Sorting the Stakeholders: Who is Who in HR Tech

Who's who in business
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In our 12-part series, Kate Wadia – Managing Director at Phase 3 Consulting - guides the HR professional through how to navigate, succeed and lead with HR tech project-work. From the inception of the business case to the handover into BAU, we’ll follow an indicative project timeframe to explain the way and the why of a project step-by- step, to give you a full toolkit of practical points, a deciphering of definitions and the top tips to get results important to HR and the wider business.

So far the journey of selecting and preparing for an HR technology implementation or development project has taken us into some areas fairly foreign to many HR professionals, including last time how to develop a project mindset and in part 4 all about getting set with your data.

Now we return to territorial comfort zones!

Here I look at the who is who of the industry and help you to apply your resourcing, selection and business partnering skills amongst this particular talent pool.

The HR profession is gently experiencing a greater need to engage with stakeholders not only internal but external to the organisation. Technology is a great example of where this is clearly true. You have to work out how best to:

  1. Leverage the skills of your internal teams
  2. Identify the available external talent
  3. Achieve the best complement between the two for good working relationships and project success

Having the right professionals working with you to develop your technologies I believe is typically a success factor even more critical than the choice of the technology itself. I trust I’m preaching to the choir in an assertion that it really is people that make the difference.

This guide will help you to understand the options for finding talent and point you towards who will suit you best and when.                                   

Composing a Board and Project Team

Projects need a task-force assigned to them – to control, to manage and to deliver. Go back to part five of this series for a summary reminder of the difference between steering committee agenda and project -work, which achieves a defined change between two2 points in time. The number of people involved, with what degree of formality, choice and intensity will vary vastly according to scale. Luckily the principles and wisdoms of sound project resourcing remain pretty common.

The Prince 2 method offers a useful benchmark about how to set up a project board. This prescribes 3 key roles, which for all but the Executive may be held by more than one person each:

  1. Executive – the decision-maker, responsible for the business case. Importantly, this person should not be the same as the Project Manager (“PM”)
  2. Senior User – representing the benefits and the user interest. You might want more than one person to be taking this role
  3. Senior Supplier – the person accountable for the quality of the products (noting that in Prince 2 terminology, “product” could mean service outcome too)

You might not get along too well with the method or, perhaps, its chosen words and phrases, but the concepts here are worth considering as you decide who to appoint on the board.

Key question: what is the point of a project board? Do I need one?

Having a project board identified I suggest is a vital part of sound project governance. Governance is all about ensuring effective decisions that result in objectives being achieved. The Executive is the person who acts as ultimate governor.

This is different from project management – about managing and controlling change – where that change is delivered (i.e. done!) by the project team members themselves.

So you need….

  • A decider! The project sponsor or governor or Executive
  • A manager! The internal PM
  • Enough do-ers!

If your organisation is small, you might agree that the person taking on the lead project management meets regularly with their boss, as the sponsor. Ask a senior manager from another function to join you. Ask your supplier to offer a representative to meet you too at regular check-points.

The Board is there to be accountable, to own the business case and take decisions. They must have the gift of acting as influential champions, providing resources and delegating. Make sure that each board member has those powers and does not need to refer upwards.

Who else do I need on the internal team?

The effort involved in implementing a new system is most often underestimated. One supplier company I know says to clients that for every day of external consultancy effort four days of internal effort are likely to be called for. I think that’s good advice.

Here’s a checklist! These are the 'doing' people and so my list for you is all about verbs, to encourage you to focus on the purpose of each role, rather than lurching for job titles or suggestions that may not ring true within a given methodology. Check you have someone to:

  • Manage and control: remember (and see part 5) that you will need an internal Project Manager even though your supplier is likely to offer you one too
  • Prepare and share information: external implementers and consultants need people with time to explain current processes and preferences, make small choices, provide data and attend workshops. This is an easy way to start to involve your key HR users
  • Take the time-strain: there will be some time-consuming jobs. Preparing and gathering data is one of those. So can be the administration and organisation, which tasks don’t necessarily prove cost-effective in a PM. Who is going to write in-house documentation and communications material? Think in advance, when it comes to personnel data, whether you are prepared to employ temps and don’t leave this option to a last-minute crisis!
  • Test: user acceptance testing (“UAT” – much more about this later on) is surprisingly difficult. Potential users must systematically check that technology has been set up correctly. Suppliers cannot and should not exclusively check their own work.

Tip: Project Support is a phrase you might come across or use yourself to cover one or several of the above jobs to be done. It has various guises and I wouldn’t worry about that. The key point is that it is always worth clarifying expectations about who is going to do what. Find out below all about external partner expertise and note that, when working with people you don’t know, this point is of course even more true.

  • Learn, train and communicate: those attending workshops and consultancy days will learn most directly. Training days will be offered. Those most accelerated in understanding will wish to go back to the business and train others
  • Feed back: who would be good, from start to finish, to let your project team know how they’d like the technology to look, feel and process? Find sample users at both senior stakeholder and more majority groups. Providing constructive views and preferences is different from systematic testing

Tip: engage, engage, engage!!!….Or not so? Is it possible to involve too many people? In this context, I believe in the saying “too many cooks….” At project board level, for effective decision-making involve as few people as possible to cover the purposes required. At team level, smaller groups make for the most efficient decisions at their micro-making, which is what consultancy days prove to be all about.

Engaging the External Experts - who does what…..?

….And read on later for more about who does what well!

So far we’ve worked out who you might find within your own organisation. Harder is the question of those who (a) have expertise you need and lack and (b) are not under your direct day-to-day control. Add to that those partners’ position to (c) charge you money and appreciate why I’m keen to be sure that everyone approaching technology work has some clear advice about who is who, and who does what well and when.

The contract you have negotiated typically comprises that about product and that about professional services (note that systems limited in scope and “off the shelf” may not be associated with any professional service plan). Those professional services most likely include:

  • A project manager – check back to part 5 for explanation all about this role and why not to expect it to be comprehensive!
  • Consultants to carry out configuration – companies tend to distinguish their consultants’ job titles with prefixes based upon:
    • Modular specialism (BI or HR or Payroll)
    • Experience (Senior, Lead or Strategic – and if that's missing then the opposite is implied
    • Degree of technical development skill (Implementation, Application or Technical)
  • Data migration or Business Process Analysts are specialisms often offered separately
  • Project support (and see above) refers to professionals of lower skill level technically who may help you out with project tasks, if you are under-resourced. Distinguish this kind of project resource from:
  • Support – technology providers have teams available as the first point of contact for enquiry and reporting of faults. There is significant variation between the level of service offered here. Some support desks (or service desks or helpdesks), now available as online chat in many environments, are little more than a triage system to paid-for consultancy or those more experienced at second and third-lines. The best are prepared to offer training over the phone, and advice and guidance based on a high degree of experience
  • Trainers – to come onsite or offer remote or vendor-hosted training sessions. I do not linger long on defining these roles, as each company crafts job roles and titles differently. When you are introduced to roles at kick-off, my recommendation is that you ask your supplier to explain the expectation you should have of each person and what they will do for you.

Key question: when should I employ someone to my project directly?

Delivering a sizeable project inevitably means that the bottom line headcount you need is temporarily increased, expertise notwithstanding. I note above that often project support is under-resourced. There is a plus of a project team all with all the right insider know-how, as well as interest in the HR system longer-term, with the demand this will have of their time.  

Balance this against a realistic assessment of the demand on their time. Last-minute hiring of temp workers could risk quality, as well as place sensitive data in jeopardy; last minute addition of emergency consultancy is expensive for some jobs (e.g. data gathering or cleanse, or copy and paste work!) but in other jobs proves cost-effective (e.g. making light work of preparing documentation sets or data migration).

If you second someone internally, move day-to-day tasks to the secondee and use the team member with the long-term interest in system outcomes to work on the project.

Many HR leaders employ interim project managers or consultants for a fixed term contract. See below some of the pros and cons here.

…… And who does what well?!

There are sources of expert help other than those internal to your organisation and those on offer from your technology provider.

Independent experts are often engaged in times of crisis or loss of faith in a provider’s service, but it’s wise to be open-minded to the implications of your choice of professional resource at all stages. Too much faith is often placed in the word “consultant”. It can be hard to get good advice about the choices available.

Here are some broad clues about the scenarios in which each type of professional helper-outer might be best for you:

Consultancy provided by your technology supplier Best when: service has been good, there is a moment of key dependency, if you are wishing to rely on that particular company for managed services. In pre-live stages there is always some part for the supplier company to play. Disadvantages: cost per day, a lack of objectivity or whole-of-market experience, often difficulty securing continuity of personnel or long lead times. The best consultants are in demand
Interim or fixed-term direct engagement (as an employee) Best when: projects are long, internal communications and meetings load is a significant part of the strain, budget is limited. Disadvantages: specialism is likely limited and you will need others too at least on occasion, risk in one person, independence is soon jeopardised, authority may be hard to wield
Independent self-employed consultant (e.g. sourced via LinkedIn or similar) Best when: just one key specialism is missing, reputation is well evidenced, you have a back-up plan, budgets are limited, an independent voice could give vital influence. Disadvantages are: risk in one person who must always look out for next contract opportunity, limited range of skill-set, calibre can be hard for the HR lead or non-specialist to judge. Consider off-payroll legislation, which may add complexity or cost.
Consultancy via an IT agency Best when: you have a strong relationship with the agent and can clearly articulate the expertise required. Disadvantages: akin to those of the independent practitioner and with extra fees, but with some mitigation of risk on referencing
Third party professional services consultancy  Best when: objectivity and independence is valued, high calibre sought, quality is more important than immediate cost, the technology provider does not offer adequate service or availability. Engaging a company rather than individual spreads risk, especially if your provider recommends partner companies. Disadvantages: lesser known – you may need to research and investigate harder to understand who is best, cost per day will not be significantly less than those of your technology provider

Step 6 in short!

The people you engage to manage and deliver your project, both internally and externally, may make more difference to the project success than your choice within a product market tier of HR system itself.

It would be great to see the natural strengths of HR leaders navigating the professional networks with greater confidence, but a confusion of job titles, technical jargon and lack of familiarity with the role requirements themselves gets in our way. Most people get resourcing of HR technology projects wrong!

The most common mistakes are:

  1. Assuming you have no choice
  2. Relying on one individual
  3. Under-resourcing the team of do-ers, including missing the long-term need

The simple explanations above will help you prove the exception to the rule and enjoy some confident relationships.

There is plenty of advice to come in later parts of this series about getting the best out of consultancy time, engaging your stakeholders and working as part of a user community of technology. Next time we look at the building blocks of implementation itself.

Take 1 Step on Step 6!

I end each part of this series with one key thing above all to take away and do. Here it is to clarify role expectations. The related role title in each case will differ slightly but find out what you can expect of:

  • Each member of the board – the extent of their authority
  • Each member of the project team – the extent of their experience and time available
  • The project manager from your supplier
  • Each (named) consultant from your supplier’s team, breadth and depth of experience and scheduled dates
  • Service or help-desk personnel – and others ready to help with advice and guidance

Are you comfortable you have assessed any potential for skills gaps?

About Kate Wadia

Kate Wadia - Phase 3 Consulting

Kate’s passion at work is for bridging the gap between technology and people at work, translating for HR professionals the language of HR systems and making meaningful their potential.

She believes that success with people technology is through people and that people are the differentiator. Using simple techniques drawn from HR experience, project management, business psychology and analogy with everyday life, Kate presents and explains how to work well with technology and technology projects in an HR leadership role.

With a background in contrasting private and public sector HR management, Kate developed her thinking in seeking for herself to understand her first HR systems project-work.

Currently she leads the Service Delivery for Phase 3 Consulting, offering an independent take on the HR systems market in the UK, through a network of experts. Kate’s guiding principle is that openness offers knowledge-sharing, credibility and trust.

Incorrigibly enthusiastic and up absurdly early for a working morning, she swears that she only drinks three good coffees a day, but nobody believes her!

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