The On-Boarding Conundrum

We are all humans and as such we like doing things “our way”.

This means that if you have been a tester on a number of different teams, or if you are an experienced test manager, you surely have gotten used to a “way to do things”.

Hey!  This is not to say your way is wrong ;-), but you should always keep an open mind regardless if you are the new hired help or if are the one who hired the new help.

This question was mentioned in a past blog post regarding the issue of new testers to the profession.   And in this follow up post I want to address the on-boarding of new employees or test team members that come with experience.

I got thinking about this topic while carpooling to the office this week, when two of the people in the car started to talk about how new team members are welcomed differently into an organization, depending on whether this company is Big vs. Small.

Big vs. Small

On-boarding testing calendarOne of the guys in my carpool, let’s call him Charlie, works for a large organization with thousands of employees, and the other one, say Samantha works for a small company (up to 15 or so).

Charlie was going on and on about the organized on-boarding training he received, and complimented his company on how well structured it was.

Samantha on the other hand said the “on-boarding” she received took a couple of hours on her first day and that was it, she was thrown into the deep end and expected to swim by herself (a classic case of startup-float-or-sink?).

Now, you may say to yourself, well obviously the large company has the time and the resources to properly induct Charlie while Samantha’s company can’t afford to “waste” time on stuff like training.  However based on what she said in the car, here she is over six months in and still “learning on the job” :-).

There is no One-Perfect-Way

I know that by now you are already thinking that there is good way and a bad way of getting someone on board.  And that “the other way” is wrong because of this and that…

But you know what?  You would be making the most common and human mistake in the book.  You are judging something based on your own and limited experience!

Here’s the deal, in my career I’ve been in the shoes of both Charlie and Samantha.  To be sincere, I’ve even been in the shoes of both Charlie’s and Samantha’s hiring managers…  And so the annoying truth is that there is no One-Perfect-Way of on-boarding someone with experience on a new job.

As annoying as it sounds, it really depends on too many things in order to even come up with a rule of thumb on the subject.

On the one hand, it is pretty nice to have a standardized and structured program that each new employee should go over that will teach them everything she needs to know in order to be productive in our company.  But on the other hand this is very hard and expensive to create and so only the big organizations tend to have such a process.

Even more, some organizations that embrace and even welcome the advantages of organized chaos, tend to reject this approach altogether as they think it erodes the effect of provided by the experience and knowledge of the person joining the team!!

Look, Listen and Learn (& Teach!)

OK, as always I think the truth stands somewhere in between.  Yes, you need to provide some sort of mapping of the situation to your new worker, enough information that will help him or her understand where they are, what are the constraints of the environment they will need to function and create, and which are the most important challenges facing the team and the organization.

You may even choose to add to the list some references to the history of the organization or the team so that they learn about the events that may have created pathways or even scars that they will need to consider – but this part is optional 🙂

The most important part is to encourage a culture where you foment and encourage the following basic aspects, and as you will see they are even more important during the initial stages of your worker’s time in your company.

  1. Observe – If you are a newly hired tester or test manager you need to keep an open mind.  Start by looking around and observing everything from coffee break habits to workspace arrangements. This will be the best way to start fitting into the “native workplace culture”.
  2. Absorb – If you are a new test team manager set up personal meetings with the current team members, even short “getting to know you” ones.  Make sure to ask them how they are used to doing things, what work practices the have found to be most efficient, and which ones have failed. Try to learn from their mistakes.If you are the new tester on the team, consider asking these questions during your orientation period if they are not regarded, you will be perceived as eager to learn and contribute.
  3. Adapt – You most likely will be learning as you go, so make sure to ask your colleagues when something isn’t clear, while accepting that you will make mistakes on your way to success.
  4. Teach – After settling in, if you think there is something that can be improved make a suggestion and try to apply it. Eventually the way everyone works with you will become the new “way to do things”.

On-boarding testing

What was your most recent on-boarding experience like?
If you have any advice for experienced “new comers” to a job you are welcome to comment and share your knowledge.



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3 Responses to The On-Boarding Conundrum

  1. James Thomas December 7, 2015 at 8:03 pm #


    I wrote about on-boarding from the new hire’s perspective recently at


  2. Joel Montvelisky December 9, 2015 at 7:59 am #

    Pretty good article James!

    I liked the analogies that make it really easy to follow (and smile while reading it). I especially liked the fruit one, since I believe paring helps everyone involved to learn more and get to know the strong points of the other person working with you.

    In my case, I will keep away of the cake one, don’t want to burn anyones kitchen 🙂




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