Revamping engineering manager onboarding at Asana
July 25th, 2022
An engineering manager’s success impacts an entire team or group of teams, so setting them up for early success is a high-leverage investment. For most of Asana’s existence, “engineering manager (EM) onboarding” meant attending general engineering onboarding. Their manager would create a custom 30-60-90 day plan and pass on critical information in regular 1:1s. This approach had maximum flexibility since a custom plan was created for each new manager. Still, it required significant effort from each manager of managers (MoMs) and risked creating inconsistent onboarding experiences.
This approach worked well for quite some time since there are fewer new managers, including new hires and internal transfers, so there’s not as much efficiency savings to be gained in streamlining the EM onboarding process as compared with engineering individual contributor onboarding. On top of that, new managers tend to have more unique onboarding needs, and if new hires are infrequent enough, onboarding materials might need to change significantly between hires.
However, at Asana, several factors tipped the scales toward making the investment. First, the pandemic having us all working remotely called for a more deliberate approach to onboarding. Second, we reached an organizational size where a baseline of repeatability and consistency would be valuable to new EMs and MoMs alike. As much as I enjoyed my Asana onboarding in 2019, it didn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvement. So I set out with a team of onboarding genies ✨(because who better to grant onboarding wishes!) to revamp Asana’s engineering manager (EM) onboarding process.
In 2021, we added tools and structure to our EM onboarding to save MoMs’ time, ensure a consistent baseline for EM onboarding experience, and maintain enough flexibility to support EMs onboarding to various team situations. Here’s what that process looked like and learnings from along the way.
Our mission & goals for onboarding
We started our revamping process by aligning our mission and goals for our engineering management onboarding. It is different from general engineering onboarding because there are fewer managers than engineers. It has to be more customizable since the onboarding priorities as a manager can vary widely. We landed on the following:
Accelerate a new Asana EM’s ability to effectively and autonomously support their teams, cultivate connection and belonging in the EM community and with cross-functional partners, and drive engineering culture, values, and purpose.
New managers of all experience levels, both internal transfers and external hires
Goals of EM onboarding:
- Instill our values. EMs embody what we value as an organization. Through who they hire and recognize, managers heavily influence team culture. It’s essential for EMs to understand Asana’s values so that they can live them and spread them. Especially for experienced EMs hired externally, it’s a helpful guidepost for how they might adjust their practices to align with Asana’s values.
- Build community and collaboration. EMs feel connected to and supported by the EM community and partner roles and functions. They develop the relationships they need to drive change, have an impact, and feel a sense of belonging.
- Facilitate team building. EMs are empowered to support their teams. They identify team & individual needs by learning how the team operates and then working to address the most impactful opportunities.
- Enable quality and consistency in management practices. We share Asana’s management best practices with all new managers to ensure a consistent and high-quality employee experience.
- Create immediate business impact. EMs having a business impact is important but not something a general EM onboarding is equipped to do directly. The immediate business needs of an EM are almost wholly unique to that EM’s team and current situation. Our EM onboarding focuses on giving EMs the tools to have a business impact but leaves identifying their focus areas as an exercise to perform with their direct manager (who has all the necessary context).
- Optimize for efficiency. Since EM hires are fewer in number than engineers and have a broader impact, we’re okay having aspects of our process be inefficient or bespoke to achieve a better, more personalized experience. For example, our team of onboarding genies ✨ does personal 1:1 one-month check-ins with every new manager. Turning this into a survey would be more efficient, but it wouldn’t be nearly as effective.
Our engineering manager onboarding
Today, our EM onboarding includes:
- General Asana manager onboarding. Our People team offers a series of Outstanding Manager Bootcamp workshops that cover general people management skills, so we focused on building on the resources for engineering management.
- General engineering technical onboarding. Most EMs complete the same engineering onboarding project as new engineers, getting familiar with our technical stack and development process.
- A customized 30-60-90 day plan. We built a template with all the core EM onboarding materials that was also easily customizable so that MoMs could quickly create a tailored onboarding plan for their newly hired EMs.
- An onboarding mentor village. When Shreyas Jayanna was onboarded to Asana, he joked, “It feels like I have an entire onboarding village helping me.” EMs are not only matched with a technical onboarding mentor, usually an engineer on their team, but a peer EM mentor too. We also select a cultural onboarding mentor for EMs, either an EM from another part of the org or a cross-functional leader who helps orient the EM culturally and build relationships and optionally offer an Employee Resource Group (ERG) mentor. And, of course, EMs are also supported by their direct manager.
- Two EM onboarding cohort programs. We have two cohort programs: one for new hire EMs with prior management experience but are new to Asana and one dedicated to supporting Asana engineers who recently transitioned into management. The new hire EM cohort program organizes groups of newly hired EMs into groups they can socialize with and plans panels and workshops on aspects of Eng Management one might find unique to Asana, including a coffee chat on our engineering values with a member of the leadership team). The new-to-management cohort program includes seven speaker sessions and Q&As with experienced managers.
When putting together materials, we tried to inject joy and delight, not just logistics or checking boxes. For example, they encourage MoMs to “find an early win to celebrate” for their new report or create a care package. We also were rigorous in calling out what was required versus recommended. There is so much material an EM needs to absorb in their first few months; we wanted to focus on the absolute essentials and prevent overwhelm by calling out what a new EM doesn’t need to worry about.
Beyond 1:1s with their direct manager, new EMs found their onboarding mentors and their 30-60-90 day project most crucial to understanding their role. So we’ll dive a bit deeper into how these work at Asana.
Our 30-60-90 Day EM Onboarding Customizable Template
Why use a 30-60-90 day format?
The 30-60-90 day format is well-known and pushes for clear milestones. At the beginning of each section, we have a milestone task where the MoM summarizes their expectations for that month.
Here’s an example of what might be written in the milestone task:
In your first month, you’ll focus on community-building (immediate team + manager peers) and technical onboarding
- Graduate from engineering boot camp, where you’ll do a deep dive into our tech stack and meet engineers from across the company in specially tailored onboarding sessions
- Get support from a dedicated onboarding mentor and learn about our team’s development process and what it’s like to ship features (submit your first PR!)
Don’t worry about:
- Meeting all cross-functional partners
- Reading all the things in all of the tasks in all of your onboarding projects
- Getting your first reports
- Getting up to speed on the team’s process and goals – that will come in month #2
- Learn who to ask for help about what
- Meet with your cross-functional partners: PM, PMM, BizDev
- Join a manager circle and meet other managers within your area and department
Using tracks to organize content
The template is also organized into six tracks with onboarding resources provided for each – the priority of these tracks will depend on the new EM’s particular team and will be organized in the 30-60-90 format by their MoM.
Getting reports: How to handle report transitions, onboarding new hires, kicking off a relationship with a report (doesn’t cover supporting reports – that’s covered in Team Dynamics).
- Learn how to use Focus projects for reporting up
- Your first 1:1s – explaining your role and relationship
- Familiarize yourself with the performance review process at Asana
- Example 1:1 template to use
Team process: Ramping up on existing team processes (e.g., kickoff, retro, active projects, project management in Asana). What are your team’s current goals? What does the team need to be successful in executing its goals?
- Understand the team’s current focus areas and opportunities
Team dynamics: Supporting your reports, reviewing past engagement survey results, past performance review cycle feedback, what are individual interests and current challenges, individual responsibilities (AoRs) and ownership, current team morale, what phase is the team in (mature/on fire/chaos/new).
- Meet your team – best ways of getting to know them and building relationships
- Review your team’s most recent engagement survey results
Community Building: Who are the key people you should get to know (e.g., cross-functional partners, peer EMs, EM mentor)? What are all these eng manager meetings, and what should you expect from each? How do you participate in the various eng manager communication channels (e.g., EM slack, Eng Manager Opportunities project)? Check out this post to read more about how we build a manager community at Asana.
- Join a manager circle
- Meet your people partner
Technical onboarding: Should you participate in a product engineering boot camp? Get a high-level technical overview by talking to your pillar tech lead. Understand when/how/why we write design docs.
- Attend product engineering boot camp
- Do a deep dive on the current technical challenges of the team with your Technical Lead
Recruiting: Hiring for your team and team Asana.
- Sign up for Hiring Manager (HM) interview training
While having more mentors can be helpful, it can also be confusing. To mitigate this, we ensure the responsibilities of each mentor are clear:
- Technical Onboarding Mentor: An engineer (usually on the EM’s team) who helps guide the EM through getting their development environment set up, works with the EM on their first pull request, and any other team-specific technical onboarding.
- EM Onboarding Mentor: A peer EM (cannot be in the reporting chain) who shares eng manager practices and is a sounding board for all things manager onboarding.
- Cultural Ambassador: Sometimes an engineering leader from another part of the org and sometimes a cross-functional leader, a cultural ambassador provides company and functional guidance, as well as being a trusted source for feedback, advice & perspective.
- ERG Community Mentor: Someone within an employee resource group to which the new hire would like to be connected. This mentor introduces the new hire to that community, shares important aspects of how that ERG operates and acts as an early ally.
Since introducing the new EM onboarding, we’ve gotten feedback from over 20 EMs of various experience levels. And overall, our current onboarding process has been quite successful at saving MoMs time (estimated several hours) and accelerating newly hired manager onboarding.
- Make it easy to iterate on the project. We made the template editable to all EMs and welcomed edits and improvements. Multiple folks caught tasks that needed to be updated or were missing useful information and left comments and suggestions that could be quickly adopted.
- Don’t split documentation into “onboarding” and “reference.” Instead, link or reference your EM resources from your onboarding project. Why? Often it’s tempting to write a document that just addresses newly hired managers. But every time we went down this path, we realized we were duplicating or creating a resource that belonged in our manager resources project for all managers. For example, the “how performance reviews work at Asana” is a valuable reference for existing managers and an overview for new hires. If we split the docs, one would inevitably get out of date, and since new hires have access to both docs, they would get confused about whether they should read one or both. Keep it simple and reference your resources from your onboarding project rather than re-creating.
- Invest in onboarding mentor training. Based on feedback, our onboarding mentors were crucial to new hire success. Invest in onboarding mentor training to ensure a consistent and delightful experience.
- If nothing else, add 30-60-90 expectation milestones. Based on feedback, this is the most critical customization an MoM can make to the project. EMs can use these expectations as a guiding light to navigate & prioritize the many onboarding tasks on their plates. To help MoMs with this, we now offer casual consults with EM onboarding genies ✨, experts on our EM onboarding process and can share tips about what has worked well and pair with MoMs on customizing their template.
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