The Onboarding Canvas is a tool that can be used for onboarding a new team member. We derived this tool from Spotify’s adaptation of the Toyota Kata. I like this tool because no one can tell you precisely how your onboarding should be like in order for you to be effective at your new job. This is a tool for continuous reflection and adaptation. It puts the new comer in the driver’s seat, makes the onboarding process agile through continuous collaboration with your team.

Four quadrants

The onboarding canvas has four quadrants:

  1. Now: It defines where the team is now, what is going on and how is the new team member adapting to the change?
  2. Definition of awesome: With the addition of the new team member, how would the team like itself to be? What would be awesome for the new team member?
  3. Next target: In order to move towards “Definition of awesome” what outcomes should be achieved in the next x weeks?
  4. Next steps: What are the immediate next steps for the team and when are they due?

Onboarding Canvas

Using the Onboarding Canvas

Collaborate with the new team member to fill the onboarding canvas and iterate regularly.

In your first session, brainstorm on the Now and the Definition of Awesome. Use post its or whiteboard to gather ideas. Group ideas together into themes if themes emerge. Have a lively discussion and get excited about new possibilities that have opened up as a result of someone new joining the team!

Onboarding Canvas: Now and Definition of Awesome

Meet the whole team again in few days, and together identify the outcomes that should be achieved within the next few weeks – this is your Next Target. The Next Target has a due date, that is usually few weeks or a month later.

Using Next Target as the basis, derive the Next Steps. Each next step may have an owner and a due date that is before the next target.

Onboarding Canvas: Next Target and Next Steps

Meet regularly to revise the canvas. The whole team should be present for reviewing the progress. A good rule of thumb is to review progress every two weeks to begin with and tweak the frequency as needed.

Revisit the Now and Definition of Awesome when things have changed significantly and you have seen progress. Practice iterating with the team! Without practice, this is of no use. Iterating on the onboarding canvas is like planning and retrospective combined together. While iterating, think about what has been going well, and what needs to change. Continue until you and the team feel the canvas is providing you value. Although the number of iterations depends on your situation and needs, I suggest using the canvas for six months with reducing frequency of iterations over the period.

Note that no two canvases are alike. Everyone arrives with their own experiences, needs, skills and interests. Furthermore the environment is always changing and the demands of the environment change with it. The onboarding canvas easily adapts to the dynamic nature of our organizations. It is agile: The canvas continuously evolves, improves and delivers what is important to its users quickly and incrementally. It is collaborative, and it is easy to understand. It makes onboarding fun and creates trust between the team members.


The team can stop iterating on the canvas when the new team member and the team both agree that the onboarding is complete. The team should find itself closer to realizing its Definition of Awesome than when they started. The Definition of Awesome should have also undergone changes during this period.

What else is there to it?

If the simplicity of this tool interests you in digging deeper, you will see that this tool can be used not just for onboarding but in general for making simple improvements! For onboarding, I recommend using this tool as part of Alongboarding, a method that makes the onboarding experience wholesome and agile. If you are interested in exploring even further, refer to the Toyota Kata. That will definitely spur more ideas.


This is just one way to use the onboarding canvas, improvise it anyway you like! The bottom line is that in order to get the most from it, your approach should be collaborative, iterative and incremental. Make sure to include the whole team, including the new team member, in the dialog.

Credits and References

Alongboarding, an agile onboarding approach

alongboardingAlongboarding: We’re in it together!

Organizations hire new people every day. A great first impression can make a tremendous difference in retaining employees. No one gets a second chance to make a great first impression, not even the best companies. An onboarding experience is an essential part of making that first impression on a new employee. Agile has been around for many years and has gained vast acceptance throughout the community. Yet, I find it disappointing that its tenets are not used well in most companies and most onboarding approaches follow a waterfall approach. 

Alongboarding is an agile onboarding approach that applies agile tenets to onboarding new employees and makes the experience richer and more fulfilling.

When I joined AppFolio as an agile coach, I experienced this approach during my onboarding. It felt like the team owned my success as much as I owned the team’s success. It was a welcome change from some of my earlier experiences where employee onboarding was a formality, or a wasted expense, or just a checklist, or nothing.

What’s in it for me?

If you are joining a new company

Are you joining a new company or stepping out of school for your first job? Are you overwhelmed with too many questions on what the future might hold? Questions such as: How will you be treated? What will be your responsibilities? How will you prove yourself? Will the people you work with be cordial and supportive? How will your manager treat you? How flexible will your new role be? etc. etc. Depending on your situation, you may have different needs. It is not uncommon to feel vulnerable, somewhat scared or even have questions about your ability to adapt to this big change. Wouldn’t it be helpful if your new company or team had an approach to onboarding to take care of your needs?

If someone new is joining your team

Do you have someone new joining your team? It is a big change for you too, especially since most agile teams are small. You will soon be spending a lot of time with this person solving problems, hopefully while having fun. If you have a healthy environment, the success and happiness of the new team member is tied to your success, closely. This is regardless of whether the new team member is your peer, your manager, or someone who reports to you.

Ready? Get set!

Get real

Are you ready to welcome a new team member into the fold? The first step really is the realization that the new job will be a huge change for the new person and your team. Without this realization, no amount of work you put in will ever help you be as effective as you possibly can.

Prepare for the first day and week

A great first day and week of work not only sets a positive tone for the new employee’s new journey but also forms a foundation for great relationships with colleagues. My experience suggests that we can remember our first day at our new workplace for a very very long time. Below are some preparatory actions that may be useful to help prepare for that awesome experience. It is recommended that the list is collaboratively prepared by the entire team.

  1. First day list: Before welcoming a new employee, make a list of things they will be doing on their first day. The list may include and may not be limited to:
    1. When and where they will arrive, who will greet them. Will they be treated to a nice breakfast, a smoothie or may be something else – a small, nice, welcoming gesture?
    2. What documents should they bring if any, and who needs them and why?
    3. When will they be introduced to the team?
    4. When will they meet their manager?
    5. Who will they go have lunch with. Can the manager or team take them out for lunch on their first day?
    6. Who else will they meet on their first day and at what time?
    7. How and when will they get their equipment, their access to company systems, and their seat?
    8. Will they pair with someone during their first few weeks to learn the ropes?
    9. Will there be any training involved?
  2. One week in advance, inform the new team member about the plan for their first day. When he/she is aware that you’ve been planning their first day, it alleviates stress and gives a feeling of belonging to something larger and intentional.
  3. Prepare an initial checklist. It is not an exhaustive list of everything they will need to do. It is just something to get them going and give them a head start – into a path of discovery. In Alongboarding, they will own the checklist and drive it from the get go.
  4. In the checklist include meeting everyone who the new team member will collaborate with. Add other stakeholders, and support team members – who they need to know in order to be effective at their work.
  5. Inform everyone on the list and get them excited about the new team member. Tell them about the new team member, just enough to spark curiosity.


When the new team member joins, execute your first day plan. Have a fun introduction with the team and management. Make the new team member comfortable.

Over the next few days, introduce them to the department or the company (depending on the size of the company). Introduce them to the initial checklist you prepared. Let them know it is for them to just get started and use as an initial tool, and the team is ready to help.

The onboarding canvas tool

After few days and within the first couple of weeks, introduce the new team member to a collaborative tool such as the onboarding canvas. The onboarding canvas is derived from Spotify’s adaptation of the Toyota Kata

Onboarding Canvas

Using the Onboarding Canvas

Collaborate with the new team member to fill the onboarding canvas and iterate regularly with new team member. I suggest that iterating every two weeks to begin with. Based on the experience and the needs of the new employee, tweak the frequency of iteration. Iterate more frequently if there are lots of things to discover, or slower if there are fewer. Being agile, try to break things down into smaller chunks in order to obtain frequent feedback. This really helps when getting started!

It is interesting to see how the roles of the new team member and the old team members evolve during this process.  For example, while the old team members continue to play a vital role, they transition from being drivers to being supporters and consultants. The new team member quickly hops on to the driver’s seat, knowing well that there will be support and guidance when needed.

Read Make onboarding fun with Onboarding Canvas! for more details on using the onboarding canvas.


Alongboarding is complete when the new team member and the team both agree that it has been done to a sufficient degree. When that happens, the team should find itself closer and stronger compared to when they started. Although the duration and number of iterations depends on your situation and needs, one way of using the canvas is to use it for six months, gradually reducing frequency of iterations over the period.


Alongboarding is about making the partnership between the new employee and the team “real”.

It makes it easier for both the team and the new employee to adapt to the changes and understand each other better. The Onboarding Canvas is a nice tool that can be used to promote conversation and discovery. Alongboarding in combination with the Onboarding Canvas makes the whole onboarding experience agile. The experience continuously evolves, improves and delivers what is important to its users quickly and incrementally. It is collaborative, and is easy to understand. It makes onboarding fun and builds trust amongst the team members.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts and learning about how it goes for you when you try it!


Credits and References

Have you been in daily stand-up meetings that were not well run? Believe me you are not alone if you can visualize a bunch of headless chickens in your head when you attend a badly run daily stand-up. So what can you do to improve the daily stand-up, other than pressing the reset button (which you should consider)?

Here is my list of top tips to energize and strengthen a Scrum team’s daily stand-up meeting. Some of these are general rules that apply to all meetings and others are specific to stand-ups:

  1. Actively find and remove impediments – Many team members think meetings are a waste of time. Usually, this is because they find doing their own work more meaningful and meetings take them away. If they do not understand what’s in it for them, team members are likely to be less attentive. One way to change that is by showing results. If you are the Scrum master, strike short conversations to help identify the impediments. Ask the team what is impeding their progress, who can help remove the impediments and when. By helping to identify (and thereby remove) impediments, your team is guaranteed to improve its performance and gain more confidence.
  2. Clarify purpose and rules, but keep it informal – It is hard for team members to be attentive and participate when they don’t know what the meeting is really about. I urge you to beyond asking the team members to answer the three questions of a daily stand-up – I urge to let them know how important it is to sync up and ask each other for help and provide help. If your stand-ups are mechanical and just revolve around Scrum master collecting status updates from each individual, clearly your team does not understand why they need to attend the stand-up.
  3. A short daily stand-up – Here is another extreme that some teams might wind up into. In their love and passion to talk, they ignore the 15 minute boundary of the stand-up and forget that it is a short sync point in a day, where everyone is getting visibility and highlighting impediments and asking/offering help. A stand-up is not an endless chat, and extensive discussions should happen elsewhere.
  4. Keep chairs away – Do you have a stand-up in your work area or in a meeting room, where every one has to come in and find a chair? Do you have a stand-up standing up or sitting down? All of this makes a difference. Standing up helps people to get back to work and keep conversations short. Getting in a room to have a stand-up means more time lost in getting into and finding a chair in the room.
  5. All pigs must attend – What happens when a team member does not join the stand-up? The team as a whole loses visibility into the progress and challenges of that team member. The team member loses the ability to ask for help of the whole team. The team member also loses the opportunity to help other team members who are facing difficult tasks.
  6. Ensure remote participants get value – Special handling is required for remote participants. Since they are remote, this is their time to get a direct sense of what is happening. Remote attendees are likely to use an online collaboration tool such as GoToMeeting or Skype. Ensure that their audio and video (if you use camera) works. If there are problems, that can derail the entire meeting. When there are problems ensure they are addressed promptly and prevented from occurring again in later meetings.
  7. Ensure new team members get up to speed fast – Often new team members may join the team. While new team members bring in new knowledge, they could also lag behind in their understanding of how the team operates. While most new team members learn to adapt, it can be harder for some and at times disruptive. Assuming your stand-ups are running well, pay special attention to needs of new team members and identify what they bring to the party. Consider if they need training. Make an effort to prepare them to participate in the stand-ups and you will usually be fine.
  8. Use physical or virtual boards – I have noticed that teams that review a stand-up board with a sprint backlog get better visibility on progress. Personally I prefer that the board with physical – with real stickies and real wall. This encourages collaborative nature of the stand-up and allows anyone to move around the stickies. Sometimes that is not possible – For example when a team member is remote. In that case, using a tool like JIRA, VersionOne, Rally etc. is an alternative.
  9. Supplement with solver sessions – This can be tricky and can take a good amount of skill. In order to keep the meeting short and keep the team focused, the Scrum master may be tempted to shut down the conversation. At the same time, the conversation may be really important for the team to get on the same page. You may have to choose what to do depending on the conversation. Intervene when necessary and help setting up solver sessions to go into details of the issue that requires a deep dive.
  10. Inform in advance (if you miss, but miss rarely) – At times there are situations when team members can’t avoid skipping a stand-up. There is no good solution to this. In such situations, I recommend working with the team on how they can inform each other about their daily updates and plans, in advance if possible.


I hope some of these tips will help teams run better daily stand-up meetings. As always, I am interested in learning more. So if you have other tips to share, I would love to hear about them – leave a comment! And I will inspect and adapt.

You may also be interested in:

“Today should always be better than yesterday” – mother of Gabby Douglas, the first African American to win individual all-around gold and the first American to win gold in both the individual all-around and team competitions in gymnastics.

A retrospective provides the opportunity for teams to get together and tweak “something” so they can achieve better results than before. Teams use retrospectives for joint learning, making a decision, choosing an action or strengthening a common bond. In Scrum, retrospectives are held at the end of each sprint. Kanban is non-prescriptive about retrospectives, but most kanban teams end up doing retrospectives at a regular interval or as-needed basis.

Some teams resist the retrospectives and lose them entirely. Why does that happen and what is the impact? Well that’s another article for later.

Here we look at the positive, and how agile teams use retrospectives to their advantage. This list is just a small subset of many possibilities on what agile teams can do in a retrospective!

10 valuable lessons for agile retrospectives

  1. Discover team strengths, weaknesses and opportunities: Retrospectives help team members discover what the team is doing well and where it can make improvements.
  2. Raise the bar on team performance: Based on the strengths and weaknesses, agile teams inspect and adapt. They either improves their performance or helps them adjust to new situations and stay on course.
  3. Review data, important trends: Scrum Masters and other team members may collect important data and trends and review with the team during the retrospective. The data can be a generic trend or related to a specific issue that the team would like to resolve or anything else relevant to the team. Looking at the data together usually produces new insights for all team members. It helps finding better ways to resolve the problem.
  4. Prioritize problems that the team must address: Teams usually identify multiple issues and areas of attention during the retrospective and then they narrow down to the most important ones for them to solve.
  5. Solve difficult problems: Sometimes teams may already know of a problem that must be solved. In retrospectives, teams may deploy various problem solving techniques, such as root cause analysis or five whys, or even discussing the results of an A3 process together.
  6. Ask for organizational and leadership support: Depending on the organization, some problems may be beyond the team’s sphere of influence. By prioritizing and discussing possible solutions, the teams can make a case for change that would impact them positively.
  7. Cheer, appreciate, express gratitude: Retrospective can be a forum to celebrate success on completion of a hard initiative, or a specific activity that the team undertook. Teams can utilize retrospectives to bond together and appreciate each others’ strengths and contributions and thank each other for critical help in completing or making progress towards a goal.
  8. Support each other: A healthy team harnesses and extends ideas from its members. Retrospectives are an opportunity to strengthen some of the beliefs and the ideas that team members want to adopt. In that process team members support each other and make progress on what they think is important.
  9. Challenge each other: Not only are the retrospectives meant for supporting ideas, they are also meant for challenging ideas. Challenging ideas helps the team narrow down to one or few ideas that the team wants to try.
  10. Experiment: Teams, Scrum Masters and facilitators can and should experiment with how they conduct retrospectives. They can vary the format, agenda and results they want from the retrospective. They may also just use the retrospective to have a conversation to make changes that are needed.

Lastly, even if you are a Scrum team, please do not wait for a sprint-end retrospective to have a conversation with your team about important issues that you need to solve.


Agile managers need to be different
I keep running into situations where managers, with all their good intentions, either misinterpret, ignore or fail to understand certain agile concepts due to various reasons. Shortcuts provide them immediate relief the long term pain typically aggravates. This impacts not just the outcomes, but also the team and the managers in ways that are usually not positive.

Are you a manager? This is for you…

  1. Start right, because if you don’t you will put the entire project or initiative in jeopardy. Managing expectations is the key. If your voice is not being heard by higher ups, do not be a weakling and get help. It could be someone with more influence or with more experience or perhaps a mentor or a coach. Ask yourself – who can help you make a convincing argument and even argue on your behalf? Engaging higher ups is not sufficient. Get your team to appreciate why starting right is in their own interest. Ally with the team.
  2. Adapt or Die. If you don’t learn from mistakes you will find it hard to survive. This is applicable for you not just as an individual but also for your team. Those who do not learn from their mistakes and from each other, keep running fire-drills. If using Scrum, lack of learning will manifest itself as smells and Scrum-butts. You might even give up parts of Scrum, abandon it altogether, or start using your own “easy-Kanban” method without applying WIP limits or even visualizing their workflow. Are you a leader of such a team or teams? Why do you think this is happening?
  3. Be transparent. At times there may seem to be a tendency and perhaps even an incentive not to be transparent about your project and team. There could be many reasons for this situation, organization-created or self-created or just fabricated from fear. When you look into the reasons, think about what is best for you, best for your team, best for your organization and best for the customer – ideally, all the four should have the same answer. If not, dive deeper and ask why is there a difference? Can you do something? If can’t do anything about it, are you and your at the right place doing the right job?
  4. Promote collaboration, simplicity and excellence. Agile principles talk about collaboration, simplicity and emphasize technical excellence. The reason is that there is usually nothing more powerful than collaborating to deliver successful outcomes along with technical excellence, that motivates a strong development team. As a manager you carry a ton of influence and responsibility to make this happen.
  5. Deliver customer value and team happiness. You have demonstrated your success as a manager when your team is delivering functionality that makes customers happy, it is building in quality into the product, and is proud of its accomplishments. Process may be useful but it is not the goal.

Good luck!