HR Project Management: The Ultimate Guide

HR Project Management Skills are Powerful Tools–Do You Have Them?

When you look at a list of key HR competencies, one thing that often is lacking is a good set of project management skills. While it’s easy to try and segment the human resources profession away from the project manager role, I see it as a core part of what we have to do. Today we’ll go over some of the key aspects of HR project management, what it is, where it fits into your career, and how to use it.

What is HR Project Management?

hr project management diagram

It is very much what it sounds like–the use of project management skills for HR projects/purposes. Think about some of the key skills a project manager has that we value from an employer standpoint:

  • Managing a budget
  • Managing a timeline
  • Managing people/resources
  • Ensuring stakeholders are in the communication loop
  • Developing change management plans

It’s difficult for some people to do one of those well, and a good project manager can handle all of that and more. So it’s easy to see how we can use those types of skills to our advantage in a human resources role. The various projects we have to carry out (some examples of those are listed below) need good project management principles to guide them and ensure their success.

HR Project Management Examples

The easiest way for me to understand a concept is through examples of seeing it in action, so I thought we could go through a few to explore the aspects of this competency. These are just a surface glance and not in depth, detailed project plans, but it’s still a good look at how the disciplines work together.

Benefits Change

Scenario: Benefit costs with current providers have become untenable. Management has requested evaluation of other providers to reduce costs, even if it means reducing the level of quality.

HR Project management role:

  1. Work with management to establish specific objectives (how much cost reduction? how much quality deterioration is acceptable? what is the timeline? etc.)
  2. Develop a set of requirements from those objectives. That set of requirements will be the foundation for your RFP (request for proposal) that you use when talking to vendors.
  3. Contact vendors with the RFP, collect bids, and make a selection based on key factors (price is key in this example).
  4. Complete transition to new provider, terminate relationship with previous vendor, and continue post-implementation activities.

HR Project Management RFP Process

HRIS Implementation

Scenario: Your company has been growing and is ready for a new HRIS to help maintain employee records and facilitate some of the HR processes that occur. You have gone through the selection process and are now in the final stages leading up to implementation of the system. You know that it’s critical to get this last step correct in order to hit the ground running. The program will mainly be used for HR purposes (you and one other team member), but there is a manager self service portion as well that you expect to use to reduce time spent answering questions from managerial staff.

HR Project management role:

  1. Work with the provider as soon as you have a working version to learn the ins and outs of the system. If you are doing the training for other staff instead of the provider, make sure you go through the process of using the tool like one of the other staff. For instance, log in as a manager and use the self service portion so you fully understand the capabilities.
  2. Develop a training plan for educating all pertinent staff on the operation of the system, including the need for security and compliance with data.
  3. Work with provider on a launch plan. This could include dedicated support from the provider, especially in the early days when many new users need assistance.
  4. Develop a feedback system so that users can funnel questions, requests, etc. back to you.

Transitioning to Shared HR Services

Scenario:

Your company has had embedded HR generalists in business units for the past several years. Over that time it has become more costly, more difficult to maintain standards, and is a frustration for business units to have that budget “hit.” The leadership has decided to move to a more centralized model of delivering HR services and has asked you to evaluate that proposition.

HR Project management role:

  1. Begin researching the level of staff needed to meet current requirements via a shared model and compare that with existing HR headcount to determine how many will have to be reassigned/terminated. Create a draft budget that will cover running the new HR delivery model.
  2. Lay out a plan for what sort of service will be delivered best by a shared model and which might be more difficult to administer (employee relations, for example).
  3. Determine what other below-the-surface areas will be affected by this. While it will help ensure a specific standard of service, it could also make managers unhappy because they no longer have dedicated resources. These types of items will need to be incorporated into the change management communication plan to ensure they are addressed at some point of the implementation phase.
  4. Prepare a presentation with your findings and recommendations for the leadership team.

As you can see, there are a variety of projects that can use these types of skills. These examples were written with you as the head of the HR team having to carry this out, but in some organizations there are actually dedicated HR project management professionals in place to handle these sorts of tasks. Let’s look at how that works.

HR Project Management Job Description

Let’s qualify the role the same way we start developing our jobs in the workplace–with a description. Now, as I said, we usually don’t see a significant number of dedicated HR project management jobs, but it’s instead part of a larger HR role. The bigger the organization the more likely there is a dedicated position just for managing the human resources projects. Here’s a sample description:

The HR Project Manager is responsible for the management of HR projects to include managing project budgets, resources (internal and/or external), timelines, risks and third party vendors. Responsible for overall direction, coordination, implementation, execution, control and completion of specific projects ensuring consistency with company strategy, commitments and goals.

Responsibilities

Project-Based Customer Relationship Management
• Establish and maintain relationships with the business units and key partner groups to understand their business needs, ensure alignment on objectives, and ensure ongoing buy-in across all project activities.

Strategic Planning and Project Initiation
• Translate business objectives into projects with clearly defined scope, timing, deliverables, resources, and key measures of success.
• Formulate and continually re-assess the appropriate project management approach and project management skill set / resourcing mix across internal and external partners to ensure all project tasks are successfully completed.
• Create project plans, including timelines and milestones.
• Negotiate sufficient resources from HR sub-teams, IT, Corporate Communications, business units, and other groups as appropriate.
• Effectively set and communicate project expectations to team members and stakeholders.
• Define project success criteria and communicate to team throughout project life cycle.
• Manage and coordinate HR-related project activity resulting from business unit acquisitions.

Project Execution
• Manage ongoing project plans, budgets, resources, and vendors.
• Facilitate meetings and drive project issues through to resolution.
• Develop and deliver progress reports, proposals, requirements documentation and presentations.
• Proactively manage and communicate ongoing changes in project scope, identify potential crises and devise contingency plans.
• Coach, mentor, motivate and lead project team members. Influence project team to take positive action and accountability for their assigned work.
• Manage Requests for Proposals (RFP’s) with vendors relating to HR projects.

Change Management
• Identify all stakeholders, both direct and indirect, and determine level of involvement needed for project success.
• Work closely with Change Management Manager and Corporate Communications to ensure appropriate change management activities are defined and included in all project plans.

Post-Implementation Transition and Evaluation
• Support the ongoing development of best practices and tools for HR project management and execution.
• Conduct project post mortems and create recommendations in order to identify successful and unsuccessful project elements.
• Ensure comprehensive and seamless project post-implementation transition.

Qualifications

Degrees/Designations:
Bachelor’s degree preferred with a specialization in management or related field

System Knowledge/Experience:
Minimum 5 years working knowledge of HR systems, processes, trends, and best practices
Previous HR project management experience required, including demonstrated ability to manage multiple projects simultaneously with different stakeholder sets
Advanced experience with HR project management tools and methods to include risk management, strategic planning and change management
Strong interpersonal, organizational, analytical, presentation and critical thinking skills
Demonstrates ability to build mutually-productive relationships and interact with senior management and key partner groups (e.g., IT, Corporate Communications, HR, business units)
HR Project planning and strategy concepts
HR project management skills

HR Project Management Plan

failing to plan planning to failSuccessful projects start with a plan. We’ve all heard the old adage:

Failing to plan is like planning to fail.

So how do we start? Here are the 5 key steps in the management process:

  1. Project conception
  2. Project planning
  3. Project launch/execution
  4. Project control
  5. Project close

While it looks like a short list, it covers a broad and deep set of requirements, responsibilities, and more. Each of the pieces of the sample job description above fit into a piece of this five step process.

Developing a project management plan means that you have taken the time to think through the steps and what resources, time, people, etc. will be necessary to accomplish each. In addition, you’ll need to think about risks to the project and what you can do to mitigate that risk.

Speaking of risk, one interesting idea that my friend Alison Green has discussed in the past is the value of conducting a “pre-mortem” on a project. We are pretty much all doing “post-mortem” reviews of projects (you are, right?!?) to determine what went well, what went poorly, etc. They are great tools for helping to refine our processes over time. However, the downside is that the project is already finished, and any lessons learned can’t help to improve the results.

Enter the pre-mortem.

This is basically a meeting that is held in the middle of the project where stakeholders gather to discuss what kinds of things could hamper implementation or reduce the impact of the intended results. In other words, what could go wrong? This information is then used to improve the project in real time instead of waiting until it’s over to make any sort of adjustments.

Human Resources Issues in Project Management

Let’s take a step back for a second and look at the broader picture of the organization and what sorts of challenges that might present themselves. A specific one that I have observed in the past is the responsibility of a project manager for the results without the accompanying authority over the employees to enforce deadlines.

For example, an engineer reports to the Director of Engineering, but his Project Manager needs him to focus on a specific task. Without that position power of being “the boss,” it could introduce challenges for the project lead to get things done. This could be due to performance issues on the part of the engineer, or it could be due to competing priorities from the project lead and the supervisor.

This is a big reason why I am such a fan of influence and leadership skills (check out the leadership reading list if you haven’t already for more on this topic). A friend of mine is a superstar project manager. I kid him that his life is dictated by spreadsheets. However, that attention to detail allows him to run multimillion dollar projects seemingly with ease. In addition, his demeanor makes him instantly likable, which contributes to the long-term success of his projects because he can easily get along with employees, leadership, customers, and other stakeholders.

I’m describing this because I know that while you won’t find “be nice” on any list of key project manager skills, I know from experience–it’s one that pays significant dividends.

HR Project Management Jobs

While I touched on the availability of these positions earlier, I think it’s important to note the career implications of this specific skill set. For starters, it’s something that HR pros need to understand, especially as they advance up the career ladder (no matter what HR job title they have).

Being able to pull off successful projects is a significant career booster and can help to lead to new opportunities of increasing responsibility. I know that might be understood, but I wanted to be sure and highlight the importance of this specific career skill.

Wrapping Up

Today we looked at a fairly broad slice of the HR project management world. Without extending this to the length of a book, I do want to mention that we didn’t even talk about software or systems that can help with this type of planning. Why? Because laying software over a broken planning process doesn’t solve the problem, and in some cases it can make it even worse.

It’s important to define and understand the key principles of project management and how that ties into HR. Once you have done that you can begin exploring tools to help you accomplish your goals. I’d love to hear from some of you on these questions:

  • What sort of HR projects have you completed in the past?
  • Any specific HR applications of lessons learned that might be valuable to share?
  • What are your thoughts on specific applications of HR project management?

The Art and Science of Assessments (Free Webinar)

As you know, my daily work is filled with data crunching, report publishing, and other nerdy stuff. But occasionally I get the opportunity to leave my virtual cubicle and interact with the world. Here’s your chance to listen in.

Assessments Webinar

On Wednesday, February 5th at 1:00 EST, I’ll be co-hosting a Brandon Hall Group research spotlight where we talk about some of our recent assessments research and what you need to know. Here’s the marketing blurb:

What’s the big deal about assessments anyway? Assessments have been around for decades now, so why all the attention to the assessments industry these days? Organizations large and small are using a wide variety of assessment types – skill, behavioral, personality, cognitive and more – throughout the hiring process and the employee lifecycle to help make better talent decisions, guide managers in developing their teams, and help individuals further their own career goals. It’s not enough to get an assessment score or profile. Managers and individuals need to know how to take action on that information. It’s a balance of science driven assessments, and the art of integrating the results with your talent processes.

Click here to sign up

Why you should attend

Working as the HR Director for a small company, I don’t know that I would have spent much time looking at information on assessments. After all, you just use those for hiring, right?

Wrong!

  • Hiring assessments (I started using these for key positions, and it was a great tool for helping our selection process)
  • Talent assessments (Who are your high potential employees that would make good leaders?)
  • Individual assessments (What is my team good at? How can I help them to play to their strengths and downplay weaknesses?)

Plus, you get the opportunity to listen to my friend and colleague, Mollie Lombardi, as she shares other insights into the world of assessments. I’m excited and hope you can join us!
assessments webinar invite

HR Video Roundup Version I

I am testing out something new this week and have been publishing short, 1-2 minute videos on YouTube daily as a way to get some quick thoughts out there on a variety of topics. I’m rounding up this week’s content here. Let me know what you think about the topics, format, etc.

\Subscribers will need to click through to view the videos below)

HR: it’s not about finding a seat at the table, it’s about finding the food truck

Today we’re looking at how HR isn’t necessarily about finding a “seat at the table,” but it’s more like “finding the food truck.” It’s often a moving target and to be strategically relevant we need to put some effort into the process to make it work.
Credit to Chris Powell, CEO of BlackbookHR for the great quote!

Innovation, HR Conferences, and HRevolution

Talking about how to drive innovation and innovative thinking when the traditional training and conference events are created to help us continue doing things as they have always been done. In addition, events like HRevolution (http://thehrevolution.org) DO create those types of thinking.

Making the workplace better: micro and macro views

How can we make the workplace better? Some people look at a massive innovation across the board, while others seek out how to make one-on-one relationships better and build out from there. Good discussion.

Have something you’d like to see me discuss? Let me know!

The Struggle Between a Caring Work Environment and Talent Density

Today we’re honored to have a guest post from a long-time friend and fellow HR practitioner. Jane Jaxon is the rockstar HR Director for a tech company in Boston. Learn more about her in the bio below the article. 

Building a caring work environment and increasing talent density: compatible or mutually exclusive?

If you’re reading this entry for an answer, skip ahead to the comments section, because you definitely won’t find it here. The question is of critical importance to where we are as a company and I’m actively debating it in my quieter moments. People – their collective personality and their performance – are our differentiator in a tough tech market.

caring work environment

Is building a supportive environment a goal of your organization?

A little background: our company culture is built on integrity, ownership, simplicity, service and balance. We’ve strictly held to our core values in hiring decisions, resulting in a place that people enjoy working because they get to work with intelligent, driven and truly amazing people they care about. Our people also know that HR, the Leadership team and our co-founders care about them on a personal level, which is both a key to retention and to recruitment.

But to build a successful company that scales, we need the most talented team possible. Talent attracts and retains talent and builds a better product. There’s the idea that winning teams succeed because they have the best players on their team. Successful sports teams cut fan favorites to upgrade their roster and aren’t slow to trade away players when underperforming. It’s all understood as part of the business of winning. But it also feels very impersonal and at odds with the familial culture we’ve built.

Is there a happy medium? Can a company truly care about its employees while remaining committed to increasing the level of “A-players” on the team? How does one handle the model employee that just isn’t up to the task at hand?

As I shared, I’m not sure what the answer is, but I think it’s possible for a company to toe the line by investing in “coaching up” struggling employees, being clear about expectations and where the gaps are, and making a genuine effort to get people to where they need to be. To be sure, this requires a genuine commitment from the top of the organization and far more effort than any alternative, but I think it can and should be done.

There will always be cases where things just don’t work out. Treat departing employees with dignity, respect and honesty. Ask yourself, “Does this feel right?” Others in the organization will know if you gave the departing team member a fair shake to keep their job, and will take note of how you treated them on the way out. If you can navigate this maze, I think you can have both talent density and a caring corporate culture. Who knows what success awaits from that point forward?

About the author: Jane Jaxon is the HR Director of a high-growth tech company in Boston where she gets to focus on building a great workplace and scaling people operations. Jane’s favorite buzzwords of the trade are eNPS, talent density and (of course) people operations. She likes neither pina colada’s nor getting caught in the rain, but sure loves marathoning critically-acclaimed tv series, reading in the sun, plotting her fantasy football world domination and, lastly, keeping a stealthy social media presence. Find her on LinkedIn.

Strategic HR: Measuring Quality of Attrition #SHRMTalent

It’s day two of the 2014 SHRM Talent Management conference, and I attended a great session on Quality of Attrition: Management’s Favorite Human Capital Metric. The bottom line is that we know that every person that leaves the business is not the same. Why they left, how valuable they were, and what the organization could have done to change the results are all elements of attrition quality that can (and should, arguably) be measured.

So who’s doing it?

According to data from i4cp, high-performing companies are more likely than low-performing companies to measure various factors relating to employee attrition. In fact, 85% of high performing companies measure factors such as voluntary/involuntary attrition, whereas low performers only measure that data approximately 70% of the time. Continue reading

2014 SHRM Talent Management Conference

Next week I’ll be attending the SHRM Talent Management Conference in Nashville. It’s an event focusing on recruiting and talent, and I’m excited about attending and sharing some of the sessions I’ll be viewing.

If you’re going to be there and want to connect, hit me up via email and we can try to make it work.

As a preview, here are the sessions I’m planning to check out during the event.

Big Data: Your Best Bet In The War For Talent

Why: As our organization has grown it has become harder to source from some of the same pools that we’ve used repeatedly over the years. I’m hoping to learn more about using data to help find the next person I hire.

Quality of Attrition: Management’s Favorite Human Capital Metric

Why: We have a long-standing discussion at work about the difference between retention and turnover. For our purposes, retention is preventable, turnover is not. I’m hoping to learn more about attrition, what the market averages are, and how we can leverage that for better organizational metrics.

Beyond Performance Reviews: Influencing Performance Improvement

Why: Thanks to my buddy Chris Ponder, I’ve been getting more interested in the field of performance improvement lately. I’d like to look at ways we can take our paper (shudder) performance reviews to another level with more impact to the business.

Effectively Managing a Remote Workforce

Why: We have more people outside our local office and we’re adding new work sites regularly. It becomes difficult to make sure everyone feels included and engaged when they are not physically in the same workplace. I’m looking for ideas on how managers can lead those people as well as how to make sure we’re taking care of the remote staff adequately.

Strategic Talent Acquisition: The “Talent Advisor” Approach

Basically, how valuable would your leadership say your recruiting function is? Do they think it enhances the overall business by finding the right people at the right time? I think we do this pretty well, but I am always looking for ways to improve our service delivery on the recruiting side.

Well? Anything in there look interesting to you? What would you like me to share about?

Preventing Conflict in the Workplace

If asked, many HR professionals would say that preventing conflict in the workplace is one of their key job duties. However, I’d like to step back from that well-known requirement and re-examine the need for civility at all costs. Let’s kick off with a quote:

It means caring a lot about not offending someone. Let’s be clear, to be civil is good. Civil behavior is a useful part of a healthy team. However, it can’t be the defining characteristic of the team. Great performance means tough conversations, which is why candor should always trump civility. Candor refers to interactions defined by honest, frank and, forthright exchanges. No sugar-coating, just professional and somewhat blunt conversation. Credit: Lynda.com

Recently I was evaluating some training for some of our supervisors, and I ran across this comment. I think within the realm of human resources management, this type of thinking is more critical than almost any other area of the business. Think about it: we’re supposed to facilitate civility in the workplace. We’re supposed to help eliminate friction, prevent hurt feelings, and ensure a sense of “peace in the family.”

Preventing conflict in the workplace? That’s our job

In fact, if you’re an in-the-trenches HR kind of person, you probably thought of an ongoing situation where you’re trying to facilitate civility as you read that last paragraph. It’s just what we do, right?

But maybe we shouldn’t?

Recently I wrote about the relationship between the Chief Executive Officer of an organization and the key HR leader. The thing that CEOs want most out of HR? Candor.

[Related: Here’s what 76% of CEOs appreciate about HR]

Not only do CEOs want to share candidly with HR without fear of the information being used against them; they also want HR to speak candidly with them about problems and opportunities. The relationship is too critical to allow it to be hampered by the desire to pursue civility at all costs.

The next time you’re looking at a situation that requires you to choose between being open and honest (and possibly causing conflict at work) or trying to smooth things over to prevent any negative response, make sure you are not diminishing the message so much that it loses all value.