Onboarding in the agile world
This article is a follow up on Why onboarding is important. It covers the specific case of onboarding in an agile environment.
Finding new team members
We will see how things differ comparing an agile and a non agile approach.
The lack of resources
If the team is in an agile context, they are used to mention impediments, so the chance is higher, that the lack of resources is discussed earlier. While this doesn’t necessarily differ much from a non agile to an agile company structure, the team will most likely be faster to mention, that they need an additional hand to get along better.
Make up a job description
In an agile context, the team might be more included into the process of finding the ideal candidate, this includes also making up a good job description. The human resource department will certainly still handle candidate acquisitions, as that is most likely not something the team has much knowledge in.
This step can be a lot different to non agile companies. In „the old way“, candidates often get interviewed by the human resource department, team leads or the CEO / CTO roles. In a truly agile environment, the empowered team should possibly even be included in the interview process. The team can then more easily estimate if the candidate would fit their team, but also the candidate is getting a better impression on his future team setup. Of course it’s difficult to have an interview with anything more than a few people. And because of that, it is really important to start off with socially integrating potential candidates right from the start. Start over with a non formal getting to know, having a coffee. Anything to melt the ice.
Agree to candidates
In the ideal case, the team will be able participate in any decisions regarding the candidates. They need to work with the new team members and will spend a lot of time with them. If the team is included upfront, integration of new team members will be much easier.
How is the onboarding process shared between the different roles?
This is a difficult question, and is probably also different for each company. Strictly speaking, it’s in the responsibility of the whole team as well as the company to support the onboarding process of new team members. But let’s try splitting up the main responsibilities between the agile team roles.
As a Scrum Master
The scrum master is the process owner, and his task is to guide the process of including new team members into the team. He might need to coach the new team member regarding the agile process, if he has no experience in that.
There are a couple of things, the scrum master can do, to support the team. This is pretty much guiding the team through the onboarding process similar to what is described in Why onboarding is important.
Check if the company has an onboarding process. If they don’t have one, it should be created. It’s not a task of the scrum master directly, but as the scrum master is taking care of the process and team culture as well, he could organize it. Ideally a team of team members, HR, IT, and other parts of the company take care of building the process. Ideally the onboarding process has been built or at least been adapted by the specific team.
Integrate socially. Introduce to team members and stake holders of the company. Meet people for lunch.
Coordinate mentoring efforts. Be available for questions, if the mentor is not available. Additionally take care of introducing the new employee to agile principles, if that is not handled by the team.
Keep an eye on things. It is a difficult situation the team is in now. Considering Tuckman’s model, the team building is going through all phases again, which includes: Storming, Forming, Norming, Performing. Moderate a quick transition to the performing phase.
As the team
For teams, new team members can be welcoming, sometimes stressful. It depends on the situation the team is in, and if they are stable enough to cope with the changes this situation provides.
There are a couple of things the team can be responsible for:
Provide documentation. To have a fast onboarding process and a quick transition to the performing phase, documentation is needed. If your definition of done includes to keep documentation updated with each task, then you are probably on the safe side anyway. Provide anything the new team member needs to be able to get to work quickly. The more the team provides in the first place, the more they can concentrate on their own work.
Provide a mentor. The mentor should be a team member, so he knows all internals. This role can be a rolling role within the team, so that it is not a single person taking care of new employees. Of course it could be the case, that one of the team members likes doing it a lot and works out his own toolbox to get the transition smooth. That is perfect as well.
Provide room for development. New team members will not be up to speed right away. Leave room for getting into things. Anyone in the team should be available for questions. Maybe even pair programming or similar things will help getting the new hire up to speed.
As the product owner
The product owner does not have any special responsibilities besides being available like anyone in the team.
Last but not least, I want to mention two cases which are not just onboarding new employees with good procedures, but rather do things a lot different.
Both are really awesome. There are most likely other companies out there "breaking the rules" and doing things in a different way. This is certainly something I want to look at more closely in the future.
it-agile is an agile company. They do not just do work the agile way and provide services around agile methodologies, they are serious about it across the company, and especially about it’s empowered teams. Their CEO is more a coach than a leader, as most of the decisions are driven by the teams. The teams manage their own clients, they take care of their own salaries (simplified!). I suggest to check out their website which provides a lot of material on their structure, and how they handle it including their failures and how they grew from it.
Ricardo Semler is the owner and CEO of the Brazilian company Semco S/A. It is a fully democratic company, also driven bei it’s employees. I suggest to check out his video. Especially how they welcome new candidates is inspiring.
It the agile world, it is even more important to take care of a good onboarding process. While the process is not necessarily more complex, it is at least more flexible than the traditional onboarding procedures. Things are not overall clear, and best practice which might work well in one case, do not work in the other. Much more consideration needs to be put in the agile onboarding process.
Still I think it’s the only way to go. If you need a performing team, go agile. Include your team in the process, not only regarding onboarding. If they feel they’re part of something, they will return a much higher investment in terms of loyalty and motivation.