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Does Your Team have a Handbook?

We’ve all heard the phrase, “If you win the Lottery tomorrow, who knows how to do your job?”

The more likely scenario is, “If you were offered a promotion today how soon could you train your replacement?” Does your team have their internal processes documented? Are they complete and up to date? Do they exist in one place or do you have to go looking for separate documents whenever someone new joins your team? If you are the only one in your role, who else knows how to do what you do? Would it be helpful to have a detailed guide or handbook?

Where to begin?

Don’t get overwhelmed. If you can document customer requirements for your development team, you’ve got this! The process is the same. Brainstorm. Start with a list of the first things that come to mind.

  1. Look at the job description for your role.
    • What are the general expectations?
    • What skillsets are required?
  2. Check your calendar for scheduled meetings for the last month.
    • What are the recurring meetings you attend?
    • What are the meetings that you host?
    • What is the purpose of the meetings?
    • Who are the attendees?
    • What is the desired outcome?
  3. Think about time blocks.
    • What do you do every day?
    • What do you do every week?
    • What do you do every iteration or sprint?
    • What do you do every project or release?
  4. Put yourself in the shoes of a new team member who just walked in the door.
    • What are the top ten activities for the role?
    • What activities are completed most often?
    • What is a typical day like?
    • What is the top priority of the day?
  5. Does your methodology dictate specific activities?
    • As you using Waterfall, Agile, Scrum or a proprietary method?
    • Do you use a template for documenting project artifacts?
    • What is the lifecycle of a new requirement or feature?
    • Do you write use cases or user stories?
    • Where are investigation notes stored?
    • How are requirements or stories estimated?
    • What it the approval process?
    • What is the change management process?
    • How is quality control conducted?
    • How does your team track tasks and activities?
    • What tools are used to track the project, roadmap or backlog?
    • What are the other responsibilities of the role?

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I could go on and on. Every question leads to another. When you put it to paper, you will be amazed at how much there is to include.

Once you have an initial list, begin to add detail or bullets under each section. You don’t have to write a complete step by step. Screen shots are not required. As you progress, a logical order may begin to form. It may be chronological, in order of frequency or a bit of both.
Remember this is a living document. It will need to be updated as processes change, and new tools replace old ones. Use your new team members to test its completeness. When they ask a question, it should be an indicator that something needs to be added or clarified.

What’s the best format?

Back in the day, you might have had a notebook on your desk with paper copies of documents that you had been given and the subsequent pages would be added. Today it is more likely a digital copy of a document or even a team page or Wiki on the intranet.
I find it easiest to start with a Word document as my working draft. I can insert sections and change the order as I add additional content. Everything is in one place until it is ready to be published. It also makes it easier to send to another team member for review. When you are ready to transfer it to a wiki or team page it is a quick transition.

Finding the Time

“This all sounds good, but I have real work to do.” Finding the time to work on projects outside the backlog or current project scope can be daunting. This may have to wait until a new position is added to your team. If you have annual goals and objectives for your department, this could be your self-requested goal. Or you could just work on it in small increments when you have a few minutes to spare.

Is it truly necessary?

That is a question for you to decide. From my experience, onboarding a new team member is a project and it is easier when there is a plan. Having a written guideline can provide clarification and provide a starting point for questions. It can keep things from being overlooked and help keep your sanity when you are trying to train someone and still complete your regular work. It can give new and existing employees a good overview of what needs to be done and provide answers when there is no one available to ask. In an organization with employees in several locations, it can keep everyone on the same page.

Give it some thought. I think you will find the benefits outweigh the investment.

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