The Agile PM Onboard

Hiring and starting a new job - two sides of the same coin, yet with similar risks and rewards. Can a new employee onboard a new job with a minimum of wasted time, effort, and stress?

Hiring and starting a new job - two sides of the same coin, yet with similar risks and rewards. Can a new employee onboard a new job with a minimum of wasted time, effort, and stress? Can the new employee grow in knowledge, confidence, and reputation in the process?

Last year I joined Metal Toad as an Agile Project Manager. At Metal Toad, Agile PMs are more than scrum masters. Depending on the project, we'll use Scrum, Kanban, or even waterfall project management techniques. Working with a product owner, we're responsible for allocating and leading our self-organizing teams over multiple, simultaneous projects. We maintain multiple business tools and approve client invoices.

There's a lot to learn as a new Agile PM at Metal Toad:

  1. The team, its clients, and their projects
  2. The PM/PO department
  3. The company

Even as an experienced manager, it would have been difficult to know the best order to tackle all this information. That's why my manager created and assigned a 30:60:90 onboarding plan for me. Starting on my first day of work, I had three lists of tasks to accomplish, each within a period of about a month.

In the first month, the theme of my goals was basic yet challenging: "Get onboarded. Get up to speed. Take over PM responsibilities." Following the lists in my 30:60:90 plan, I had 1:1's with my team and the PM/PO department. I got access to and training on all the tools we use at Metal Toad. I owned all of my team's Scrum ceremonies. I read a series of handbooks for my department and the other departments at Metal Toad. I became familiar with our clients by visiting their websites and reading their Statements of Work and reviewing their backlogs. And I became more familiar with Metal Toad by studying its org chart and meeting selected people outside my department in shorter 1:1s. I learned more about Metal Toad culture, hosted a company standup, and sampled from our kegerator. I read Toad Lore.

It was a busy month with a lot to learn and do.
Next month, the theme was more involved: "Take responsibility. Define PM/PO responsibilities. Take work off the product owner's plate." Again, following the 30:60:90 plan, I met with the product owners for my scrum team to define our working relationships using a RACI. I became responsible for both managing the resourcing of my team across its multiple current and upcoming projects and reporting on potential resourcing issues. Working with my team, I made some changes to our daily standup to make them work better with our team's dynamics. I met more people outside my team and attended other teams' scrum ceremonies. Had I not already, I would have joined a couple of local project management Slack channels.

In the final month of my onboarding plan, the theme changed yet again: "Improve client relationship. Improve project management." I fully owned the PM responsibilities for my team. I organized and ran a team offsite where we updated our team working agreement. We improved our team retro so that offsite employees could participate fully. I continued my training on Jira and worked with an intern to document available resources. I worked on the Toad Lore checklist.

I was also responsible for providing feedback on the plan itself. What worked? What didn't? What should be improved for the next Agile PM to onboard at Metal Toad? This last week we met to update the next Agile PM's onboarding plan.

The process is elegant in its simplicity: here are three lists of tasks arranged in themes of increasing knowledge, responsibility, and impact. The result was powerful: Do these things in this order and you will be on track. We don't expect you to be fully up to speed on the first day, the first month, or even the first quarter. But work this plan and you'll get there. It will elevate your understanding, competence, and reputation along the way.

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