How to be confident your HR Tech project is ready for success
Like more than 75% of organisations you may be planning or continuing a shift to cloud HR technology in the next 2 years.
If you’ve been down this path before you’ll know HR tech projects are challenging. If you haven’t, then you’ve no doubt heard the war stories – unexpected workload, overworked project team, insufficient budget, resistance from end users, under-utilised functionality, vendor change orders, missed target dates, budget blowouts… the list goes on.
Not surprisingly, the fear and uncertainty of investing significant time and dollars in an initiative that does not deliver the expected benefits is palpable amongst senior HR professionals.
We’ve been involved in almost 500 HR tech projects over the past 14 years. The key insight we can share with you is that at the foundation of every successful project is a well thought out plan.
At the foundation of every successful project is a well thought out plan
Knowing the questions your stakeholders want answered
Convincing executive stakeholders to back your initiative requires you to be confident in both your approach and ability to demonstrate you’ve done your homework.
You’ll need to be able to navigate and address the following 5 key questions:
- Why do we need it? (Purpose)
- What are we hoping to achieve and by when? (Goals)
- How are we going to do it and what’s the realistic timeline? (Roadmap)
- Who needs to be involved? (Resources)
- How much is it all going to cost? (Total cost)
These may seem obvious and easy but getting to the real answers is not.
Your executives will be looking for you to give them the confidence that you have sufficiently prepared yourself and the organisation to ensure your project is set up for success from the outset.
What does being prepared look like?
Whether you are starting from scratch on a new project or looking to rollout a new module, having a plan in place that addresses the executives concerns is the critical starting point for successfully delivering an HR Technology project.
At a minimum, your plan should cover the following 5 key areas, demonstrating thorough consideration, research, stakeholder collaboration and analysis within each one:
1. Purpose: Articulating the business need
Whilst there are no doubt a raft of HR reasons for the project, you need to uncover what business problems the project will address. The closer these are to what keeps the exec up at night, the better your chance of success!
2. Goals: Gaining clarity about the desired future-state
A clear vision for the future state is key to taking stakeholders along the journey. This should describe what you’ll be able to do in the future, be aligned to the “Purpose” and include relevant measures of success. Importantly, the focus is on business outcomes more than features and functions.
3. Roadmap: Creating a realistic schedule for transition from current-state
Getting the most from HR Tech is in equal parts business process re-engineering, the tech to enable that and the change management required to support it. A detailed schedule based on a thorough understanding of the steps to get from the current-state to the future-state will reveal a realistic timeframe for the project.
4. Resources: Knowing who needs to be involved and when
Does the business have the bandwidth to do this properly? The #1 risk to the successful outcome of the project is the capacity and capability of your resources to participate in the project. Without a plan, you are guaranteed to under-resource the effort required. Drawing on the timing in the ‘Roadmap’, a resource plan will identify the right people, with the right skills at the right time.
5. Total Cost: Accurately estimating the total cost of ownership
The total cost of ownership for HR tech includes not only vendor fees, but costs for the involvement of your resources throughout the expected lifetime of the HR tech. This spans before, during and after the implementation and includes items often missing from these calculations such as process re-engineering, integrations, BAU support, ongoing optimisation and change management. Getting this right and presenting it appropriately is critical to the success of the project.
What capability do you need to help you prepare?
Early identification of the stakeholders within your organisation who can provide the necessary knowledge, experience and business insight is essential for effective preparation. Bringing their expertise into the process from the outset will ensure thorough consideration is given to all aspects of your HR technology project, and any risks, gaps and concerns can be addressed.
While the breadth and depth of capability required may vary within organisations and depend on the complexity of the project, we believe having a blend of these key players on board to help you prepare will be key to success.
HR Domain expertise
A common mistake is expecting current HR resources to contribute to and even manage the project whilst continuing to do their day job. The most effective approach is to backfill your HR team with additional support so your experienced HR professionals can focus a fixed amount of time every week to the project.
Business stakeholder (customer / end user)
Early engagement of business stakeholders is critical. Obviously you’ll want their input to the design and selection of the solution, but perhaps more importantly you’ll have a lot more success with the roll-out if everyone knows what’s coming and the business problems it’s going to address. Without them and their perspective, the project will be seen as an HR initiative for HR’s benefit.
The single most important person to get onto the team is the project sponsor. The more senior the better. We often hear that the project would not be considered important enough to get a member of the Executive or Senior Leadership Team. If it is positioned as an HR software project then that may be true. However, if the purpose of the project is positioned to address key business problems then you will have a different outcome.
An effective HR tech project will deliver change across many aspects of the business including processes, services provided, structure, roles as well as the technology. Maximising user adoption is a key determinant of overall project success. Having a change manager committed (at least part time) to the project from the very beginning will go a long way to helping achieve this. They will then remain engaged throughout the selection and implementation and all the way until the solution has become embedded within the business (this can be a significant time after go live).
Cloud tech implementations are very different to the traditional on-premise software projects around which most IT departments’ standards and project methodologies have evolved. Whilst we are seeing this adapt to the more agile nature of the cloud, the default approach can be unnecessarily unwieldy. IT need to be engaged and early on, but their role should be to provide support to the project, not drive it. HR needs to be the custodian of the project and accountable for the successful delivery of it.
Project Managers can be very costly resources. The most effective PM’s have relevant HR tech experience, ideally with the solution you are implementing. For both reasons we recommend these resources are engaged around the time you have identified the preferred vendor.
Cloud HR tech expertise
Software systems are like plumbing – the inner workings are generally out of sight, but when they don’t function properly, it’s a messy business. To make matters worse, vendors are rapidly evolving, differentiating their products and creating a lot of confusion. They also won’t tell you all you need to know. For example, the effort required to resource the project adequately – so it is a case of buyer beware!
From project inception to successfully embedding the selected solution will take at least a year. In most cases it will take much longer. A project of this type is not dissimilar to building a house. You can select a builder without first engaging an architect, but you’re introducing a lot of risk and the end result will most likely not live up to your vision. A cloud HR tech expert will be your architect.
Super User (we prefer the term System Analyst)
Whilst the software vendors provide technical support (e.g. in response to specific requests) you will need to provide resources to administer and manage the system with a focus on increasing the utilisation over time. Often poorly described as System Administrators (the role involves a lot more than admin), this role requires domain expertise across HR as well as technical aptitude with the selected system.
Typically, we recommend someone from within the HR team who has a solid understanding on and credibility with the business as well as a passion for technology. Ideally this resource should be identified as the System Analyst at the beginning of the project and be involved throughout the implementation.
Creating a working group made up of these 8 key stakeholders at the outset can be a very effective approach. This group can then evolve into the governance structure for the project implementation and potentially beyond.
For more detailed information on HR tech project capabilities and the specific tasks and roles of key players please see our recent article 8 Capabilities you need on your HR Tech Project.