How to Have a Successful HR System Implementation

You were born to succeed, but to meet your potential, you must plan to succeed, prepare to succeed, and expect to succeed.

Where Are We?

Right now, you may be at one of many stages of implementation:

  • “We are live!”
  • “My company is mid-implementation.”
  • “We are ready to get started.”
  • “We are thinking about dipping our toes in the water. Maybe.”

We tend to think of project preparation as a pre-cursor to a project. This is true, but it is more than that. We should be constantly evaluating and preparing for the next steps, next phase, next rollout, next module.

This post examines key factors for a successful HR system implementation: the project team, success criteria, the Project Management Triangle, and a few additional tidbits.


1.  Forming the Band - The Project Team

A key initial step in any project is forming the project team. The right people with balanced strengths is essential. If your project is already underway and your team is missing some of the following people – add them!

The Band Members

Your team should include the following members:

  • ○ Business owners and stakeholders
  • ○ A representative from management and/or a steering committee executive should be actively involved. They provide direction, motivation, and a commitment to change.
  • ○ A colleague(s) from your IT group, if possible. There will be some technical considerations, even if you use a cloud solution (e.g., Single Sign On, integration with Active Directory).
  • ○ A project manager
  • ○ Local champions (increased user adoption rates)
  • ○ External help, as needed (system implementers, trainers, project manager, QA resource)

Table 1 shows examples of team members (project teams will vary based on the size and scope of your project).

Customer Team Implementation Team
Steering committee/stakeholders Project director/sponsor
Project manager Project manager
Business leads Solution architect(s)
Generalists/specialists Implementation consultants
Information technology resources Technical resources
Change management/training lead Additional resources, as required

Table 1: Examples of Team Members

Once you form the band, determine how each member will be involved, and inform managers that time for the project will be needed.


2.  Determining the Definition of Success

"What Do We Want? Success! When Do We Want It? Now!"

Team members will approach the project with different perspectives. When we achieve success, we know that this phase or portion of the project is complete.

Team members will likely have different definitions of what constitutes success:

  • ○ Project manager – On time, on budget, scope has been met.
  • ○ Business user – My pain points have been solved.
  • ○ Executive sponsor – Processes have been automated, and there is a clear trend towards a positive ROI.

In order to be able to label a project as successful, the team needs to meet and determine their mutual definition of success. This includes setting a realistic scope – what will be achieved during this engagement.

When determining your definition of success remember to:

  • ○ Consider needs, wants, current state, and future vision.
  • ○ Factor in your timeline, budget, and team member time commitments.
  • ○ Be realistic.
  • ○ Use phases, if needed.


3.  The Project Management Triangle

The three key criteria for any successful project are to set an appropriate scope, determine a budget, and stick to an acceptable timeline. These three criteria form what is termed the Project Management Triangle (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Project Management Triangle

About 50% of projects are not completed on time or within budget. Planning and project management make a difference.


A.  Setting the Scope and Sticking to It

Determining the project scope is an absolute requirement. Team members need to know what they’re working on and towards. Tasks cannot be assigned and direction cannot be given until this step is complete. The scope includes the minimum deliverable(s) and also defines boundaries so that the workload does not become unmanageable in the time given and budget allocated.

Factors to consider when determining scope:

  • ○ project objectives (success criteria)
  • ○ phased approach
  • ○ work/tasks
  • ○ competing efforts
  • ○ resources
  • ○ budget
  • ○ timeline
Tips for Scope
  • ○ Take baby steps. Don’t be afraid to have phases with small, manageable objectives in each phase.
  • ○ Adopt best practices, where possible. Get the biggest bang for your buck and take advantage of automation and optimization.
  • ○ Limit customizations to what is essential. This will help save time and money. Plan additional customizations and “nice to haves” for upcoming phases.
  • ○ Be proactive with scope creep. Acknowledge that everything cannot be accomplished in the first pass. Work towards achieving your team’s definition of success, and don’t add to the definition of success. Changing the scope will impact the timeline and budget. Plan for a follow up activity/phase to account for additional items.

B.  Timeline

SMART objectives are always time bound. Timelines are easy to identify when there is an identified business driver that is time dependent. Short timelines should translate to a smaller, more contained scope and/or a phased approach. The definition of success may be adjusted accordingly.

When there is not a time sensitive business driver, determining a timeline can be trickier. In this case, project teams typically look at how much time is needed to complete critical tasks and achieve the team’s definition of success.

Coming up with a project timeline is not an easy task. It can be very difficult to estimate how long certain tasks will take. A good timeline is broken into manageable chunks or stages and contains major milestones, estimated time of completion, and start/end dates for major items.

Tips for Timeline
  • ○ Beat the rush. Identify periods of high business activity and try to avoid scheduling major project activities during this time. For example, try to avoid scheduling parallel payroll testing during open enrollment. Sometimes this cannot be avoided (payroll go-live at the beginning of the year coincides with year-end closeout activities).
  • ○ Plan ahead. Include major business time commitments on your project plan.
  • ○ Account for resources. Identify contingency points and allot enough time for activity based on resource planning. This means you must do resource planning

C.  Budget

At the end of the day, a project budget will be determined by its scope and timeline. If your budget falls short, then scope and timeline need to be adjusted. This should all be planned and agreed upon prior to the start of the project. Failure to do so causes delays and unhappy leadership. A good implementation partner should be able to help you determine an initial budget and then fine tune numbers once the scope and timeline have been set.

Factors to consider when setting a budget:

  • ○ Include breakouts for software, hardware, implementation, and support. If you’re using a cloud solution, then hardware costs can factor out and software will typically be priced as a monthly subscription.
  • ○ Update fees, if applicable.
  • ○ Data extraction or reporting add-ons
  • ○ Is the solution modular? Are you paying for more than what you need? Can you add new modules on as you need them and not have to pay for them upfront?
  • ○ Training
Tips for Budget
  • ○ Don’t increase the scope.
  • ○ Work to avoid project delays.
  • ○ Manage expectations from the beginning (the team’s definition of success).
  • ○ Ensure that outside resources are working on relevant tasks.
  • ○ Mitigate changes that have cross functional impact. Be aware that changes may have a downstream effect.


4.  Project Management Tools

Find a project methodology that will work for your engagement type and team and stick with it. Iterative approaches are becoming more and more popular because team members get hands-on access to the system in early phases and stay engaged.

Receive and send regular status reports to keep the team up-to-date and allow team members to identify possible delays or issues. Hold regular update meetings with the team to keep them focused on the project and encourage project engagement.

Plan for contingencies. Something will happen. Include time buffers in your timeline whenever possible, and have pre-determined backup plans for scenarios where buffers are not possible.


5.  Project Activities for Success

Working Towards Success

Spend time at the onset of your project determining whether the engagement will be a big bang approach or a phased rollout. This includes both the user perspective and the functionality perspective. Which populations will use the new system first? Can we do everyone at once? Does all planned functionality need to be available as of day one? Identify constraints (budget, resource availability, user adoption, data conversion, training, magnitude of scope).

◘ Data Alignment

Data alignment should be carefully considered during the course of the project. The data must reside in our new system if we are going to be the source of data for other systems. Manual intervention or entry is always possible but not always the best solution.

We must spend time determining the data requirements of our downstream systems. If a demographics file for a benefits provider requires a differentiation between an executive and a non-executive, then we must plan to store this indicator in our new system.

We must also map out the field characteristics of our downstream systems. One system may require a four character code while another requires the use of their own pre-delivered one character code.

◘ Data Migration

Data migration should be discussed as a factor of project success (i.e., at the beginning). Does historical data need to be migrated to the new system? Less is more—don’t put junk in your new system. Determine if the exercise of converting historical data is worth the time and effort:

  • ○ Is it even accurate?
  • ○ Where is our employee data?
  • ○ Who owns it?
  • ○ How can we get extracts?
  • ○ Is it clean and current?
◘ Testing

Testing should be performed by different groups including business owners and, if possible, by end users (small pilot). You should plan to have a separate system instance for development/testing and production. Major transformations may need a third environment (development, quality, production), especially if parallel pay testing needs to be executed.

Testing is also an excellent method of training. The execution of test scripts walks users through the process.

◘ Communication

Corporate communication should be an ongoing activity because it assists with change management, gets employees excited about the benefits of the new system, and reinforces the message from local champions.

◘ Training

Training activities should not be left to the end of the project. Good training increases user adoption (likely a success criterion).

Have a training plan defined. Hands-on training is always most effective but isn’t possible in all scenarios. Explore alternative options such as webinars, recordings, and printed materials. Make a quick reference guide (QRG) available to end users.

Identify all populations of users who need training:

  • ○ system administrators
  • ○ HR users
  • ○ managers
  • ○ employees
◘ Support

Don’t forget about post go-live support. Three types of support need to be considered:

  • ○ Everyday end user support—Who will handle this in-house? What method of communication will you use (ticketing system, email, hotline)?
  • ○ HR user and system admin support—Who do your power users contact when they need assistance?
  • ○ Hardware support—Who will perform maintenance and updates when needed? Who can handle emergencies and fixes?


Final Tips

  • ○ Make sure your team includes business owners, an executive stakeholder, and local champions. Include global colleagues if the scope is global.
  • ○ Get creative with your company communications. You may need to sell the new system.
  • ○ Do not skimp on training activities. User adoption is critical.
  • ○ Keep up with the project plan and hold team members accountable.
  • ○ Bring in outside assistance when needed.
  • ○ Begin the project insisting on a set scope, timeline, and budget and reiterate constantly. Set expectations up front.



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