This post is excerpted from our white paper, Balancing Design and Technology: Why are failed technology projects so common? Making well-thought-out decisions and challenging yourself to execute each step will greatly reduce the chance of failure in your HR technology implementation project—and may just land you ahead of the pack.
You can download the full white paper here.
We’ve all seen technology investments gone bad. Perhaps the promise of technology is the culprit? HR technology has greatly advanced to meet business challenges. We take for granted that it will accomplish what we want it to do rather than what it was programmed to do. This may be part of the problem, but the root cause is deeper than that. We believe that organizations sometimes skirt the process of building (or buying as the case may be) the right solution. When speed seems to define success, organizations want to cut to the chase.
A successful technology implementation project has six requirements:
1. Clear Goals and Success Measures
Companies consider technology solutions when they are replacing manual processes, looking to roll out new or revised processes, or when their current technology is not working as desired. Unfortunately, sometimes the problem is really much more complex, and relates to the basic design of the HR program or service.
How will the technology help achieve the program’s objectives, and how will it contribute to and measure the key indicators of the program’s success?
Symptoms that you might need a technology solution: Are data and metrics time consuming to locate? Have patchwork tools and templates been developed to fill gaps? Are employees and managers still working in cumbersome paper formats? Do employees complain about the time it takes to complete the process? Do you spend an inordinate amount of time administering the process? Are you finding more errors than you would like?
2. The Right Program Design
If program design is the problem, the next step is to define or confirm what the program—not the technology—is intended to accomplish. Although research consistently shows that the majority of organizations are not satisfied with their HR programs—such as compensation administration, performance management, or rewards programs—they still purchase software to help administer them. Why?
One possible explanation is that they believe—or hope—that technology will solve the problem. But making an ineffective program more efficient through technology is hardly a reasonable goal. Organizations should start by considering alternative program concepts that are consistent with agreed-on program objectives. Typically a combination of features from different concepts will be selected to form the final design.
3. Functional and Effective Processes
Once the program design is determined, you need to develop or revise the roles, processes, and procedures for administering the program. These are fundamental inputs in determining technology requirements.
Ask yourself these questions to help you identify the strengths and weaknesses of your processes, and determine where changes may be needed:
- Does your organization follow a uniform process?
- Does the process ensure that the results of the program are consistent, fair, and aligned with the organization’s strategy?
- Does it work well with other processes (e.g. compensation with payroll)?
- Do business leaders and other stakeholders find the process valuable?
Process improvements should always be made in advance of choosing a technology solution.
4. The Right Technology Solution
Your decisions about technology should never compromise plan design or result in setting aside aspirational objectives simply because “the system can’t support it.” Too often, technology gets implemented in isolation from other systems and programs, and misses the big picture, or organizations sacrifice program goals for the sake of ease of implementation.
Reviewing websites, viewing online demos, considering internal capabilities, and networking with your HR colleagues will help you narrow the field of technology solutions. Furnish each short-list vendor or internal provider with your new program design and communicate the HR processes and requirements that you identified. Be up front about where you can compromise and where you cannot.
It is also important to engage other parts of HR (e.g., payroll, benefits, etc.), as they may be expecting data or information from your new program design that you had not anticipated. Be sure to gather any additional business requirements now as identifying these later in the process could result in a scope change, causing an increase in fees and/or a delay in delivery.
5. A Strong Business Case
As you see demos and have conversations with vendors, you need to think about justifying the expense of the solution. You need to know if a solution is “heavily productized” or “highly configurable.” Heavily productized means that the basic program framework remains unchanged—customers can modify screen views, add/remove sets of data fields, and modify elements of output (e.g., reports). Highly configurable means that the system’s structure and data fields are flexible and the output is user-determined.
Each of these solutions has pros and cons—and different costs.
Throughout the development phase, the change team needs to stay out in front of the stakeholders, gather intelligence on where the true “wins” were, and plan a customized training program. If, at the go-live, stakeholders are prepared, educated and accepting of the change, the implementation will stand a far better chance of success.
Leadership might, for instance, envision a system that enables managers and employees to control the business by monitoring performance, updating goals, and demonstrating the link between performance and pay. But if the system is not integrated with the rest of the business, and does not provide the necessary level of configuration, the results will almost always be disappointing.
6. Executing and Implementing Your Solution
Although the official execution and implementation phase comes at the end of the project, you must support the changes from the beginning. The change management component runs the entire duration of the project. It can be separated into two distinct and equally critical components: the background research or “homework” portion and the go-live/launch or “exam” portion. Having one without the other can almost guarantee some level of failure.
Reduce Your Chance of Failure
In any tough economy, investments are looked at very carefully. With limited budgets, it’s vitally important that investments are sound and help the organization attain a critical goal or reap a necessary reward. Making well-thought-out decisions and challenging yourself to execute each step will greatly reduce the chance of failure— and may just land you ahead of the pack.