Foundations of a Brilliant Onboarding Program: Intro & Part 1

Onboarding is basically a series of processes and tasks aimed to help new hires become proficient quickly. Unfortunately, as we all can relate, onboarding programs vary widely in their effectiveness. In a series of posts, I am ecstatic to share my past experiences creating comprehensive onboarding programs!


First, let’s start with some context and background. The main audience for these posts are Support teams in tech companies. Most of my experiences are in designing, updating, and maintaining Support onboarding programs for software development companies. However, some of the content can be applied to any onboarding programs, in any industry, because they are based on traditional adult learning theory concepts.

Series Introduction

In this three-part series, I would like to outline, at a high-level, what I consider to be the three fundamental aspects of a successful onboarding program. They are; organization of the program, technical learning tasks, and procedural learning tasks. In this post, I would like to focus on the organization of the program.  Note, this post will not provide details on task or content creation. The next two post will focus on how to create effective tasks and content.

Organization Introduction

The three components that are vital to a well-organized onboarding program are; a timeline, a checklist, and a new hire portal. Implementing these three key organizational components will improve the new hire experience by magnitudes and help them onboard quicker. Additionally, all three components will help give the new hires; a sense of autonomy, to be self-directed and be goal-oriented, which adheres to Malcolm Knowles adult learning theory.

Organization of Onboarding

The first component of a well-organized onboarding program is a reference timeline. The timeline should be a graphic that includes milestones with minimal text, such as an infographic. Typically, I have used Adobe Illustrator and InDesign to create simple timeline infographics.

I recommend creating a timeline with milestones for the first 3 months. In my experience, Support new hires can integrate into the ticket workflow within the first month. However, ensuring they continue to gain a deep understanding of the product in month two and three is crucial for long-term success.

The first one or two weeks should be more detailed, but after that new hires should have the ability to, somewhat, freely pick and choose which tasks will help them accomplish a milestone. Milestones can generally be seen as the overall goals and task as specific goals. For more information on goal types read my design document example.  

For example:
A milestone could be, “gain access to all accounts needed on a day-to-day basis”.

The second component of a well-organized onboarding program is a checklist. The checklist can be a physical sheet of paper, Excel spreadsheet, Google document, or any similar tool.  It should be organized to coincide with the timeline. The checklist is where you should list the tasks needed to reach a milestone. The checklist should include both technical and procedural tasks.

For example:
Set-up all necessary Customer Support accounts:
      Submit a help desk to get access to Jira.
      Log into Zendesk and update your profile picture.
Learn how to use the Product like a customer:
      Setup five Centos 7 EC2 instances.
      Install the product on the five servers.
      Configure x part of the product.

The third component of a well-organized onboarding program is a new hire portal. The portal can be a Learning Management System (LMS) or whatever internal wiki that is available (Confluence, Jive, etc). One of the biggest advantages of using an LMS is reporting on user progress. However, the cost of a good LMS is often prohibitive for a Support team and a good portal can be created on an internal wiki.

Everything training related should be added to the portal; technical tasks, knowledge checks, procedural documentation, links to other resources, the timeline, and the checklist. I highly recommend that both the timeline and checklist be added to the landing page of the portal.

Finally, these three components; timeline, checklist, and new hire portal, can even be added to existing programs! Also, remember that creating and updating onboarding is an inherently iterative process. My advice is to strive for completion and not perfection.

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