Monday, 28 March 2011

New Joiner - Boot them, Board them

Booting up new members... a question that has been hitting for a while now...

Since August 2010, we in Pune have doubled up the size of our development Team.. while it is a good thing for any team and is a sign of upcoming prosperity to the Team and Organization... There is certainly a bigger issue to handle . To ensure that the new Team carries old values, improvises what we have and ensure that the characteristics of the company is not changed and at the same time the new member learns all of this in a much much effective way. If you run through the previous thoughts I have shared here you would certainly know why I feel it is important to have this process handled effectively. Also my previous post on New Joiners on the challenges we have faced in the recent past and the strategies we are trying to adopt to make our new joiners more effective... I take chance to put some efforts writing how we are planning to design our boot camp...

A few key ingredients to success of a boot camp is the fact that who runs the boot camp process.. I believe that the reflection of this runner is what takes the boot camp and the new joiner to succeed in boarding the team correctly... The basic elements of Team building form, norm, storm and perform can really be controlled and managed by this face who runs the boot camp. So while we define the needs of boot camp lets say, we put the prerequisite first, then sum of the process of booting the member to the team.

The biggest hurdle in organizations getting their new joiners boarded and started successfully is the missing role.. Yes you need a Boot manager. That guy who would co-ordinate trainings, sessions, tours and walk through and can also step in and be with the booters to bring them upto speed in right time.

Once you have a boot manager, you can build up a flow to manage your boot camp. Ideally I feel the boot camp should be a 4-5 weeks process. This process should be managed with the help of the most senior team members so that the values and organizational goals and clearly flown in the most significant way.

Here are the key elements a boot camp should hold...

1. Boot mates
Companies that have ability to hire in bulk can definitely afford to do this. Create a boot camp where more than 2-3 new joiners are involved. We have always faced an issue where new joiners join us in split of time and the gap is sometimes between 2 weeks to 5.. of course the challenge for smaller organizations is they never need people in bulk so most of the time the new joiner has no counterpart to learn from.

However an ideal situation, if you have boot mates it helps to understand the process effectively, discuss things within and have a better kick start. We have mostly been unlucky with the bulk joiners except for the trainees who really got a real help of joining together.

2. Culture tour
Most of the new joiners are confused on the cultures of the teams and organizations as there is no likely culture education one gets when he starts. Most of the new joiners learn about the culture with time(Though this is how mentoring happens) I favor a culture tour by someone very senior in the team, if someone like a CXO or head of the team can give a cultural walk through it can help the team member understand the team in the following days more effectively. Ideally a cultural tour should be split into multiple days and people [most of these key executives of the company or team]. If a new joiner doesn't understand a culture, he may not be able to contribute effectively. More less if he is a culture unfit.. it may hurt the team long run.

3. Vision
One of the most confusing factors I found joining previous organizations I worked in was lack of information on vision and strategies. I don't say that they don't exist, but if they don't flow out to the new and old members it causes a sort of confusion and clarity issues from a futuristic perspective. A sight of vision from various teams needs to be given to the boot camp members.. like Product Development road map, Technology road map, Services road map, company vision, local office vision. All of this helps the members to accommodate and build expectations accordingly.

4. Deep dive
Well nothing is more easier than getting a developer look at the code and start fixing bugs. The initial days of the boot camp should be architecture and code walk through to the boot camp members by Sr. Tech architects of the team and the process should involve them to do bug fixing right from development to release of what they have fixed. There is nothing more motivating than to see how your bug fix has made to the production and is helping a few customers on the product even before you get into the mainstream development.

6. Mentor
A new joiner needs to know who is mentoring him. A designated member needs to be definitely a key old member of the team who can help the new joiner get booted sooner and with less issues.

Apart from that there are many things the boot camp can contain, those few I found always helpful are listed down:

1. Get the new joiners trained by only senior members of the team. They are in a state to answer queries and they can guide well.

2. A view of infrastructure, tools , product and production environment should be done both by theory and action.

3. Get them assignments that can let them see how they impact the product even before they get to work in the mainstream teams.

4. Introduce them in steps to the entire organization fraternity, so that they can approach who they need to.

5. Get them a place where there trainings can see real time action. Once we put a new joiner in a war room where we were fixing some critical production issues.. Wont believe he till date has been key in getting most production issues handled by himself.

6. Make them fix bugs that they see, and that means those bugs that they see in the code no letting others to fix them in future.

7. Let them see a list of development items they can work on, so they can choose the best they find for themselves. If you are too small for this, then explain why certain project / module is best for them.

8. Keep the boot camp in work area so people can over hear and learn.

9. Do throw challenges at new joiners and ask them for improvements needed in process, tools and products.. they have a best view when they come from outside and this can definitely let them see those issues that you don't.

10. Let them walk free so they can do different things and ask different questions, let them challenge and get challenged.

11. Most of the new joiners somewhere have a feeling of insecurity when they look the surroundings, work etc in the early days of joining.. have regular meetings with them and address these insecurities. A boot team can get these issues in bulk.. but if not then have it handled together.

12. Always apply the same boot process for everyone in the team. This will ensure that all of them have a similar understanding when they join. the roles they play later can be different after the booting is successful.

13. Offer them to quit after the bootcamp.... I read this in Delivering Happiness by Tony Hseish... after the initial training he would offer the new joiners to pick a sum and quit if they did not like the work or team or company. This ensures that you have the guys who want to be with you and not those who would crib all their lives as they got into you. Earlier they leave better for you.

For all of the 10 you need to plan a few days and small exercises not just on technology but also on different topics so that they can alter themselves to the teams. All these exercises should definitely involve old and semi old team members.