How to write the perfect 90-day plan

Whether you’re a manager onboarding a new teammate, or a new hire wanting to get your plan together, this guidance is for you.

We all know the feeling of starting a new job. How will you get up to speed quickly? How will you learn everything, meet the right people, and convince those who hired you (and yourself) that you can do this?

There’s no doubt it can seem overwhelming. But we’re here to help. Based on our own onboarding practices, we’ve learned that using a 90-day plan for new hires makes the process of joining a team and understanding your role – as well as team and company culture – smoother and more complete.

What is a 90-day plan?

It’s a framework for planning out how to onboard, to acclimate, and educate new team members. Its purpose is to make sure newbies start off on the right foot, feel welcomed, and get familiar with how the team and the company work. In creating the plan, the most important goal is to make sure that each new team member has a clear understanding of what they’ll be expected to learn and deliver in their first 90 days.

  • Note: We view someone’s first 90 days as a period of learning, discovery, and relationship building. The idea is to make someone feel comfortable, informed, and confident about their ability to contribute. We do not view it as a “probationary period” during which someone must prove themselves or risk reprimand.

At Atlassian, 90-day plans are the main way new hires learn about the company. Each plan is unique to the individual, and it provides a single reference point for resources, support, and clarity. The plans help introduce and foster an environment that supports regular growth conversations with managers, right from the beginning, so that every employee works with a growth mindset, sees a path toward advancement, and knows that learning (and failing), asking questions, and being proactive are all part of a healthy working environment.

Make sure to check out the sample templates – a downloadable pdf and a Trello board – to help you structure your plan. (Use them together, or separately.)

Whatever you do, don’t just wing it. Get a plan together, create milestones, schedule frequent check-ins, and collect and share information freely. With a practice and a method, getting up to speed will be quicker and smoother. Plus, it encourages team and company culture-building from the get-go.

How to write one

Keep in mind that what a good 90-day plan looks like will vary depending on your company, goals, and needs. That said, there are many commonalities to writing an effective 90-day plan. Below are some tips and suggestions. You may find it easiest to download the pdf template and open up the Trello board and reference them as you read along.

Great questions to think about:

  • How can you use this plan to set a new team member up for success?
  • What quick wins can they ship to gain momentum?
  • Who are the key stakeholders?
  • How can they hack the system and make an impact? (New people see things others have become inured to.)
  • What to include in 90-day wrap-up blog or other written summary?

To help someone navigate their plan, we use a buddy system at Atlassian. Buddies help show new teammates the ropes, introduce them to other Atlassians, act as go-to people for the common questions that arise in the first few months, and generally help make the transition smoother. In our plans, we lead off with that introduction.

We also pair new people with someone from their functional division (sometimes the same as your buddy, sometimes different) to help them get started on the team. This person can help with everything needed to make an impact, and recommend tools, explain common work practices and habits, and elaborate on the nitty-gritty about working on the team.

The first 90 days are precious. It’s important to have the right plan, and people, to help guide you through it.

How to organize your 90-day plan

Generally, there are a few organizing principles to focus on. They’re based in time milestones, i.e. Week 1, Day 30, Day 60, Day 90 wrap up, and consistent, frequent check-ins, particularly with your manager. All along the way, you’ll define goals for what you’ll learn and deliver, and when. The power of spelling it all out can’t be overstated. It’s the difference between clarity and confusion, empowerment and ineffectiveness.

Here’s an example. It’s divided by outcome and action items. These are suggestions, so feel free to tailor as you see fit.

P.S. It’s good for your company culture

The practice of a 90-day plan has even more to offer. It isn’t just a task list, it’s the foundation for working together, learning together, and understanding the team and company culture. As mentioned above, at Atlassian we don’t view someone’s first 90 days as a trial period or proving ground.

To the contrary, we encourage an emphasis on knowledge gathering and sharing, and relationship building. Initial tasks, goals, and deliverables should focus on ways to help someone feel more comfortable and confident about the road ahead, not less so. In setting up regular check-ins, encouraging honest feedback (about systems, company habits, points of uncertainty), and allowing for learning (and failing), the groundwork is laid for open communication. This is the bedrock of trust, which should underpin all team and company interactions.

90-day plan template PDF

90-day plan template Trello board

This article first appeared on Atlassian.