitious maybe it contains links to sites about productivity and life improvements.
3) Onboarding colleague for tours and introductions
On day one, we insist new hires have a colleague responsible for the employee’s onboarding. Think of this as a buddy system. This buddy will not know all the answers. This friend to the hire should be compassionate and coachlike.
Feeling welcomed and informed is critical for new hires. Personnel should have a face-to-face meeting with the executive team members, peers, and subordinates. We understand this takes time, but the value of face-to-face communication is critical for empathy and non-verbal communication to be understood.
Tours set the stage for a culture where people feel the ability to stretch beyond their vertical.
4) An important job to do
We are not stuck on “first days deployments” as all companies are different, but new hires need a job to complete.
Day one completion is better than someday, but rules need to be flexible, right?
Three jobs we love to give new hires:
Set up all the applications and update company documentation with new information discovered in the process.
This straightforward task is the best way to start building the documentation habit for new engineers. New engineers also need to have applications running.
Add a 3rd party integration.
A new hire could add bug tracking software such as Sentry or Airbrake. Installing Segment to improve web performance is another value-add which is easy to get moving. A Slack webhook integration is another option for systems where production deployment isn’t optimized.
Gather data and deliver a report.
Handing the desired report to a new hire may require cleaning or moving data, so keep the scope concise, and they can learn about the company data model and deliver value quickly.
What is our advice if your time is short and you are hiring?
Start writing a guide today (15 minutes is all it takes) and foster your hires through personal introductions.
Encourage everyone to start documenting what it means to be part of your organization. Start the habit today.