Messy Human Capital Management Software Implementations: What I Have Seen and How To Avoid Them

I’m a Human Capital Management (HCM) exec who has seen it all. When it comes to Human Capital Management software implementations, there are those that glide to completion smoothly and then there are the implementations that are bumpy right from the start. Here I’m going to go over what red flags to watch out for when getting ready to implement as well as when the implementation is in progress. I’ll also talk about which ingredients go into the “secret sauce” of HCM implementation success. Trust me with over 25 years of HCM leadership experience, I’ve got some insights you won’t want to miss.


The Rush Job: Hurried Implementations

Over my lengthy career of implementing and supporting HCM solutions, I’ve been given the responsibility of ‘cleaning-up’ messy implementations on many occasions. These asks usually start with a so-called ‘minor’ request to review a specific piece of functionality and then often snowball to be much more.

One of the key elements to avoiding a messy HCM implementation is to see and identify the signs that you are careening towards a rush implementation. To do this it’s key to understand your project needs holistically with the ability to understand not only the customer rules but also the impact on upstream and downstream systems.

For example I’ve always made it a point to understand all of the HCM system “touch points” before designing a solution. This is key as these touch points can often define and impact on solution design. Not taking into account the users, end users etc. can also lead to poorly designed solutions. Time and time again I have seen Human Capital Management consultants collect specific customer requirements and then rush to configure a solution. You need to slow down and think it all the way through. While the solution does meet the specific needs of the rules there are other elements to consider. One specific example is when consultants look at say a payroll interface but fail to realize that the designed solution does not work for the downstream system.

Let’s take shift premiums as another example. Knowing what payroll system is being used and how shift premiums are configured in that payroll system is essential. Some systems prefer to have a single earning record that includes employees’ rate including shift premiums. Some other systems prefer two records, one for employees’ regular rate and then another for the shift premium account. It is these details which must be paid attention to when implementing HCM to make sure your project goes smoothly. My expert team of HCM Implementation Consultants at Covalence Consulting Inc. know that we must ‘forecast’ when the implementation is being “hurried” and remedy it right away.


Details, Details, Details: When Information Doesn’t Flow

Big picture thinking is great but in reality Human Capital Management implementations are all about the details. In fact it is the detail-oriented individuals that make great HCM project team members. Being focused on the details means that they are information-gatherers who get the research they need to predict or guess all the possible scenarios that may arise. This is very valuable as it means they have thought out possible solutions to road-bumps as well. Here’s one real-life example of this from my own personal experience. During one instance I was called into a project near its end to get the client to the “Go-Live” stage and push them over the finish line successfully. At that time I was told that there was only one issue remaining around a single pay rule so the project would be a relatively simple and straightforward one with a 3-4 week timeline.

I wanted to document the rules explicitly to ensure that I understood all the possible scenarios. Given the complexity of the rule and the number of changes previously in the same rule I felt understanding all the possible scenarios was important. I always stick to my (pretty simple) rule scenario. This is that for a given scenario there need to be three documented examples: one for below the threshold, one that equals the threshold, and one that exceeds the threshold. During the process of attempting to adhere to my rule scenario it became clear that the project team couldn’t provide clarity around the expected outcomes. This was an unpleasant surprise. Without a project lead or delegated individual on the client side providing the right (and needed) answer there was no way the the system could be configured successfully. Here the details around what the clients wanted were so crucial that the lack of these details threatened to derail the whole project. Furthermore being focused on details on my end meant that my team and I were able to identify early on that problems may be on the horizon due to lack of concrete, expected outcomes.

The details, and focus on details also become crucial during testing, from initial unit testing to parallel testing.  If we use parallel testing as an example, many people look at the data and select a handful of employees to reconcile and conclude that everything is perfect, without giving a second thought to what rules were being calculated during the parallel period.  For example, during the parallel, the normally complex group may have not have experienced the complex calculations like holiday pay, attendance violations, or entitlement calculations. Project teams have to dig deep into the data and assess the details within that data, and may even have to expand testing to include scenarios which don’t normally happen. Remember it is these details that can either make or break your implementation.

When The Deadlines Are Dead: Managing Timelines Accurately

It’s easy to say ‘let’s stick to our timelines’, but what does it actually take to make this happen? Before starting any Human Capital Management project, project plans need to be realistic in regards to the scope. They also need to be detailed enough to ensure that all the scope items are not only included but defined. This may seem like a basic point – but I can’t tell you how many project plans I’ve seen with general, non-specific tasks which are sure to negatively affect the project’s completion date. These project plans say things like “configure rules” without any mention or regard for how rules will need to be configured and how much man power and time this will take.

In fact the single most critical item needed for meeting project deadlines is Management Commitment. I make it a point to address this in every kick off meeting I attend. Every project owner or director will talk the talk in terms of being committed to the project and its success. But walking the walk in terms of real Management Commitment means providing the HCM project team the time and resources needed to ensure project success (and completion on time is a big part of that success). It’s easy to say “this is the deadline”. It’s harder to provide the concrete resources and time needed to actually meet said deadline.

When it comes to HCM projects and implementations most project team members are part of existing, on-going HR/Payroll teams. They already have ‘full-time day jobs”, meaning they have their regular job responsibilities to contend with and are helping with the HCM project in addition to their other tasks. Successful project owners plan for the additional work and demands that will be placed on such individuals who are indeed key resources. They should be given the time and support needed to help guide the HCM project to successful completion on time.

Another hindrance to timely project completion is not adhering to the ‘less is more’ mantra. I use this expression regularly when it comes to HCM implementations and especially highlight it during the initial project kickoff stage. Specifically ‘less is more’ means using discretion when deciding who will be included in the project team. Having too many cooks in the kitchen can negatively impact your deadlines and usually cause significant delays in making critical project decisions. Instead I recommend having smaller core teams but then also having ‘extended team’ meetings to keep all stakeholders engaged. It is during the ‘extended team’ meeting that you can inform them of developments and get the HCM project to progress along in regards to decisions that impact them. In this way the core team can be incredibly agile while still keeping internal resources engaged (and thus keep the project moving along). Trust me this is an excellent tip for meeting deadlines. It is not an abstract theory but something I learned early on in my career when I implemented a HCM system for a major North American airline which had over 12,000 employees with a customer project team of 3 resources along with 2 from a software vendor.

I’m always happy to talk HCM and if you have any questions my HCM team and I are happy to chat! Contact me via Covalence Consulting Inc. and let’s discuss HCM software implementations, strategic consulting, and more!

Me and my team will also be at Ultimate Connections 2018 at Booth 21 – come say “hi” and let me know if you liked this blog post!