Friday, November 18, 2016

Forget Onboarding, do Alongboarding!

Alongboarding, an agile onboarding approach

Alongboarding: 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 are tied to your success and happiness, 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 maybe 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 session 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 the 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 onto 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 the number of iterations that you choose depend on your situation and needs, one way of using the canvas is to use it for six months, gradually reducing the 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

1 comment:

  1. Great article, Rahul! Alongboarding is a unique approach to new-hire orientation that I had never considered. There is so much information thrown at new employees, and I feel like the advice you provided adequately outlined a successful approach to integrating a new worker into the company (we’ve all been the newbie and know how overwhelming and scary it can be). And you’re right - you only get one shot for a good first impression and considering many new employees know within the first week if they are going to stay with the company or not, makes that impression all the more important. I found it interesting that you set aside time to really prepare what the first day would look like and I appreciated that you took careful consideration while measuring out what that day might look like and what impression you want the company to make. I also think that selecting the appropriate new employee onboarding software is also crucial too if your program will succeed and be effective or not. You nailed it at the end of your article when you said alongboarding is about making someone genuinely feel part of the team. That connection does indeed need to feel real to foster trust among team members. Good read - thanks!


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