By John Throckmorton, MS, SPHR
Many HR professionals have experienced working on a project and struggling to finish the job. This could have been the result of resources that were only available part time, scope that changed after the job was started, or a timeline that was way too ambitious. As HR professionals, we are regularly presented with assignments that need to be completed. These assignments routinely are full projects that need project management strategies applied. Several examples include:
- Annual benefits renewal,
- creating and issuing total compensation statements,
- hiring several new roles for the company,
- developing a new performance management solution, and
- orchestrating the formal company holiday party.
Each of these assignments follow a similar pattern of requiring “definition” of the work to be done, identifying the resources available to complete the tasks, executing the work, and closing the job when complete. These steps normally fall into five phases of a project management:
- Project Initiation
- Project Planning
- Project Execution
- Project Controlling
- Project Closure
With respect to HR project management, these five phases can be defined as the following:
Project Initiation: This is the start of the project and the creation of the initial definition of work to be accomplished.
Project Planning: The scope or definition of the work to be done is turned into a project plan to set out how the work will be done. This is an important phase of the project. The old adage applies that “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”. Without a good plan of how the work will be accomplished, the likelihood of a successful project diminishes. Scope changes, not the right resources, cost overruns, or not having the work complete when it is due are just a few of the results that happen with poor planning.
Project Execution: In this phase, the work that was planned is begun and completed.
Project Controlling: This phase is the monitoring component that goes along with the execution of the work. Regular monitoring allows the project team to make mid-course corrections as necessary to ensure that the project completes as planned.
Project Closure: In final phase, the project is completed and documentation is finalized. For HR professionals, the end of a project many times will result in some maintenance of the resulting work. For example, implementation of the Human Capital Management system results in the HR team managing the data and using the system regularly. In these cases, the documentation plays an important role to ensure the original work is used as designed.
Across all of these phases, a critical aspect is communications. Communications is the glue that allows the team to work collaboratively and for the rest of the organization to remain in sync with the team. When the communication breaks down, the team can fall into disarray with members chasing different goals or management becoming out of sync with the goals of the team. Both can lead to disastrous results. Many times a daily standup is used inside the team to ensure the flow of communication. For outside the team, status updates on a regular schedule tends to be the best method, and can be combined with other methods like status reports, dashboards showing progress/results, and walk up conversations.
To understand these principals in a greater level of detail, we can use an example to illustrate each phase and the corresponding actions. In this example, I will look at creating Total Compensation Statements for a company for the first time.
Under Project Initiation, what is the scope of the project? Where will the data with respect to earnings and deductions be obtained? Can it be exported from the payroll system or does it have to be rekeyed? Can the information be at an aggregate level or line item level? As you can see, in the definition stage, questions abound and each answer can lead to additional questions. The end purpose is to draw a clearly defined outline around the scope to be delivered. Equally important is defining the items that are NOT in scope. For example, in the above situation, confirming the addresses are correct for each employee is out of scope.
With the scope in hand, Project Planning will now flush out the details of the work. This should result in a task list to be accomplished with dependencies between tasks where possible. The nature of the questions will somewhat change, leading to When and How and Who rather than What and Why from the previous phase. Who will extract the data from the payroll system? How will the statement be formatted? Will there be a CEO statement that goes along with the total compensation statement? Will the statements be mailed to the individual homes or hand delivered at the office? How is the data in the statement verified?
During this stage, the dependencies are also identified. The data extract needs to occur before data can be imported into the statements. The format of the statement also has to be defined before the import can occur.
Additionally, during this phase, the resources to accomplish the work are identified and committed. In many HR projects, the unfortunate nature of business is that these resources have other jobs and they are only part time on the project.
With the resources assigned and a task list created, the Project Execution begins. Tasks are assigned to individuals and work is accomplished. Throughout the Project Controlling phase, in parallel, will be tracking progress and looking for issues to be resolved. We all know that issues occur, the trick is identifying them early and taking corrective action quickly.
For HR project management, one issue that regularly impacts timeline and effectiveness of the project is the part time nature of the resources allocated to the jobs. The day to day job of operationally running the business gets in the way of dedicated time to the project, such as: the employee relations issue that has to be resolved, problems with payroll have to be addressed, and resigning employees need to be replaced. Identifying these problems when they happen and resolving them quickly is key to a successful project. Sometimes, getting outside help is the answer; other times it is juggling assignments to others on the team.
Eventually, the project comes to an end and the delivery is complete. At that point, documentation of the end deliverables is necessary for the running of the business. In our example, inevitably, someone will question their Total Compensation Statement six months after the fact and allege that a calculation was wrong. In this situation, you need to be able to reconstruct the data sources and prove that the information was correct or clearly identify what was wrong in order to close off the issue.
In summary, it is important to go through all of the phases in order to manage the expectations of management and successfully deliver the project. As illustrated above, the nature of HR project management is somewhat unique based on the resources that are typically assigned to them. These unique characteristics require a much more vigilant monitoring of the project as it progresses, both the resources as well as the scope.
John Throckmorton, MS, SPHR is the Vice President of Operations at strategic HR inc. (https://strategicHRinc.com). If you have any questions or would like to share your comments, contact John@strategicHRinc.com.