Two different, yet beneficial onboarding processes to try in a remote development team
Do you know the concept of onboarding? For us, it’s a process of getting a remote development team adjusted to a new project. We do so by learning about the product, its users, the business. Also, we define how the team will collaborate to develop the best solution.
In this post, we’d like to share the experience of two of our remote development teams that had very different, yet equally effective onboarding experiences:
Based on these experiences, we’ll highlight the main benefits we see in having an onboarding process when getting a software project started with an outsourcing partner.
Staff augmentation projects: get the remote development team up to speed
Our first example happened with a team in Uruguay. A financial company located in New York came to us looking for devs to complement an already vast in-house development team. As a large corporation, its executives rely on different teams for building different apps. As a result, they work with a very diverse group of developers, located either in the company’s headquarters or in different parts of the world.
Although more people may mean more efficiency, it also means that there may be difficulty in making sure every team member knows how the software works and follows the established coding practices. This is what motivated this company to create an induction process focused on training new developers, making sure they have all the tools and knowledge to start.
An onboarding process focused on induction
With this goal in mind, every developer of ours spent two weeks in induction, which included the following activities:
- studying the client’s software and development practices;
- applying them in coding proofs in order to understand the Back End of the application they’d work on.
During the induction, their work was reviewed by the project’s tech lead. He held discussions so the developers could present their impressions and doubts. For our devs, it was great to count on this safe space to experiment, make mistakes and learn from them, always guided by someone from the business who had a lot of experience in the solution and its users.
Why do we think an induction process is important?
For us, having this initial learning process is valuable because developers can answer all of their questions about the app and the code behind it. These are just some of the things we need to know when starting a project to make the most of it:
- the in house team’s development process
- the software architecture and development environment
- details on the technology stack
- management and communication tools
- how user stories are managed and assigned
- how estimation works
Besides the opportunity of learning about the software and work methodology, our developers also highlight this particular onboarding as a great way to build a relationship of trust among the remote development team. The continuous exchange of ideas and experiences made everyone feel more comfortable and excited about working with each other. Another great practice we’ve seen is having a mentor for answering the remote team’s questions at the beginning:
It’s the ideal model, in my opinion. If we all could live this when starting a new project it would be great. While we were fulfilling the project and developing, we had constant feedback for every user story.” (Gustavo Clemente, Web Developer)
In projects like this, in which the goal is to scale or complement an existing team, an onboarding process can be facilitated through different channels and materials (videos, code throughs, presentations, etc).
In other experiences, we also received representatives from the client’s company in our offices. Their goal was to provide in-situ training for the developers joining the team. On other occasions, our developers have also traveled to the client’s HQ for the same reason. By providing an induction process that makes sure everyone in the team is on the same page, the company lessens the developers’ learning curve, resulting in a team that can tackle tasks more easily.
Full product development projects: discover what the roadmap is going to be like
For the Colombian team, the onboarding process was more oriented to understanding the business, the users and the app’s requirements. The final objective was to create a work roadmap for rebuilding the client’s existing platform, an e-learning web app focused on the US healthcare industry and regulations. This migration was necessary in order to update the app’s technology and improve its features.
A Product Discovery process
Our team was the only team working on the relaunch of the app, from defining its technology and look and feel to deployment. When we work on a complete solution such as this, we believe it’s important to have a Product Discovery phase in order to set the grounds and align expectations. Some of the things we discuss in this process are:
- what is the product we want to build
- who is the user, identifying the user profile
- what features we’re going to focus on, prioritizing them
- how the team is going to work together, the process to follow and the working agreements
- what risks could emerge and how does the team plan on mitigating them
- what technology we should use
All of this information was discussed and validated during a two-day touchpoint in our office in Medellin. The schedule of activities they conducted each day was defined by the remote development team, based on their questions and concerns about the project. To do so, every team member had to first study the project. Later, they brainstormed their questions regarding how the engagement would work. Then, they grouped the questions and set different meetings to answer them.
Why do we think it’s important?
Thanks to this onboarding, the team could define agreements on how they would work together, set their expectations for the project, clarify roles and responsibilities, define technologies and tools, and plan the roadmap based on a story map they built along with the client. This material was key for setting a solid backlog and get the first sprints running with clarity and focus.
Overall, it was a great exchange instance for both the team in Colombia, that could learn more about the business and understand the project’s requirements, and also for the client, who left the country with a clear and reassuring picture of where they were heading.
In addition, our developers also became empowered to do things with confidence, following the client’s recommendations. For the client, it was a relief to take tasks off his plate and distribute them to a team that understands what needs to be done. After figuring out the company and the product, it was easier for everyone in the team to propose ideas that make sense for the project and bring value to it. Besides, they became more proactive in putting their ideas on the table. By working together and face to face, the team could do some icebreakers and team building activities that stimulated trust and openness.
It allows us, even today, to know where we’re heading and what are the most important aspects of the product. It works as a guide when prioritizing tasks. Since day one we knew what was mandatory for organizing each one of the sprints.” (Johanna Lozano, Product Owner)
By having clarity and setting the plan together, they avoid the risk of re-doing things and delaying the project. Besides the technical aspects of the project, the experience of getting to know each other and talk about their expectations was valuable. This helped everyone understand how to work together, taking into account one’s strengths and skills for contributing to the project.
Onboarding process: different methods, always a great result
Each remote development team requires a different kind of onboarding process. A startup that is building a brand new product doesn’t have the same needs as a company with thousands of users and an existing software product. You can always use other onboarding experiences as models. However, you’ll most certainly have to adapt them in order to have the discussions you need for your project. It all depends on the product’s maturity, the client’s profile and the project’s goals.
Have you ever had positive onboarding experiences you’d like to share? Let us know! Also, don’t hesitate in contacting us to learn more about how we face new projects with effective onboarding processes.