Leadership Stories

Onboarding and Reducing Churn with Kelly Wu of PolicyGenius

Clubhouse

Illustration by Michele Rosenthal

As the latest crop of startups helps demystify so many previously daunting processes, the companies that bring that newfound ease and convenience to their users are experiencing meteoric growth. This is an exciting time for those businesses — but it also comes with its own challenges, needing to be managed by skilled product and engineering teams that build, develop, and maintain the technical systems.

PolicyGenius Engineering Manager Kelly Wu is one such intrepid hero in this space, and I recently chatted with her about their unique approach to scaling up and staying on track. Read on for her tips and tricks for managing a growing team, onboarding, and more.

Keep up with your growing team

Employee onboarding presents a daunting challenge for a fast-growing company. New hires need to be welcomed onto the team, trained on processes and workflows, and brought up to speed as quickly as possible.

Making employee onboarding easier is actually one reason Kelly and the PolicyGenius team switched to Clubhouse. Their previous project management tool didn’t have customizable stages for tasks, so they had to modify the existing framework to work with their workflow. And even with those tweaks, it still didn’t quite work.

“Having to translate the inconsistencies between our process and the old project management tool when onboarding someone was one extra thing to do, on top of all the other onboarding work. This wasn’t something we felt like should be part of the onboarding process. We needed a better tool.”

Having to translate the inconsistencies between our process and the old project management tool when onboarding someone was one extra thing to do, on top of all the other onboarding work. This wasn’t something we felt like should be part of the onboarding process. We needed a better tool.Kelly Wu, Engineering Manager at PolicyGenius

Being able to create custom states or add new ones and match those custom states to their team’s actual workflow made it much easier to set new people up on the team. That, in turn, has taken work off of Kelly’s plate, so she can focus on higher-leverage areas.

Onboarding your new team members effectively is crucial from a productivity standpoint — it often takes eight months for a hire to be up to full productivity, sometimes longer. But it’s also crucial from an employee retention standpoint. One study found that, on average, companies lose 17% of their new hires in the first three months. In other words, getting your new hires up to speed and engaged in their work shouldn’t go on the backburner, especially if you’re adding a lot of new hires at once.

Even if your current project management tool works for your team, look at other places in your onboarding flow that are confusing too new hires. Where are you using tools that don’t fit any more, instead of tools you can customize to your wants and needs?

Reduce churn with kickoffs

When asked what else she does that improves productivity at PolicyGenius, Kelly says that story kickoffs have helped the team a lot. A story kickoff is a meeting or discussion that can be as simple or complex as needed, prior to starting development on the story, to clarify the goals and objectives of the story. Here’s how it works at Policy Genius:

“When an engineer is ready to start working on a feature, they’ll hold story kickoff. The story kickoff involves an engineer, a product person, and a designer, and they all get together to make sure they’re all on the same page on what to do.”

“Likewise, when they’re done developing the story, they’ll do the same thing. All three get together and go over what was built and make sure it has the desired function and features, based on the pre-determined acceptance criteria.”

This might sound like a lot of overhead, and Kelly even admits that it can be hard to get people from different teams together at the right time. But, she says, “what it really improves on is churn.”

Without this, there can be miscommunication on what a specific feature was supposed to do, or the intricacies of the desired design. The result of those seemingly tiny miscommunications is that a developer will go off at the end and spend three or four days developing something, only to realize at the very end that it’s off the mark.

In other words:

"Having one kickoff conversation at the beginning could have changed the course of the whole development cycle."

If you can relate to Kelly’s struggles — your team is growing and you need a flexible tool to match your workflow — make sure to check out Clubouse!