If you’re like other software engineering leaders, you’ve got a list of your top two to three priorities, and that to-do list seems never ending!
Your day is filled with meetings. Meeting to cover your engineering team’s performance, meetings to talk about hiring, meetings to talk about organizational design, meetings to sort out how best to solve irritating but time-consuming problems engineers experience, and even more meetings after that. We talk with dozens of CTOs, VPEs, and engineering operations leaders weekly, and each week we hear the same challenges. The good news is we’ve got a surefire way to turn those challenges into opportunity!
While we’re not the gambling type, we’re pretty confident in betting your top engineering team priorities are:
How right are we? Hopefully we’ve nailed at least one! We also bet that technical onboarding ranks down around priority five or six. Let’s be frank: onboarding isn’t any engineering leader’s top priority — and that’s okay. Why should it be?
You’re thinking about things like recruiting and hiring — in perhaps the most expensive and competitive talent market we’ve seen in years, how to retain your great team members — in the same aforementioned job market, and how to get the best performance and product from your team.
There are three big reasons you likely have for not putting technical onboarding higher on your list; you probably don’t realize these excuses are limiting your ability to solve your top priorities. Let’s have a look.
Reason #1: “I don’t have time and it sounds like more work”
Onboarding might seem like more work, what with getting managers on the same page, keeping documentation up to date, and getting new hires to commit decent code in a reasonable period of time. Know what’s more work than that? Not having a program to manage the cycle. Unfortunately, the number one reason you’re not hitting your bigger priorities for your engineering team is that in trying to avoid more work, your onboarding program isn’t working for you. Take a look to see why:
Reason #2: “I haven’t hired the person to manage the program yet”
Okay, so not having a structured onboarding program is not great, but how do you even get there? Well, you hire someone, right? Wrong! So many leaders think that by putting in a requisition for a program manager or engineering operations manager they will instantly solve all the problems. Sadly, it doesn’t really work out that way - at least not for a long time.
We know a ton of amazing EngOps and program managers, they have brilliant ability to bring order and scale to an engineering organization. However, it takes even the best program managers months to ramp up and then months more to design and implement an onboarding program. And you’re hiring a ton… right now. So by the time your ops hire is up to speed themselves, you’ll have watched half a year pass and all those hires you’re working on now won’t be able to benefit from an excellent technical onboarding. That could - and likely will - lead to unwarranted turnover when your new hires find themselves ill-equipped to acclimate to your team’s technical peculiarities and culture.
Reason #3: “I want to look at the tools I already have”
You’ve got Confluence. Maybe Coda. Maybe Notion. Maybe all three? Just kidding… but seriously, some engineering organizations have more than a handful of knowledge tools, not to mention the performance management tools, the ticketing tools, the survey tools… it can get out of hand. It makes sense why you’d want to consolidate tooling; what’s not to love about a shorter IT list and multi-functional tools? The issue is that none of these tools were built to solve for any of your top priorities, much less onboarding. If you really want to see efficiency in your engineering team, you’ve got to pair a problem with the right solution - and the right tool. Trust us, you can’t put a true, results-driven technical onboarding program in place with tools like Confluence or even Trello - we’ve tried. It’ll take you longer to bend those tools to your will than it will to use a tool that’s tailor-made for the problem. Why make more work for yourself and build an unsustainable solution to boot?
Implementing an onboarding solution can have real and measurable impact on your top priorities: hiring, performance, and retention. Bringing on that solution doesn’t have to be time-consuming, painful, or expensive, but avoiding solving the problem will be all three of those things (we don’t have to tell you how expensive turnover is!)