David Caulfield

A Checklist to Onboard to a New Project

I wrote previously about lessons I wish I knew when onboarding to a new project. Using the information in that post (plus some more lessons I've learned along the way), here is a useful checklist to use when onboarding to a new project.

Questions for the Team to Answer

Question Details
What are you building? Name of product List of use cases in the product
What are your responsibilities? Your team will be asked to deliver code soon. Make sure you know what is expected from you and your team.
Who is your team's main stakeholders? Create a list of important names and emails.
Which companies are your team’s main customers? Write out the main customers you will interact with.
Who can you reach out to for support? Your manager will have organised people to support you as you onboard. Who are they and how do you contact them?
What’s the release process? What does the release cycle look like? Is it daily/weekly/quarterly? What’s the biggest stress during a release?

Tips for the Team

Tip Detail
Don’t watch videos, start writing code Once you understand the overview of the project, you need to take control of what knowledge sessions you are given. Unless the knowledge sessions show you how to get your tasks done, they are a waste of time. A good rule is 20% knowledge sessions, 80% building something.
Define your goals from day 1 Don’t wait to be told what to do. The team should list their goals on Day 1 and start creating a backlog (if one does not already exist).
Start brainstorming improvements As you get to know the project, make improvement suggestions to the team. Point out problems. Follow up “I can’t believe they did it like that!“ with “Here’s how we could improve it“

Questions for the Team Lead to ask

Note: Team lead can refer to Scrum Master, Manager or technical lead.

Task Details
Who are your main stakeholders? List down the people you need to contact frequently. Project managers, Product owners, other Scrum Masters…
What meetings do you need to attend? Scrum of scrums, release planning…
Create a group chat with your team and the mentors. Your manager will have organised mentors to help your team onboard to the project. Create a group with them and put your team into it so they can ask questions as they arise.
Schedule a weekly retro This is a chaotic time. Your team needs to feel in control and feel like they are making progress. Weekly retros for 15-30 minutes will highlight any frustrations the team are having and get them solved quickly
Help your team put a backlog in place Your team need goals and tasks to do immediately so that they don’t feel lost. Don’t let your team be tempted to say “We’ll create a backlog after these few weeks of knowledge sessions“. If your team are not completing backlog items, they are not truly learning and wasting their time.

Tips for the Team Lead

Tip Detail
Don’t let your team commit to work they cannot achieve Deadlines are likely already set for your team. Push back against any pre-defined deadlines until your team are happy to commit to them. You don’t want to be responsible for somebody else’s deadlines!
#noKnowledgeSessions When a company onboards lots of new teams, they are tempted to organise ‘Knowledge sessions’ for every part of the project. THESE ARE A WASTE OF TIME!! Do not let your teams waste their time in knowledge sessions that talk about abstract information that nobody uses. Any knowledge session should be focused on getting a particular task done. A good rule of thumb is 20% knowledge session, 80% practice.
Be the calm in the chaos Teams come under a lot of pressure when starting a new project. Don’t forget to stay calm as a leader. If you get frustrated, your team will get frustrated!

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