PM Guest Article September 2020

Virtual Onboarding: Experience during Pandemic

Priti Anukampa

Priti has 20 years of Industry experience in the IT consulting space. She has worked with various companies in her career providing CRM consulting to a wide range of Clients ranging in the sectors from Public services to Pharmaceuticals and Health care.  As a practice leader she was also instrumental in setting up and grooming the SAP CRM practice in previous companies. Now she is playing delivery management role and leads big programs

Recently we onboarded a big team for a project right in the middle of the Corona crisis. These are Unique times, yes the new normal.

” Well begun is half done”, goes the saying. This means that it is critical to pay attention to the project from the very beginning. We had specific checks built in to ensure that things are smooth in the virtual world.

This article illustrates how the team moved through the following stages of the  “Onboarding” cycle  as depicted in the diagram below :

Identifying the Team:

The team was a mixture of Internal colleague and External sub-contractor. The approach to identify both was different.

For the external colleague: Finalize a panel with knowledge of the “asks of the project- technology and functional areas”.  Have multiple selection rounds with different maturity level of panels  -Generic technical skills and Aptitude ; In-depth and specific to project needs.

This approach helped us in the following ways :

  • Allowed us to work through our constrained panel availability
  • Focused to identify members who had niche skills needed by the project clearly.
  • Helped in identifying floating resources pool
  • Worked as a key input to team formation – with a background of resource skill level.

 

Internal Staffing: It is recommended to align with organization process

Learning 1 : While working for internal staffing publish the following to the resource managers :

  • Job description for each role eg. “architect”, “development lead” , “developer”
  • A proposed organizational chart indicating which positions were vacant and which were filled positions. This chart was maintained as a living document until all the resource asks were fulfilled.

 

This helped with

  • Identifying internal resources with desired skill.
  • Leveraging past experience from colleagues who had previously worked together and delivered.

 

Learning 2 : Big team setup needs close monitoring and follow-up. A team readiness update was published and presented to the leadership to get desired attention and even influence interactions when necessary.

Fostering a sense of Teamwork:

We had the following initiatives to ensure the team had a common purpose.

Pre-onboarding calls : In a virtual world we had to go the extra mile to ensure all the colleagues had the necessary infrastructure to attend a virtual onboarding. We formed small groups and made calls to confirm. This is more intensive than just booking a physical room!

Learning 3 :

  • along with solving the infrastructure issues it also allowed us to connect with new external colleagues; make them comfortable for elaborate virtual sessions. Ice-breaking sessions helped familiarize people.
  • We set the expectation on virtual meeting etiquette and organizations cultural ethos during the pre-onboarding calls.
  • The onboarding session was initiated with a “teaser session” where the big picture of the project was presented and the Project mission reinforced.
  • We managed to get a slot in the leadership open house address. This ensured that the project was given necessary recognition and importance.

 

Setting up the team structure was the next challenging task in the virtual world. In the real world we had the luxury of using all the five senses to get a good impression of people, situation, and reactions. In a virtual world, all this becomes more controlled and guarded. There’s a need for a lot more communication with the team members to break the barriers and move the team from forming to performing phase.

This was done using 1:1 discussion with key members to establish the following

  • Role definition, responsibilities
  • Answer “What is in it for ME” question so that it tiies their success goals to project goals and thus achieve synergy.

 

In the non-virtual world such 1:1 discussions could be informal and personal over a cup of coffee. It was easier to identify cues of acceptance or rejection of the ideas presented and negotiate accordingly. In the virtual world this discussion was always formal – leaving little room for error, negotiation and negation!

Enable team:

  • Know the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Recognizing good behavior becomes as important as recognition for achievements in a virtual mode
  • Identify gaps in performance and set a level playing field.
  • Team members were paired up to take advantage of differently skilled resources. We created “stable delivery units” for different chunks of output. At the team level it acted as an excellent lever to hedge risks by providing confidence and mentorship to juniors members and the satisfaction of enablement to the seniors.

 

Monitor :

The virtual scrums allowed us to catch risks early and replan. Establishing the team is the beginning of the journey.

“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford


Thank you Namita

Namita has been one of the long-term volunteers and editorial members for several years. Several processes that we use even today were initiated by her. As she moves on to greater challenges, the team will surely miss her for her ideas and her contribution. The team would like to thank Namita for playing  multiple roles from being a scribe to editor of the PM Essence. We wish her all the best as the Discipled Agile champion for Bangalore chapter.