A step-by-step guide to managing an HRMS implementation
“There’s no such thing as too much planning.” Who knows if that’s literally true but it’s a good principle to work from because it slows you down and makes you think about what you’re doing. And if you’re a project manager with little or no experience of HR and HR technology, then when you’re tasked with implementing the organization’s new HRMS, slowing down to plan is a wise move.
When you first decided to implement an HRMS, you probably had a lot of objectives, and you want to ensure your project meets all those goals. Keep these in mind as you plan your project, if your main goal was to improve efficiency, like most other business' according to recent HR software research, then this goal should be factored into every stage of your planning.
The HRMS implementation process can also be divided into any number of stages but for the sake of simplicity (and this article) let’s say there are nine and take a brief look at where your focus should be in each one:
1. Planning your HRMS implementation
Involving key stakeholders is a must when it comes to planning, and especially if you’re managing the project without in-depth HR knowledge. So, who to talk to? The C-suite have the overall responsibility and will be looking for a clear return on the investment as well as looking for strategic HR functionality, such as reports and predictive analytics. The HR team are absolutely critical to help you understand what a successfully implemented system should be able to do. And the users (managers and employees) are your biggest stakeholder group, their interests and concerns may differ depending on role, responsibility and specialism.
Reach out to these groups, invite their input, and listen to their issues and worries as these are the factors that will impact on commitment, and therefore on the project’s likely success. You should also consider the different stakeholder interests when putting together a project team.
2. Change management
People respond to change in broadly predictable ways, usually some variation on
- Denial – It’ll never happen.
- Resistance – You can’t make me use it.
- Exploration – What can it do? How do I use it?
- and finally, Acceptance – This is what we use now.
When you understand the varying stakeholder concerns and issues, you can identify each group’s denial and resistance ‘triggers’ that you have to address and formulate a communications and involvement strategy. The basic trajectory is to address why the new HRMS is necessary, what the benefits are (i.e. why they should want this new HR technology), what they need to know to use the HRMS, what skills they need to use it, and how can you reward and reinforce the use of the new system.
3. Hiring a consultant
Involving an HRMS consultant can be a wise move in any implementation project but if you, as the project manager, aren’t coming from an HR background, it can approach being essential as their expertise could be invaluable. That said, even if you are the HR master, the chances are you haven’t managed many HRMS implementations in the past (most organizations only change or upgrade significantly every 5-7 years).
An HRMS consultant may be employed by the vendor of your chosen HRMS, offered as an add-on to the basic package. They may be an independent operator with wide experience of HRMS and possibly certified as a ‘partner’ of some of the bigger vendors, verifying their expertise. Selecting a consultant is a recruitment exercise and the key is being absolutely clear on which parts of the HRMS implementation process you need help with: reviewing and optimizing processes, data cleansing and migration, system testing, customizations, integration with other systems…
Always remember – as with any hiring process – to check your chosen consultant’s references and antecedents before you sign a contract.
4. Data migration
Data is the foundation of any HRMS and it’s important that your foundations are solid. Over time, between errors, repeated inputs and just Murphy’s Law, the overall state of your employee data can become home to inaccuracies. The change of system is the perfect opportunity to ‘clean house’, verify the real, and delete the error-ridden.
As project manager, unless you have a specific IT skill set, you need to delegate, step back, and monitor the results. One way of ensuring the data is as accurate as possible is to ask users to personally check their own information as part of your stakeholder engagement efforts. After all, it shares the burden of checking among the whole workforce (five minutes per person has less impact than a single person spending days or longer on the task) and ensures that each item of data is being assessed by the person best placed to judge its validity. Another option includes incorporating the checking process in an exercise to test the system’s employee self-service functionality, asking users to check and update their own personnel record.
5. System testing
No matter how well set up the new HRMS, no matter how clean and accurate the data it contains, you cannot just press the ON button and go live. For employees, errors or problems with their personnel data are never inconsequential so it’s important to eliminate any foreseeable issues… and that’s where the system testing comes in.
As part of your planning, include a series of parallel tests to compare the new system’s performance against the old; consider areas such as configuration and system setup, integration with other business systems, processes and procedures, and specifically, payroll (because everybody complains about payroll errors!).
And remember, in terms of assessing an acceptable performance by your new HRMS, you’re comparing against a) the previous system or way of doing things, and b) the returns and objectives you’re hoping the new system will achieve.
6. User training
The introduction of any new IT system is, by its nature, a deskilling process: once-familiar tasks, often performed with minimal thought must now be re-learned – your users’ unconscious competence has been transformed into conscious incompetence. So, user training…
The basic process (and again, worth delegating if you’re not a learning and development expert) involves:
- Needs analysis – what do the different stakeholder groups need to know and be able to do with the new system?
- Training design – putting together the materials and content to address the various identified needs; this might be available in different formats (e.g. a face to face course, a manual, online or other e-learning, just in time guidance and hints, etc.) to suit different needs and/or learning preferences.
- Delivery – running the course, coaching the key users, whatever you’ve decided fits the needs.
- Evaluation – checking not only the strength and validity of the chosen training options but also the emerging impact on the workplace (i.e. they attended the course but can they use the HRMS in practice?)
Incidentally, user training is also a major part of your stakeholder engagement efforts. Delivering the training they need shows you’ve listened to them, understood them, and are supporting them through this workplace change – all good messages to send.
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A smooth HRMS go-live is a sign of a well-run implementation project and you’ll need to consider what support to have in place for ‘D-Day’. Remember that first impressions last and that this is the first impression users will have of the HRMS as a useful tool (or otherwise!)
Firstly, timing is important. An early date may seem attractive, and surely would impress the boss… but switching on before either the system is fully ready, or employees are ready to use it is counterproductive and at the least, will lead to some kind of PR disaster. As well as considering the best timing for your users, there are other possible events or plans that can influence the go-live date. For example, that major recruitment campaign you have planned for the spring… will the new system definitely be ready by then or is it best to stick with the old setup (which at least has the benefit of familiarity) and go live afterwards?
Whenever it is, on the actual day, make plans to have a variety of support available, such as process guides, automatic notifications and reminders to prompt key tasks, super-users (i.e. experts who can help their colleagues), and of course, IT (vendor, perhaps?) technical support.
8. Post go-live challenges
If you think it’s all over after go-live then I’m sorry to disappoint you! Check in with your technical people and stakeholder contacts to get a true picture of how things are working, and what practical concerns or bugs are cropping up. Think about:
- Is the new HRMS functioning as expected?
- If errors are occurring, are they within the expected margins? And, are they solvable?
- How does data integrity stack up against expectations?
- Is the system working with other integrated databases and systems as planned?
- What ‘quick wins’ are emerging? (And can you announce them so that you have some early positive news to give out?)
- Are there any fresh training gaps becoming obvious?
9. Measuring project success
Time to review and reflect. How did you do? Once the HRMS is up and running and any initial bumps in the road have been flattened out, you need to conduct a post-implementation review against the anticipated (and hopefully measurable!) benefits identified in the original business case and the strategic objectives you were hoping the HRMS would help you achieve.
In general terms, you’re asking:
- Are there any learning points for future, similar projects?
- Did any unforeseen pitfalls or delays occur? How were they mitigated? Could they have been addressed more effectively?
- What went well? How could you repeat these success factors in future projects?
- Finally, you need to find out whether the organization is receiving a good return on its investment and this kind of post-go-live review is your first (benchmark) attempt at assessing how the new system is delivering the planned-for strategic benefits.
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