Agile software development methodology has made a tremendous splash with IT, but can HR benefit from an agile approach when it comes to implementing HR technology solutions?
The principles of agile development are laid out in a “manifesto” that values:
- Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
- Working software over comprehensive documentation
- Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
- Responding to change over following a plan
Aren’t those very similar to what HR values – collaboration, tools that meet people’s needs, clear communication, and responsiveness to an ever-changing environment? So it just might be the right approach in implementing HR technologies.
What’s even more striking is how other software development approaches seem to echo what often happens with HR projects. The traditional waterfall approach is a classically linear and sequential approach to systems development. Each waterfall stage (System Requirements, Design, Development, Integration, Testing and Deployment) is assigned to a separate team to ensure greater project and deadline control. Chances of having ambiguous requirements or unknown solution delivery dates are low and the product definition stays stable. These advantages often help HR leaders to clearly communicate the delivery of HR technology improvements in the organization.
However, the waterfall model also locks down system requirements very early in the process, producing little wiggle room to address late discoveries or needed changes throughout the process. There is also less involvement from the business, which increases the risk that the solution that does not fully meet business needs.
Need for a hybrid approach
Agile methodology on the other hand allows project stakeholders to be actively engaged and respond to changes on the go instead of following a rigid plan. It’s an iterative approach. Team members gather at the beginning of the iteration (referred to as a “sprint”) to identify the work to be done during that iteration. This gives program sponsors the opportunity to update goals frequently and set priorities based on business needs.
But a purely “agile” approach can make planning dubious and sometimes impossible for organizations to budget for HR technology solutions and be able to communicate the delivery dates within organization.
When it comes to HR technology implementations, it’s more beneficial to apply a hybrid version of the agile project method. HR leaders need to define high level system requirements – a clear road map – for solutions that need to be implemented. In agile methodology this is called an “Epic”. Program managers then break this into smaller tasks /sprints (a group of sprints is called a “theme”).
Let’s take an online total rewards site implementation as an example. The Epic in this case is the high level definition of the solution – a clear statement of the needs and requirements which is often described in the Statement of Work (SOW) – and the theme is the list of components the site needs to have, such as a the site authentication module, data validation and loading programs, usage reporting, modelling tools, etc. Each of these site components can be implemented within a separate iteration called “sprint.” At the end of each sprint the team has a deliverable and regardless of how small the deliverable is, it has to be tested and working as expected. The team is no longer waiting for a waterfall event to start fixing issues. If there are issues they are caught within the sprint and don’t have a snowball effect on the whole project.
This hybrid agile approach (from our experience) will help HR teams not only to ensure that there is a clear understanding of the scope and solution, but also ensure that the actual delivered solution and (in this example) the different functionalities of an online website, have evolved in an organic matter and are “working products” that serve business needs.