You’re probably familiar with onboarding when it comes to helping newly hired employees get set up, learn about the company, and get settled into their positions. Interestingly, onboarding a remote consultancy team isn’t all that different. For both, it’s about setting time aside at the beginning of an engagement to make team introductions, agree on things like ways of working and communication tools, and make sure everyone has what they need to get started.
It’s a critical but often overlooked part of establishing the client-partner relationship from the get-go and we’re big advocates of doing it right.
When onboarding a consultancy, there’s a lot of info that needs to be shared and a lot of logistics to be discussed in a relatively short period, so it’s important that you and your team are just as prepared for the start of a project as your partner. The upside? An experienced consultancy should have a pretty well-thought-out, methodical approach to make sure you cover everything. A great partner also should have already gathered a lot of information during the business development phase. Treat those early conversations as a preliminary part of the onboarding process. What you—and your new partner—learned can be documented and translated to the team you’ll be working with directly. That way the official onboarding activities can be about building upon what you’ve already discussed without wasting time repeating yourself.
You can look to your partner to guide all parts of the process — especially if your organization doesn’t have a lot of experience working with external vendors and you’re not familiar with the way things should go. But in the meantime, there are a few things you can do to help seamlessly onboard a remote consultancy. Here, we’re sharing our top three client onboarding tips to make the process as smooth as possible so everyone can hit the ground running in the right direction.
Brief Your Team
To begin, ensure everybody involved with the project at your organization knows about the plans to partner with the consultancy and understands the overarching project goals. This seems like a no-brainer, but when there’s a lot of other work going on internally, there’s always a chance certain individuals or departments may get left out of the loop at the start. That almost always leads to confusion and conflict later — whether it’s trying to reconcile misalignments between marketing and tech, or struggling to get buy-in from a key stakeholder down the road. Getting everybody on your team on board and involved early also helps improve all stages of collaboration. Depending on the project and your internal roles, you might want to delegate who is in charge of what on your side so everyone is clear on their responsibilities.
Along the same lines, talk to your team about how they should work with your remote consultancy. (We feel things work better if they consider the partner as an extension of their own team and treat everyone just like they would another coworker, but that’s ultimately a decision you’ll have to make for yourself.) Communication is key for working together effectively, and when everyone is spread out in different locales it becomes that much more important to align on what tools to use to stay connected. Think about and discuss what works best for your team internally. Your partner should be adaptable to your approach, but can also make recommendations for best practices as needed to improve the remote working experience.
Like we said, there’s a lot of information that needs to be shared at the beginning of a project, and there are likely many documents that go with it. Your partner will probably have a list of specific requests, but you can get a head start by going through your repositories and gathering relevant materials. This includes both project-related technical documents — like existing source code, design files, or brand guidelines — as well as any information about your business that can provide context about your organization, from values and cultural goals to any existing market research or info around user segments or the competitive landscape (if you have it, but don’t worry if you don’t). All of that information helps build a better picture of who you are and helps your partner make the best choices for your project needs.
Once the project officially kicks off, your partner will likely set up shared drives/folders as a central repository for all information that will be used by both teams. Be prepared to grant access to any necessary tools or accounts as well. It’s one of those mundane tasks that seems small, but can quickly become a hassle on both ends (as anyone who’s ever struggled with logging into online accounts knows all too well).
Prepare for Kickoff
The kickoff is the first meeting between the client team and partner team, and it has two main, crucial important purposes. First, it gives everybody a chance to meet each other. Even for remote engagements, we still believe in the value of in-person kickoff meetings if it’s safe to do so. Bringing the teams together in person can help build rapport from the onset to create a trusting remote work relationship. If an in-person meeting is not possible, consider setting up a remote meeting focused on getting to know one another before diving into the work itself. Even if you’re doing introductions via video, it’s good to put faces to names and take the time to start getting to know one another (and never forget that there are real human beings behind every email and Slack message).
The other main purpose of a kickoff is to make sure everyone’s on the same page about everything from project goals and timelines to how and how often you’ll communicate. The consultancy will run the meeting and set the agenda to cover all the major discussion points around the project plan and ways of working, but you might want to take some time ahead of kickoff to put together a list of any lingering questions or concerns from you and your team that you can address during the meeting too. Think about whether there is anything you might need to communicate that you haven’t yet. Maybe you have a multi-layered approval process and need extra time built in for feedback, or maybe one of your team leads is going on maternity leave in the middle of the project and a new person will be temporarily taking over her role — let your partner know so they can factor that information into schedules and planning. From potential blockers to the organizational dynamics and politics surrounding projects, the more you can share with your partner, the more they can support you and help navigate any challenges that arise.
Remember, your partner should guide the onboarding phase and you can lean on them to give you the specifics of what they need from your team, but this little bit of prep work will help get the ball rolling. Then, once kickoff is wrapped, both teams should have the foundation they need to build a productive working relationship from day one.
Be sure to sign up for the DockYard newsletter to get more info about working with a remote consultancy. And if you’re ready to get the ball rolling on your next project, we’d love to hear all about it. Contact DockYard today!
DockYard is a digital product consultancy specializing in production-ready apps that scale wonderfully as companies grow. We offer a range of consulting services with capabilities in product planning, design, user experience (UX), full-stack engineering, and QA. Over the last decade, DockYard has solved complex product challenges for visionary companies like Netflix, Apple, Nasdaq, and Harvard. We’re also dedicated to advancing open-source web development technologies, such as libraries and tooling built around the Elixir programming language. From idea to impact, DockYard empowers ambitious teams to build for the future. Visit us at www.dockyard.com.