One of the perks of being a consultant is that we get to work with many different teams. During my first tenure at 8th Light, from 2010 to 2013 (I left 8th Light in 2013 for a New York-based startup, and later reunited with 8th Light at our branch office in NY), I provided studio or consulting services to 10 clients. On average, I was switching teams every three to four months.
I have also been on the other side of the fence. As an engineering manager of a fast-paced startup, I oversaw a dozen software developers joining the engineering team, and provided orientation for new staff in other departments in the company.
Below is a checklist I compiled based on the lessons I learned from my successes and failures.
Get a buddy or mentor
Many companies provide a buddy program for new hires on their first weeks. This is a good opportunity to get introductions and learn your surroundings. At 8th Light, we practice pair programming, where we pair up programmers to collaborate on tasks. I find this technique also helps us assimilate into a new team when we pair one of our own with one of the developers from the client's team. By working together, we absorb their tribal knowledge, or any unwritten information, much more quickly.
Bring your tools
We are most effective when we have the right tools for the job. Bring your best tools to the project: save your keyboard shortcuts and plugins to boost your productivity from day one. If the project requires specialized tools, ask the team what they recommend to use.
Process and workflow
Before we can start contributing, we should be familiar with the process and workflow. Ask your project manager or team lead to walk you through how to pick up a task, gather requirements, and deliver. If you are on a cross-functional team, make sure you know when and how to communicate your progress to the appropriate party, such as product manager, designer, or tester, at each touchpoint.
Modern workplaces utilize a wide array of applications for productivity—ranging from project management, product roadmapping, reporting and analytics, teleconferencing, and so on. These applications are key to communication. You are lucky if your team has a single sign-on solution that can grant you access to all the applications instantly. If not, do not be shy to ask for access to everything you need to do your job.
Product managers are not the only ones who need to know the product and its user base: we should also understand the circumstances that form the basis for our project’s reason to exist. In addition to learning the product, invest time in studying the system and its various components. I have two general approaches to learning a new system—you can either go deep or wide. As a consultant, my rule of thumb is that if I know the engagement is going to be relatively short, focus on digging deeper in one area to complete my project; conversely, take the time to gain a shallower but broader understanding of the system if the engagement is going to last longer.
Onboarding can be a costly process. Depending on your job function and how organized the HR team is, it can take weeks or even months until you are fully integrated. Like many of my colleagues in the consulting business, I pride myself on my ability to pick up new projects quickly and eliminate as much onboarding cost as possible for our clients. After all, our clients are paying us to solve a problem, not to get comfortable in their office.
On the other hand, we all want to jump on a new project and start contributing right away. However, we should take care to learn from each other, bring our best tools, be respectful of the existing process and workflow, find the best applications to communicate our needs and progress with our team, and make an investment in learning the product and organization culture.
Onboarding can be costly, however, a little preparation will go a long way to ensure your long term success.