One of the toughest things that many organizations struggle with in my experience is once you have new talent on your team what do you do with them. And this is also where most technical leads tend to make their biggest mistakes.
Most of the technical leads and architects I know live on borrowed time. We usually have a mountain of work to do and spend our days moving between one assignment go the next. And the last thing we want to do is take time dealing with some junior. It's like we have a little brother following us around.
Now some companies have implemented a training program, and this is the best case scenario. The idea being that before a new talent is given billable work they are put through a training program. These are fantastic because they are usually geared towards teaching the skills you deem immediately necessary. But more than that they give you a chance to gauge the new talents comfort level with the technologies you work with.
I have another blog post in the works that talks about how to build those kind of training programs. But for right now lets look at what do you do if you don't have the benefit of a program.
Like I said before throwing new talent into the deep end especially talent that is fresh out of school is a recipe for disaster. Now before I go further its worth mentioning that this approached should be tailored to the skill level of the new talent. If you are bringing on a senior report writer. Ramp up time can be significantly shorter and the time spent on the learning plan can be almost non existent. And this also all doesn't totally apply when you bring in a sub consultant for a finite project. I'm talking about building team members.
Acclimate them to your project: You will spend more time scolding them and cleaning up messes than you can afford. So the first thing you need to do is get them acclimated to the project. There are a variety of options here. You can provide them with coding standards, requirements documents, database diagrams. I would also strongly consider meeting with the subject matter experts if possible just to help them understand not only the technologies and the work but the context. This context can help to inform decisions they make and their "common sense" about actions they take. Have them sit in on meetings if nothing else to build that context. And take short amounts of time to talk to them and gauge their understanding of the information they are being presented with.
Discuss their skill set: Now that they are hired talk to them about their skill set. Without he pressure of an interview they are more likely to be honest about their strength and weaknesses in greater detail. Make note of the strengths and weaknesses as these will inform the learning plan that these people will be on later.
Give them small self contained work to start. This is not always possible but in my experience its usually a good practice. Give them something meaningful as their first assignment but make sure it is not something that can become a bottleneck. You don't want them to make bad decisions because they are immediately under he gun.
Check in when you can. Like I said before all senior technical leads live on borrowed time. But when you can check in for five minutes and we how things are going. Also take a few minutes here and there to check that everything is going well based on checkins. This lets you double check their work without them feeling like they are under a microscope.
Give them a backup resource for questions. Again not always possible, but if you can early on identify an established senior team member that they can talk to when your not available or busy. This takes the pressure off you, and honestly nothing is going to make them feel worse then bugging you over and over again.
Starting a new team member is hard and given the constraints many of us are under its not always something we can put time into. But its a case of investment, honestly taking that time to build a solid team member means you have a chance to delegate work or even god forbid take a day off and know you have a team that can handle themselves. But to build that you must put in the time and energy to build that in your newly hired talent. In the case of young talent they are a blank slate that you can mold into a masterpiece or a paperweight, its your choice.
For next blog post we're going to talk about a topic no one likes. How to deal with talent that turns out to be bad...breaking up is hard to do.