Is Ready, Fire, Aim the Best Strategy for HCM Project Success?
“Ready, Fire, Aim!” I’ll bet you’ve heard this phrase before. They have written books about it. It’s been trotted out as a philosophy of management that, according to proponents, creates a bias for action. It follows the “do something, even if it is wrong” mantra heard from those afraid of getting trapped in “analysis paralysis.”
Many HCM projects start out this way. Deal is signed, consultant contacted, so round everyone up, we are kicking off the project.
While there may be a danger of inertia, blindly taking action without knowing what you are aiming for can be disastrous. Even after a thorough, and possibly lengthy, sales cycle, the goals for which your new HR technology was acquired may not be entirely clear to all team members, including executives, HR staff, managers and other employees.
In addition, the vendor’s implementation team will typically need to dive much deeper into the details of your HCM project goals before they begin work. And perhaps you, the project lead, were not really even a part of the decision making process. Adding even more concerns about the ‘Ready, Aim, Fire’ project approach.
Someone famous (I don’t know who) said, “If you give a man a bow and arrow and tell him to shoot!, his first response would be, ‘At what?’” When there is no target, there is no purpose for shooting, and the arrow could go anywhere.
On the other hand, if you gave the archer a target and challenge him to hit the bullseye – everything changes. You have given him something to aim at, something to challenge his skills, something to measure progress, and something that gives his effort – purpose.
That’s what a goal does! That’s what HCM project goals do. You need defined HCM implementation project goals against which you can measure the progress of the project and ultimately gauge the value the HCM implementation brought to your organization.
Knowing exactly what you are aiming for and knowing the expected benefit to your company before you begin is key to keeping everyone focused on achieving the same outcome, reaching the same results, and being able to define the level of success achieved. Knowing and agreeing to a target gives your project a purpose.
Before you engage with any paid consultant, you should ask yourself some of the questions I ask my clients. (Write your answers down, as you will need them later.)
- What is the problem you/we are trying to solve with the solution that has been acquired? Or, what was the problem you were trying to solve when the decision was made to find a solution?
- What, exactly, is it about the selected solution that made your organization choose it over other options evaluated?
- What, exactly, is it about the selected vendor that made your organization choose them over other vendors evaluated?
- What have you been told and what is your understanding of the benefits this solution will bring to your organization?
(List each item, along with why you want or need this functionality, who it affects, and how it affects them.)
- What have you been told and what is your understanding of the benefits and functionality this solution will not bring to your organization that you wish it would be capable of handling?
(List each item, along with why you want or need this missing functionality, who it affects, and how it affects them.)
- What resources do you/we need to accomplish your/our objectives for this project? (e.g. internal experts, outside experts, time, money, facilities, technology, etc.)
- What risks, impediments or constraints exist that could impede progress toward your/our objective?
- Looking down the road to when this HCM project is complete, what will success look like?
Getting Off on the Right Foot
So, you have been assigned as the project lead on a HCM implementation, and you want to get off on the right foot.
Here are some good first steps:
Define clear objectives
Clear objectives add clarity and direction to the project and help keep it in scope. Before you begin, know what you want to accomplish. If you think it is to procure and implement a human capital management system, you may be correct, but you are probably missing the true objective.
A favorite analogy of mine is the fact that each and every year, millions of 1⁄4-inch drill bits are sold, yet nobody buying any one of these 1⁄4-inch drill bits actually wants a 1⁄4-inch drill bit. (Unless it’s my brother, he just likes tools). So, why do they buy them? Because they want a 1⁄4-inch hole!
To really achieve success, you must know the problem to be solved, the process to be streamlined, the communication channel to be improved, the risk to be reduced, the law or regulation to be complied with, the …… Do you see what I am getting at? In short, what problem or problems are you solving, and what are the benefits that you are trying to achieve?
If this project was not your idea and/or you were not part of the decision making team, who are you going to ask these questions? I recommend you also talk to those who will be impacted, the real stakeholders whose jobs will be affected. It was probably their concerns and complaints that got the ball rolling in the first place.
The important thing is, without advance stated objectives, product functionality and implementation consulting services may not align with the intended purpose when it is ultimately discovered down the line.
Understand your “own” requirements
End users, whether they be executives, managers or employees, often expect nothing to change but the results to be different. That’s impossible, so you have to apply realism to requirements.
Requirements define the functional elements of what you need to achieve your business objective. You and your consultant must work as partners to align your requirements with system functionality. When things don’t line up, a work around and/or compromise may be necessary. Expect it and deal with it. It is an unavoidable reality.
I think requirements fall into three categories: absolute, important and nice-to-have. Not everything can be an absolute. Let me repeat, not everything can be an absolute requirement. No system can do everything you want in exactly the way you want it done. Most requirements, if well-conceived, fall into the important category, not the absolute category. Categorizing a requirement as important means the value of the required outcome is significant, but there is flexibility in the form, sequence, look and feel, and manner of how the outcome is accomplished.
It is essential to understand that every product and solution has an inherent logical flow that runs through its core design. There is a standard functional flow for each process which results in optimum performance. You can deviate from this standard flow in various ways, but the farther you get from the inherent design, the more complicated your solution becomes. With complication comes additional consulting service time and costs. Also, once deviations from the standard are implemented, the effort to use and support your system may increase and possibly be compromised.
If you or your users envisioned the new solution doing something the exact same way it has always been done, you’re creating an absolute that may be a difficult, if not impossible, standard to meet. There most likely will be a price for such adherence. Expect that a new solution will be different from the old solution. After all, it’s supposed to be new and different, or you would not be changing.
As a team, make a comprehensive list of requirements and categorize these requirements into one of the three categories (i.e. absolute, important or nice-to-have). Ensure everyone is in agreement regarding which requirements should be on the list, as well as the categorization of each requirement, on and effectively communicate the list to your consultant. Also understand that changing the category of any requirement at any point during the HCM project implementation may very well cause a change to the scope of the project.
Don’t forget, as you are creating this list, to focus on whether the process or functional requirement contributes to your overall objective.
Set concrete HCM project milestones
When planning a road trip, you have a goal – arriving at a destination at a particular time. Then you set milestones, such as the places you will stop. These stops break up the trip and provide a sense of accomplishment when you reach each one. Reach a milestone late and it creates stress, necessitating an adjustment of plans to compensate or catch up. But reaching any milestone, late or on time, keeps you in control and on your defined path, rather than being on the road and not knowing where you are and when you will arrive.
So it is with an HCM project implementation! You must set concrete milestones with reasonable deadlines. Determine priorities, including what gets implemented first, second, third, etc. Think of each milestone as an interim goal, a stop on your road trip, that everyone focuses on until it is reached. When one milestone is achieved, attention switches to the next stop, until you arrive at the final destination.
It is generally not practical or wise to try to implement everything at once. Remember the television reality show “Extreme Home Makeover,” where they sent in a hundred construction workers to do one project in five days? It was chaotic and fun to watch as there were workers in every room in the house and sometimes in the same room working against each other. I remember seeing the carpet going down at the same time the painters were slapping paint on the walls and ceiling. I wonder, if we looked closely, would the end result pass inspection? In my opinion, it was definitely NOT an ideal way to manage a home renovation project. Not to mention a bit unrealistic with regards to the resources (e.g. labor, tools, supplies, money, etc.) available for most of us.
In it for the long run
Team Satisfaction is essential.
Without it, trying to get to project closure will make the “herding cats” idiom seem quite real. Some are missing, some are sleeping, some will run away, and some just want to rub your leg.
It is the customer project lead who must ensure that every person on the team is in it for the long run. You and your team must believe in the project, work as a team toward its success, and then experience and share each success together.
Books have been written on team satisfaction, so far be it from me to try to do more than emphasize the importance of team satisfaction. However, here are some things to consider.
- Selection – In addition to being subject matter experts, select team members who possess a positive attitude, who work well together and, if possible, have a stake in the success of the project.
- Goals – Share the project objectives and mutually develop goals for each team member. Give each team member purpose.
- Transparency – Don’t be secretive. When information seems to be hidden or intentionally withheld, the uninformed people feel left out or unimportant and, therefore, less committed.
- Communication – More is better, enough said.
- Share Success – Every success is a team success. Give credit to the team member(s) who achieved or helped achieve the success, but celebrate each success as a win for the team.
- Stability – Everyone needs to be in it for the long haul. Leaders should communicate their commitment to keeping every team member on the project until it is completed. This will help to ensure that each team member maintains their own commitment to the project from beginning to end.
Don’t just think about team satisfaction, but have a plan to build and maintain it.
Garner and maintain stakeholder support
The Sponsor: Without an actively engaged sponsor, HCM projects can flounder once the initial excitement fades. Often, project leads are afraid to engage the sponsor because they are too busy or because the sponsor stated from the beginning that they would not be actively involved in the project. Even worse, a project leader may subconsciously fear that asking for assistance from the project sponsor will reflect negatively on their own ability to handle the project.
Trust me, the sponsor has confidence in you and your skills, or they would not have assigned you to the project lead role. They want you to succeed because they want the project to succeed. After all, they sponsored it.
Report your progress to the sponsor regularly and keep the communication lines open. It will serve you well for that time when you do need the sponsor’s help. Not to mention, it will keep your compass pointed in the right direction; toward the project objectives. If that is unclear, go to the top of this blog and start reading again.
Asking for advice or assistance is so much better than failing. You may need the sponsor for support and influence on issues related to obtaining additional resources and training.
Other Stakeholders: Many factors can be at play when it comes to the enthusiastic participation by other stakeholders. Did they have a role in choosing the solution? Do they even think there is a problem to be solved? Do they believe another solution or a better solution already exists? Do they believe the proposed solution will fail or was a poor choice to begin with? Is it possible they do not particularly like you or the sponsor? Does this project not affect their daily job or their business unit, so they have no vested interest and really don’t care?
The real question is what will you do to get them behind the project? First and foremost, you will have to get to know your stakeholders. Second, engage them as early as possible. Third, listen to them with both ears and be willing to incorporate their input. Fourth, communicate, communicate and communicate some more. And finally, the following items must be true and understood by the stakeholders if you are to win them over:
- You and the sponsor are “sold-out” on this project. You’re both invested and committed to seeing this project through to a successful completion.
- Achieving the goals of this project will bring value and benefit to the company, and every employee, including the stakeholder, will in some way be made aware of this value and see the benefit, directly or indirectly.
- “Things” will be better after the project than they were before.
The problem(s) we want to solve will be solved or significantly improved upon at the completion of the project.
- Everyone involved in the project is making sacrifices to contribute to the success of the project. Those who are instrumental in the success of the project will be recognized.
You may have realized by now that preparing for the project is, in itself, a project. Failing to properly plan is, by default, planning to fail. The Ready, Fire, Aim approach will, at best, diminish desired outcomes and, at worst, sink your ship.
These things don’t just happen; they are intentional. As the Project Lead, you set the stage, you determine the plan, you prepare the team, and you lead the charge. And by the way, your team expects this from you. Include them, collaborate with them, but you must also lead them.
Your path to success lies in setting clear objectives, realistic requirements, and concrete milestones, while fostering team commitment and garnering sponsor/stakeholder support. It is within your power to control all of these. So get READY, take AIM, then FIRE.