A Look Inside Lohika’s Client Onboarding Process: 100% Remote Onboarding During the COVID-19 Pandemic
I’m a Client Partner at Lohika. I’ve had the pleasure of onboarding many clients, including high-profile technology companies that grew to become household names. In this post, I’ll take you behind the scenes of our approach to team onboarding and show you how we do this remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The onboarding process is the first step in what we call the Lohika Team Extension model.
I experienced the Internet for the first time while in high school. I knew right then and there that I wanted to learn to program and become a software developer. I found AltaVista, a popular search engine that predated Google, and was fascinated to have the world’s information at my fingertips.
I was so determined to learn to code that I formed a computer club at school. As the only female, I coded with my male classmates during lunch and knew precisely what I’d study in college.
After graduation, I worked as a software engineer. Years later, I landed in Silicon Valley and made a career transition. Instead of writing code, I wanted to help companies leverage software engineering teams in distributed environments.
Fast forward to today where I help build amazing engineering teams and lead the onboarding process for many of our high-growth clients. My experience as a software engineer makes me uniquely qualified to help my clients leverage engineering teams all over the world in a fully distributed mode.
Lohika’s onboarding process
The Team Extension model onboards a full team (e.g., five or more engineers). Many of our clients are not accustomed to this arrangement — they’re used to the simpler process of onboarding a single engineer. It’s a challenge to onboard an entire team at once, but we think we’ve perfected it. We’ve made a science out of it.
Getting an entire team onboarded quickly provides early momentum to the project. At the end of the two-week onboarding process, our engineers are producing code. This initial team also provides a great foundation to build on. If we want to add 10-20 more engineers to the project later on, it’s much easier since the groundwork has already been laid.
The preparation before the kickoff
If you follow American football, you know that the game officially starts at the opening kickoff. However, coaches will tell you that the game is often won and lost in the preparation during the prior week.
It’s no different with Lohika onboarding: an effective kickoff depends on a solid two weeks of planning beforehand. We have a set of meetings with our internal champion on the client-side, usually the VP of Engineering. We cover a list of things that need to get done (by both sides) ahead of the kickoff and we assign owners to each item. There are logistical details to sort out, such as hardware and software set-up, the creation of internal system accounts, approval processes and more.
In addition, we communicate onboarding best practices — things we learned perfecting this process over the years. An essential element of this planning phase is that we adapt Lohika’s approach to the client’s processes, tools and ways of working.
We define very clear roles on each side and designate “dance partners.” For example, the client partner on our end has a comparable business contact on the client-side. The Lohika Engineering Manager has a similar contact on the client team side. These lists of names, roles, responsibilities and dance partners are documented on slides within the master onboarding deck.
The kickoff is here!
Here’s what the onboarding process looks like:
There’s a lot of excitement on the first day of the kickoff, as the two teams meet one another. I find the first few days the most critical. We try to get answers to questions like these:
- What is your organizational structure?
- How are the Engineering and Product teams organized?
- What technical processes are in place today?
- What are your business goals for the next 6-12 months?
- What does your product roadmap look like?
Our engagement model depends on a thorough understanding of our client’s business. We want to know how the product we’re building fits into their strategic initiatives. Here are some of the sessions we run with our client during the first three days:
- Introduction and Engineering Organization Overview
- Product Overview/Demo
- Roadmap Overview
- Architecture Overview
- Development Process Overview
- Environment Overview and Set-up
100% remote kickoffs
Historically, the kickoff is a two-week engagement held on-site in the client’s offices. We gave clients the option to have a remote kickoff; however, most opted to have our team on-site in their offices for the two weeks.
Due to the spread of the coronavirus, we recently transitioned all of our kickoffs to 100% remote.
Because you can’t replace elements of the face-to-face experience, there have been adjustments. With a 100% remote kickoff, everything has to be more structured and organized during the preparation phase. We have to forego the ad hoc meetings and water cooler conversations that happen in person and be intentional about getting everything scheduled on participants’ calendars.
Our integration with the client starts with the choice of communication tools. We make extensive use of web meeting software and ask everyone to turn on their webcams. Our go-to choices are Zoom and Hangouts, depending on our client’s communication stack.
We find that having everyone on video makes a big difference. We know that family members and pets might make appearances and that’s fine. We make sure everyone knows that. After all, the presence of kids, dogs, and cats can make the meeting feel more personable, as long as communication is not disrupted.
If any of our sessions require brainstorming, in which a whiteboard or in-person meeting would be useful, we go with the next best thing — online whiteboarding in Zoom or Witeboard. This makes the digitization of produced diagrams easier!
Any documents generated during the kickoff, such as engineering agreements and procedures, are stored in wiki engines that the client uses: Confluence, GitLab Wiki or GitHub markdown files. Relying on the tools that our clients’ teams use ensures that we stay on the same page and do not introduce additional complexity.
Since we miss out on having lunch and dinners together (at least in person), we place a number of virtual hangouts on the schedule. Participants talk about things outside of work, such as favorite hobbies. We had one session in which each participant showed the view outside their window. The scenes included spring in London, wintry weather in Central Europe and mild weather in Northern California.
At the end of the first week, I know the virtual hangouts are working when people are making jokes and the teams are laughing together.
Assessment and wrap-up
At the conclusion of the kickoff, we have a formal review meeting with the client. During the planning process, we jointly established a series of checklists. A key element of this meeting is to review each checklist and confirm that all items have been completed. In most of our client engagements, our team is delivering and checking in code during week two.
Here is a sample checklist:
- Everyone’s role is clear, Lohika has dedicated points of contact and “dance partners” have been identified
- Initial knowledge sharing done (product, architecture, roadmap, process)
- No major delivery bottlenecks identified (e.g., access, code reviews, requirements)
- Goals and success criteria are defined and agreed upon for the foreseeable future
- Backlog is in place for at least one iteration and is clear to the team
- The team can perform a full code delivery cycle within the agreed-upon process
- Regular meetings are scheduled for all activities
- There is a clear understanding of how the team will be working in our Team Extension model
I also evaluate whether we’re getting responses from our client in the expected turnaround time. If we have questions for our client, are they willing or able to provide answers? If we’re blocked due to a client resource, I have an open and frank conversation with our internal champion and work to get things unblocked.
I hope you enjoyed this look into our onboarding process. If you have questions on our processes, feel free to email me: IStetska@lohika.com. Thanks for reading!