Reducing Onboarding Time
Having a mentor, team interaction, and well-planned tasks help reduce ramp-up time.
This week I read Ramp-up Journey of New Hires: Tug of War of Aids and Impediments by Ayushi Rastogi, Suresh Thummalapenta, Thomas Zimmermann, Nachiappan Nagappan, and Jacek Czerwonka. This study looked to identify the factors that help or inhibit the time it takes to onboard a developer onto a team.
My summary of the paper
Reducing the time it takes for a new hire to become productive matters in any environment, whether a company is growing quickly or not. However, there isn’t a standard for how long this process should take — in some companies it can take weeks, others months, for a developer at a specific job level to get up to speed. This study sought to identify practices that can help reduce that time, as well as understand impediments that slow the process down.
This was a large-scale and Microsoft-based study that used mixed data analysis, including data from activity sources as well as surveys. Researchers used activity sources to measure the time it took from “first check-in” to being fully ramped-up, meaning when the developer reaches the median level of coding contributions as existing employees. Surveys were used to understand what factors supported or undermined the developers’ attempts to contribute code, and what could have been done to reduce the ramp-up time. (The study included participants in job levels ranging from fresh university graduates to more senior developers.)
Here’s what the study found:
Factors that influence time to first check-in
Researchers asked new hires (with varying years of experience) about the effect of a set of factors on the time to first check-in. The set of factors were based on themes that emerged from previous interviews.
Table 3 shows the the impact of the factors on a scale from “Strong Increase” (these slow the time it takes to onboard a developer) to “Strong Decrease” (practices for a faster ramp-up journey).
The columns from P1 to P7 show how the responses differ for separate product groups at Microsoft. One observation is that not all teams are as heavily influenced by the same factors.
In Table 3 we can see that a lack of proper documentation increases the time to first check-in. Additionally, getting access and permissions, working on code with dependencies, and working on legacy code all moderately increase the time to first check-in for the majority of the groups in the survey. It is also noteworthy that, for the majority of the groups, joining a team near a product release has no effect on the time to first check-in.
The following additional themes were found to also influence time to first check-in:
Mentorship: “Software developers stressed the importance of having a manager, mentor or lead, to talk to, during the initial days. They said that mentors can assist new hires in getting unstuck and make early first check-ins. Also, software developers who were not assigned mentors experienced that absence of mentor resulted in significant loss of time.”
Documentation: “Software developers feel that lack of detailed documentation of products and processes strongly increase the time to first check-in. To add to, the documents are stored at different places, in different formats, and some documentation are out of date.”
Process: “Software developers feel that engineering processes need some improvement. They believe that the use of standard components, for which documentations and manuals are available widely, will help reduce the time to first check-in.”
Access and Permissions: “New hires feel that it takes some time to figure out the desired access and permissions. They suggest that it will be helpful to associate access and permissions with the team and not the individuals.”
System setup: “Software developers say that they spend a considerable amount of time to set-up environment and configurations, which can be improved.”
Factors that reduce ramp-up time
New hires were also asked about the effect of a set of factors on the time to ramp-up. In Table 5, we can see that prior knowledge of programming languages, programming environment, and tools help decrease the ramp-up time. Additionally, proactively asking questions, prior familiarity with the process, and having a mentor decrease the time to ramp-up.
The following practices were also found to influence the time to ramp-up:
Team Interaction: “New hires say that verbal communications in team and pair programming are the most effective ways to ramp-up. They find that spending more time with the manager and the team during first 1-2 months is helpful. They add, that recently ramped-up employees reduce the ramp-up time of new employees the most.”
Training: “Software developers say that training programs like boot camp, etc. are very helpful.”
Overview of the system: “Software developers say that well-chosen starting tasks that gives a complete overview of the system helps reduce the ramp-up time.”
This study gives weight to the ideas that mentorship, team interaction, and well-planned early tasks help developers ramp-up — and that poor documentation and poor system setup slow developers’ ability to get started. For teams looking for ways to improve efficiency, this paper provides some clear action items for managers to clear bottlenecks in the onboarding process.
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