Bottleneck #06: Onboarding


How did you get into the bottleneck?

A rising startup generally underinvests in its onboarding course of. The
must scale up headcount quickly can come about unexpectedly. An occasion
can set off the staff scaling – maybe the product took off with
prospects, or the startup acquired an organization or pivoted in a brand new product
route. Shortly, plans change to how many individuals the startup now wants
to attain their new targets, the recruiting staff begins interviewing and
making gives. With added stress, you don’t take time to optimize the
onboarding course of. If an efficient onboarding system wasn’t already in place, the
new staff are dropped into groups, assigned some duties, and left to
work out how you can turn into productive for themselves. It’s notably
problematic if staff members aren’t collaboratively serving to the brand new
worker stand up to hurry, there is no onboarding documentation, the code
is unimaginable to learn, or the product targets and KPIs unclear. Then new
staff can turn into misplaced, dissatisfied and underproductive. On this
article we are going to discover indicators that your organization is bottlenecked by an
ineffective onboarding course of, and the most effective follow options we’ve
seen work at Thoughtworks Scaleup Studio.

Along with onboarding new hires, the method is utilized when
reorganizing groups. The studio consider the flexibility to be taught, fail quick and
refocus is a vital talent for profitable scaling. A nimble startup will
pivot because it responds to learnings and panorama modifications, this entails
altering product staff targets and reassigning assets to finest goal the
new targets. To do that simply, we want the flexibility for the reassigned staff
members to stand up to hurry shortly. Many of the capabilities on this
article, will even apply to reorganizing.

Onboarding is a key enterprise course of

Onboarding is commonly seen as merely granting entry and doing a set of
administrative duties earlier than handing new staff to their supervisor and
staff. It isn’t regarded as an end-to-end enterprise course of. However a
well-run onboarding course of addresses social and cultural integration
and facilitates collaboration among the many completely different features {that a} new
worker has to work together with. The onboarding course of sometimes entails
human assets, engineering administration, authorized, IT Operation, safety,
and product staff members. Spanning so many teams means it may be very
disjointed. Optimizing the method is troublesome as a result of typically nobody
owns the entire course of, and you have to carry all of the completely different gamers

Software program leaders put loads of effort into shaping hiring plans and
supporting recruiting efforts, however typically neglect to provide a lot thought to
how new staff will turn into efficient. We consider this to be a
mistake, as efficient onboarding acts as a “multiplier impact” for brand spanking new

From a medical perspective, what’s the worth of a brand new worker?
With out correct onboarding, new hires will solely exhibit a fraction of
their worth and productiveness, some as little as 50%. With an ROI at this
degree, you’re much less prone to obtain your meant targets. Leaders are
pressured to do further hiring, which is able to improve group
complexity and workload for managers. To keep away from this, we suggest
placing the identical quantity of effort into optimizing onboarding as you
would hiring new staff.

In our opinion the onboarding course of doesn’t finish after every week or a
month – it retains going till the particular person is totally productive. As quickly as
somebody accepts a suggestion, the onboarding course of begins, adopted by a
strong new rent orientation, receiving of laptops and entry to
acceptable programs. It continues after they be a part of their staff, as they
perform their duties for the primary time, construct relationships with
their staff members and managers, and develop habits round their widespread
duties. The final section of onboarding allows an worker to achieve full
productiveness, the place they’ll contribute to the staff creatively, educate
others and contribute again into the onboarding course of. This timeline is
depending on position, area and complexity.

Optimum onboarding timeline

To gauge how you’re doing, this desk represents what we observe to
be optimum timelines for a developer onboarding. We are going to clarify the
ideas talked about right here additional in the remainder of the article:

Milestone Accomplished By
Entry to all HR and administrative programs Day one
Entry to workstation and private growth atmosphere is
setup with mandatory instruments
Day one
Firm mission and enterprise targets are defined and
Day two
Full a push to manufacturing for a trivial change, assisted
by peer
Day three
Supervisor has set expectations with worker and given them an
Week one
Paired with colleague on growing an actual characteristic all the way in which
to manufacturing and carried out defect decision
Week two
Understood key buyer issues and inside operation
Week two
Developer: In a position to be an “Anchor” on a narrative Week 3 – 5†
Developer: In a position to lead help calls Week 5 – 7†

† relying on complexity and expertise

Indicators you’re approaching a scaling bottleneck

New folks can’t entry instruments and programs

Most new joinees often include a way of pleasure and
anticipation about their new project, desperate to show themselves in
their new atmosphere. Having to attend for entry to fundamental assets like
the work laptop computer, supply management, staff documentation portals, check
environments, software program licenses, and many others. can dampen the spirits of even the
most enthusiastic candidates. Not realizing which programs to get entry to
and having to chase particular people to learn how may be very

To identify these delays you may monitor the steps new staff are
taking. Control the variety of tickets opened and the quantity of
time it takes to resolve these tickets.

New builders can’t make a manufacturing deployment

A quantifiable metric to make use of is how lengthy it takes a brand new worker
to put in writing code, commit and deploy all the way in which to manufacturing. This
ought to occur within the first week– ideally the primary couple of days. It
doesn’t must be a fancy job, it may be one thing very trivial.
This metric is an indicator that the developer has their laptop and
growth atmosphere arrange appropriately and has the whole lot they should
push to manufacturing independently. We discover conditions the place a brand new
developer has been within the firm weeks and even months, and has not
deployed something to manufacturing.

Newcomers really feel orphaned

Particularly at startups, most managers are laser-focused on new
initiatives, they usually have extra work than they’ll deal with. It is simple
to deprioritize integrating and bringing direct experiences on top of things. New
staff are left to determine issues on their very own; studying programs,
forming relationships, and how you can get entry to assets they want.
Worse in the event that they haven’t been given a transparent aim, they could find yourself working
on the flawed factor. The worker turns into an orphan, leading to a lot
decrease productiveness or fast attrition. Cultural issues like this are
onerous to identify. We suggest listening to your managers and suggestions from
new staff. Exit interviews are additionally worthwhile information.

An excessive amount of give attention to particular person work

When a startup scales by including new staff, this could set off a
completely different mode of operation. It was a small staff that constructed the preliminary
product and know-how platform. Every engineer was targeted on constructing
and supporting part of the appliance, doubtless by themselves. With the
enlargement into a bigger staff, an issue we frequently observe is the tenured
staff aren’t dedicating sufficient time to onboarding the brand new staff
– collaborating and pairing with new engineers, documenting how they
work and explaining the explanations for technical selections, and many others. This makes
onboarding very troublesome.

With the expanded staff dimension, aims shouldn’t solely give attention to
particular person contributions, however ought to embrace how the product staff as a complete is
performing. When retrospecting the product staff ought to ideally search for
alternatives to assist new hires turn into extra productive. An anti-pattern
we see is planning with people allotted to streams of labor by
themselves, as this removes the chance to switch data.

Not sufficient openness to alter

Whenever you rent new staff, they doubtless include completely different
experiences than the prevailing staff (particularly if you’re hiring exterior
of your private community). They’re going to have completely different opinions and
viewpoints. Too typically we see corporations not profiting from this. A
typical scenario is that the startup doubtless has a staff of “previous fingers”
which have discovered a option to work, have their very own idiosyncrasies, and there
is a historical past to each determination. The staff is dogmatic in its approaches
and shoots down the brand new concepts of the newcomer. This leaves the brand new rent
feeling unempowered, and never appreciated.

Once more that is cultural and onerous to identify, however some anti-patterns to
look out for are:

  • Present staff hogging the assembly, speaking shortly, or not
    giving sufficient time for brand spanking new staff to contribute or make clear.
  • Being overly protecting of the established order; taking pictures down concepts –
    “we tried that”, “it may by no means work right here…”.
  • Again-channeling via unofficial channels; tenured staff
    may get work achieved via their established community doing them a
    “favor”, somewhat than via a documented course of.

Seemingly easy issues take too lengthy

The effectiveness of your growth atmosphere for widespread duties
might be uncovered when onboarding new staff. The friction could have
already been felt by current staff, however including extra magnifies the
downside. Every new worker must discover ways to resolve widespread
issues and uncover workarounds. Examples may be flaky automated
assessments, inaccurate documentation, sluggish private dev atmosphere,
environments which can be old-fashioned, or a sluggish dogmatic code assessment
course of. We are able to monitor a few of these issues by monitoring low degree
metrics (e.g. CI construct time, PR assessment time, unit check run time) and
tech debt objects that groups are highlighting as friction.

Quick turnover

Turnover charge of newcomers is a lagging indicator. There may be
many causes for a excessive turnover charge. Nevertheless it is value
investigating. It might be associated to your onboarding course of. It may
be that your new staff aren’t being correctly skilled, and welcomed
within the firm. Your staff ought to monitor the speed and the way it’s
trending, complement with surveys after 6 months and a yr for brand spanking new
staff. You may then use the learnings to enhance the onboarding
course of regularly.

Documentation cannot reply questions from new hires

New hires, particularly lateral hires, often know what must be
achieved at a excessive degree. Nevertheless, idiosyncrasies of the brand new atmosphere can
get in the way in which of finishing even mundane duties. For instance, not
realizing the situation of the supply repositories or the bottom URL to the
integration check atmosphere. Nicely-structured onboarding documentation
may help enhance productiveness, construct confidence and usually present a
nice working expertise. To repeatedly enhance and preserve the
documentation updated, new hires must be inspired to seek out bugs in
it and repair them.

How do you get out of the bottleneck?

If you find yourself excited about designing your onboarding course of it is a
good first step to assume holistically about worker effectiveness. In
the next options part we are going to describe how you can create a path
to effectiveness, an instance of onboarding optimization utilized at
Checkr, after which some strategies we view as vital.

Create a path to effectiveness

In maximizing developer effectiveness
Tim talked in regards to the thought of specializing in outcomes somewhat than outputs,
and the way engaged staff can create probably the most worth for your online business
and your buyer. Empowered staff aren’t merely coding a
requirement, designing to a spec, or creating options based mostly on requests
from a gross sales staff. They’re pondering creatively about the issue house,
arising with value environment friendly, scalable and progressive options. Let’s
have a look at what an empowered worker wants, and the way onboarding may allow


How onboarding allows it

Clear view of the corporate mission and enterprise targets

ought to construct pleasure for the mission, outlining what led to its
creation, what the longer term may maintain, and the way an worker can
contribute to that. This could embrace a view of the present product

How does the corporate make cash (or intend to)?

To instill a enterprise sense and a give attention to frugality, new staff
ought to understand how the corporate at present prices for his or her providers, its
profitability, and its degree of funding.

Empathy for the shopper’s expertise

Set an expectation for all
staff to consider the shopper. We are able to emphasize this by a
variety of actions – observing the shopper utilizing the system, utilizing
the system as a buyer (if attainable), and studying prior analysis
into buyer issues.

An understanding for inside operations

Most software program programs
have completely different customers (past the goal buyer). It’s vital to
perceive all of these points, in order that technologists can design
options that make these inside customers environment friendly. That is
notably vital at scale

Enterprise area understanding

Many enterprise domains are fairly
advanced. Understanding occurs over time, however we will begin with
overviews from an professional, and recommended readings

Working relationship with their staff

To be able to have open
conversations about issues and concepts new hires want a degree of
familiarity and vulnerability with their friends and supervisor. Onboarding
ought to embrace actions to allow this. It is harder to do
remotely, so we suggest groups getting collectively in particular person inside the
first few months of a brand new rent becoming a member of.

Clear understanding of their aims

An empowered worker
wants a objective, they should know what their firm would really like them
to attain, and the way they will be assessed in the direction of that

Present staff topologies

The brand new rent ought to have a transparent
understanding of the possession of merchandise and programs and whom they
can speak to get info. An up-to-date org chart with the place they
sit in it is important. Deliberately establishing some 1:1s through the
first weeks is an effective option to encourage communication throughout groups and

How know-how is leveraged

Each startup makes use of know-how to
innovate and scale, so all staff ought to have a base degree of
understanding. We don’t consider it’s efficient to divide roles into
‘technical’ and ‘non-technical’; some roles are simply ‘extra technical’
than others.

There might be role-specific wants. A developer wants know how you can:


How onboarding allows it

Write code and push to manufacturing

An atmosphere that is
totally setup and dealing, with entry to deploy, they’re capable of do it
independently. The atmosphere provides them confidence that it’s going to discover
high quality issues, and permit them to rollback safely.

Debug and repair manufacturing issues

Entry to clear observability
that spans programs. This could embrace documentation, runbooks and
walkthrough movies of typical duties.

Perceive current code, structure, and

Efficient data administration system, entry to all supply code
repositories, entry to dependent groups and data switch with
teammates and SMEs

Measure the progress of their options

Enterprise and product
analytics, and in addition technical metrics (efficiency, availability,
value, high quality measures). It ought to embrace skill to experiment with
options (prototypes, A/B assessments) and entry to qualitative

Whereas this text is usually aimed toward builders, we will develop the
ideas into different roles. A product supervisor may want:


How onboarding allows it

First-hand expertise with prospects

Begin with an introduction
to key prospects. Additionally, product managers want the house to construct
relationships; we generally discover that the founder needs to be the
conduit, which might make it troublesome to get unfiltered

Articulate present product technique

A brand new product supervisor ought to
be capable of shortly perceive the present technique, the related
alerts, what the present product bets are, and in the event that they’re

Discover and entry analytics

Ideally that is self-service and
exploratory, somewhat than having to request experiences. This consists of
product, behavioral, monetary, advertising and gross sales metrics, and
system efficiency metrics.

Be taught from earlier bets and inflection factors

The product is
at present designed a selected manner for numerous particular causes
(which will not be apparent). To be able to efficiently evolve the
product, it helps to know why it is the way in which it’s.

Construct experiment prototypes and “mess around” within the

Usually product managers don’t have the entry they should use demo
environments or the assets to create prototypes

A designer may must know how you can:


How onboarding allows it

Entry tooling to create lo-fi and hi-fi property

Along with
the polished product, a designer ought to be capable of simply create
clickable prototypes, and be capable of conduct consumer testing with them
with out a lot ceremony.

Discover and use branding pointers and design programs

To make sure
consistency and make designing and implementing UIs simpler, these
must be accessible and properly documented. The maturity of those
programs will rely upon the maturity of the startup, evolving from a
shared design file to a dwelling part library.

Uncover earlier consumer analysis

Recordings of earlier consumer
testing, interview documentation, and synthesized analysis output
must be accessible and saved in an organization data base somewhat
than in private silos.

Carry out A/B assessments and entry behavioral analytics

The consumer
interface must be instrumented so {that a} designer can get as a lot
perception as attainable in a self-service manner. A variety of A/B testing
frameworks enable for impartial launch and evaluation with out
developer help for sure kinds of modifications.

This checklist is an instance and never meant to be exhaustive; we propose
you have a look at the aims and the “jobs to be achieved” to your roles in
the context of your organization.

As an instance how this works in actuality, we’re going to use the
instance of Checkr

Case Research: Checkr

Checkr, an HR know-how firm
powering the way forward for work, partnered with Thoughtworks on
scaling between 2018-2020. Whereas engaged on their structure, high quality
and platform engineering, Thoughtworks consultants observed the
effectiveness of Checkr’s onboarding course of. When Checkr grew past
the preliminary staff, they invested in making a structured onboarding
course of for all staff. The method was designed to construct empathy for
their prospects, perceive the enterprise, and produce staff to
productiveness as shortly as attainable. Thought to be a essential functionality
by Checkr management, their onboarding course of allowed them to develop from
30 to 300 engineering workers. Regardless of their success, Checkr continues to
evolve the method as they acquire suggestions, and check out new concepts.

Cross-functional onboarding week to grasp the mission, and
construct empathy

Every month, Checkr ran a week-long onboarding “bootcamp” for all
new staff. The aim of the bootcamp was to offer staff a
holistic understanding of the corporate and product by listening to from
management and from different groups throughout Checkr. Members from different
features similar to buyer success, finance, product and engineering
would assessment staff processes and product use instances with the brand new

Together with the cross purposeful overviews, new staff got
additional alternatives to construct buyer empathy and perceive the
downside house that Checkr aimed to resolve. New staff would go to
the native courthouse to tug a document as a part of a buyer’s
background examine and sit in on a buyer help name because the buyer
success consultant used Checkr’s instruments.

Initially, cohorts have been round 20 folks however grew over time. An
further advantage of the bootcamp was that new staff shortly
constructed an inside community. Checkr’s Director of Engineering Krista
Moroder mentioned: “I nonetheless use the preliminary community I made – one in all my
onboarding buddies remains to be one in all my first factors of contact within the
Authorized division.”

After the bootcamp, they performed a role-specific 2-day workshop
adopted by onboarding to their respective groups.

Path to productiveness for a developer

The worker would have entry to all of the providers and instruments they
want from day one. Engineers can arrange their private growth
atmosphere with a script in a number of hours. Checkr has a acknowledged aim
{that a} new worker ought to deploy on day one, however actually it
modifications staff by staff, on common it’s inside the first week. They’re
at present transferring from a laptop-based developer atmosphere to a cloud
based mostly method, with the purpose to hurry up onboarding, due to the
added capability and simpler configuration administration.

A number of groups will use pair programming, which implies a brand new
worker can bounce straight into pairing on no matter job is the main focus.
Krista talked about pair programming

“Thoughtworks was the catalyst for the pair programming on the staff
I initially led. The first motivation was to cut back high quality
defects, cut back context switching, improve shared data, enhance
cycle time, and preserve folks linked and engaged once we went
full-remote through the pandemic. Groups use a mannequin the place engineers
select pairs for the day when the every day standup ends.”

At Checkr they use a “you construct you run it” method, the place every
developer is predicted to help the programs their groups personal. To be taught
how to do that, after 1-2 months of becoming a member of, a brand new developer will
begin by co-piloting the on-call help with a colleague. They will
sometimes resolve an issue independently after 2 months for an
inside product, or 3-6 months for a client product, relying on
seniority. For Krista “a productiveness indicator is that their supervisor
or a tenured developer trusts the brand new developer to resolve advanced
points finish to finish.”

High quality Awards and Studying Weeks

Onboarding is partly in regards to the actions that occur when somebody
joins, it is also in regards to the making a tradition that leads folks to
effectiveness. Checkr needed to encourage a steady studying
tradition, the corporate has run participant-led “Studying Weeks” 2-3
occasions a yr, every time with the intention to give attention to a special
functionality, like infrastructure or high quality, for every week. Surveys are
run earlier than the camps, to grasp present gaps in data. These
weeks provide an opportunity to be taught from friends. In a really perfect world,
everybody would share experience regularly. However in a busy startup,
that doesn’t at all times occur. Studying Weeks set the intention, and
helps folks turn into comfy with asking for assist and sharing

An vital a part of Checkr’s common all fingers is the High quality
Awards, the place people are nominated by their friends and acknowledged
for his or her contributions. As a substitute of simply celebrating typical
milestones like product launches, persons are acknowledged for excellence
in documentation, testing, deprecation and refactoring. This
emphasizes a tradition of constructing pleasure round excessive technical
high quality, and of peer help.

Past the preliminary onboarding interval, the staff sends surveys
commonly to evaluate the entire course of. This helps them monitor whether or not
their processes are efficient and have set a basis for fulfillment in
the corporate.

Embrace new hires within the firm tradition

Bringing in new folks to a startup carries the chance for
higher variety in ideas and concepts. The expertise and data of
new hires will make our merchandise higher, applied sciences extra progressive
and processes extra environment friendly. To have the ability to actually leverage these new
hires does require work from the present staff to combine them
correctly. It is troublesome for a brand new rent to attach and contribute to
the prevailing staff with out the suitable atmosphere. The prevailing social
capital and status of the prevailing staff is intimidating. If we will
encourage the brand new staff’ voices, they’ll be capable of converse up and
recommend new concepts with out concern of being shot down.

Creating this protected and weak house is troublesome. From day one,
beginning with new rent orientation, the brand new worker ought to really feel like
they’re a part of the corporate’s mission and may contribute to its
evolution. Leaders can begin by setting an instance in how they work together
and set the rules of the corporate. It’s going to come right down to particular person
interactions. We suggest instilling a tradition of being aware to
others, being conscious of how others are performing and feeling, particularly
through the onboarding interval.

Nail the post-offer and first-day expertise

It is mentioned that you simply by no means get a second likelihood to make a primary
impression, and this definitely applies to onboarding. Onboarding begins
with the primary interview. The way in which interviewers work together with candidates
will start to set a precedent for a way they understand the corporate’s
tradition and the way they need to behave. From then on, the experiences on the
first day, first week, first month and past matter and could have a
large affect on whether or not they’ll succeed and be joyful.

Due to this fact, the time main as much as the primary day of employment may be
very essential. As soon as the candidate accepts the provide, ensure that
there is a clear level of contact (ideally an electronic mail group as an alternative of
a person) for the brand new worker to hunt clarification.

All of the instruments an worker wants must be out there by way of self-service
and accessible on day one. Nobody needs to spend the primary few weeks
enjoying “whack-a-mole” creating tickets for all of the permissions they
want – This consists of having IT programs that auto-enroll staff with
advantages, efficiency monitoring, payroll and data repositories.

An onboarding guidelines generally is a helpful option to information staff on
their first day. For instance, at Thoughtworks new hires are given their
personal Trello board with onboarding duties. All duties have step-by-step
directions and make contact with info for additional help, and are
prioritized within the order they need to be accomplished. This offers new hires
a prepared reckoner to finish fundamental duties like establishing direct deposits
to their wage account, and in addition extra advanced ones like establishing
their work laptop computer. As well as, it permits them to trace how they’re
progressing towards widespread duties all on their very own and how you can search out

Determine 1: Thoughtworks’ onboarding guidelines

New hires are assigned an onboarding buddy to assist them via it.
To make this much more seamless, we’ve a “First 12 months Expertise” chat
group the place new and seasoned staff alike pose questions and get
assist. It isn’t unusual for even long-tenured staff to proceed
utilizing it for a number of months after they be a part of and is quoted as one of many
most favored points of the general onboarding course of.

Spend money on self-service data administration

It is stunning how a lot proprietary data may be shortly
amassed. Concepts or approaches may be properly understood from earlier
classes, however by no means written down. If we don’t take the time to doc
issues, it will possibly make the primary months irritating for brand spanking new staff. We
subscribe to the agile precept of “Working software program over complete
documentation”; software program code must be readable however there’s nonetheless a
want for some focused documentation. Finest practices embrace:

  • Up-to-date succinct technical documentation round libraries, API,
    dependencies and integrations – A suggestions loop to the technical
    house owners dramatically improves the usefulness and freshness of
  • A taxonomy and a central seek for documentation, to reduce the
    period of time to seek out info
  • Shared rules and practices: an understanding of how a staff
    sometimes operates helps a brand new worker modify to a brand new tradition.
  • A document of historic technical and product selections permits for
    higher context behind thought processes.
  • Write-up of post-mortems of degradation of service. All issues
    are studying alternatives, and documenting the issue and mitigation
    helps keep away from future issues.

Thoughtworks’ Wise Defaults

Over time, Thoughtworks has amassed a set of practices,
patterns, pointers and a set of common good recommendation that has
made us profitable. Localized design-making and autonomy is essential to
Thoughtworks’ tradition, however we needed to offer a “paved highway” for
lateral staff to begin from. This consists of defaults for varied
colleges similar to builders, architects, enterprise analysts, product
managers, program managers, and government stakeholders. Every of those
even have their respective chat, electronic mail teams and communities the place
anybody can ask questions, solicit suggestions, share concepts and problem
the established order.

The event wise defaults embrace a documentation round a
variety of key practices. Some examples embrace

Frequent and steady integration

Take a look at Pushed Improvement (TDD)

Pair growth

Construct safety in

Quick and verified automated construct

Automated deployment pipeline

Early and steady deployment

High quality and debt successfully managed

Construct for manufacturing

Quick Suggestions

Quick suggestions means having the ability to discover out whether or not a change has been
profitable in moments not days. It may be that unit assessments have handed,
or that we have not damaged manufacturing, or {that a} buyer is proud of
what we have constructed.


Repeatability is the arrogance and predictability that comes from
eradicating guide duties that introduce bizarre inconsistencies. We additionally need
to spend time on actions which can be extra vital than troubleshooting
one thing that ought to have simply labored


We would like software program that incorporates no extra complexity than it must do
job. We construct for what we want now, not what we expect may be
coming. However we make decisions that enable our software program to quickly change to
meet the necessities which can be coming.

↑ Deployment Frequency


↓ Lead Time for modifications

↓ Deployment Frequency

We’re releasing this text in installments. The ultimate installment
will have a look at the position of pair programming, private atmosphere setup
and eradicating friction from the onboarding course of..

To search out out once we publish the subsequent installment subscribe to the
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