35 steps to heaven

It’s Baz again, and you may have noticed, I love designing systems that make things run more efficiently. And the side-effect of this is it saves time and money too. And who doesn’t love that?

So, the other day I was designing a system for a possible new client. It was an HR system, dealing with new staff members, holiday requests, disciplinary procedures – all pretty standard stuff. But they wanted it to follow their exact process, not switch themselves around to meet some other piece of software.

But this got me thinking. I have new starters myself. I have a process for it.

I sat down and thought about what I do. And I realised I had 35 steps to follow every time we get a new person starting here. 35 steps!

Even worse, I don’t have them written down in one place, the notes were scattered all over the place. So I probably wasn’t doing all of them. And when I was doing them, I was probably doing them badly.

The whole process starts with me creating a document to record their contact details (and their timezone, because I work with people across the globe). I store this in a particular folder in my system.

Once that’s in there, I need to go and add them to various other systems – we have a chat room, timesheets, secure code vaults, various servers.

And then I need to schedule their performance reviews – I like to find out how they’re getting on – at 2 weeks, 4 weeks, 12 weeks, 26 weeks and after a year.

Plus, I send them a series of emails, 9 in total, one each day. This explains our 12 stage software development process – our specifications, how to estimate some work, how best to organise your code, what to look for when reviewing someone else’s code – and much more.

35 steps. That I need to remember to do. And then actually do on the right day.

So instead, I added some magic. A bit of automation that monitors that folder. Whenever a new document is added in there, it figures out the new starter’s name and email address from the document, then adds them to those other systems, schedules appointments for their performance reviews, sends out the welcome emails, one each day. Consistently. And with no further effort on my part.

2 minutes of work, in typing up the document and saving it in the right place. And I don’t have to worry about the staff process for the next 52 weeks.