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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


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.


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.


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?

How to Get Into Human Resources: The Ultimate Guide

I recently received a reader email asking how to get into human resources without experience. It made me pause, because I had just responded to an email asking virtually the same thing less than five minutes before. So I dug into my email and looked at how many times I’ve had a conversation with someone over the past five years about how to get into HR. The result? I’ve had over 250 conversations in just five years, and those don’t include the many interactions outside of email. Today I’m sharing my thoughts on the subject, some data from a recent survey I developed, and insights from other HR professionals on how to get into human resources without experience. This is going to be long, but it’s going to be good.

Table of Contents

  1. How to get into HR
  2. Relating real-world work to HR
  3. Improving your HR education (mostly for free)
  4. How to position yourself for success
  5. Things to remember for your first HR job
  6. Comments from the experts
  7. Additional resources

How to get into human resources

I think its hard to get that first HR job without any experience. What would you give as advice for the newbies to land the first job in hr? Alison Continue reading

The New HR Department-Ultimate Guide

One of my older, popular posts is from 2010 and talks about how to run a one-person or new HR department. I wrote it after attending a conference session on the topic, but at the time I had never been in a small or new HR department before. Now I have that experience and would like to share. I also realized that a very close tie-in is the group of HR professionals who have had to start the HR function from scratch (whether in a new company or an existing one), and I think this article is going to be very helpful for both of those groups.

In addition, there are amazing ideas included here for HR pros who feel like there’s just not enough time in the day to get everything accomplished (who out there can’t claim that one?). You’ll learn how to juggle multiple competing priorities and make the biggest impact with the fewest actions. You’ll learn how to balance the needs of an executive team with those of your staff, and I’m willing to bet you’ll take away a heck of a lot more.

Note: I have included more information in this article than some of the eBooks I’ve published(!). I plan to combine this information into a free PDF guide to share on the blog if there is any interest in that. There was just too much great content to cut any out, and I don’t want to shortchange those who took the time to share their ideas with us. Enjoy!

The New HR Department Ultimate Guide

Table of Contents

  1. Small/New HR Department Survey Data
  2. My Experience in a Small and/or New HR Department
  3. The Highlights Reel-Starting a New HR Department
  4. New HR Department Advice from the Trenches
  5. Additional Resources

Small/New HR Department Survey Data

In preparation for this article, I sent out a request for help to several hundred subscribers. The results below are for a question that asked the respondent to rank the following according to priority:

  • Developing a long-term HR strategic plan
  • Building HR’s credibility within the organization
  • Taking charge of your own professional development
  • Staying on top of legislative developments and requirements
  • Developing alliances/partnerships to fill any skill gaps

Check out the chart below. Click the image to make it larger.

New HR Department Priority FocusI had no preconceived notions about which area was the most critical, so I was surprised to see that developing alliances/partnerships made the top of the list of priorities. I’ve emphasized that in my roles for several years now, and I believe it has helped to shore up areas of weakness and provided invaluable networking opportunities as well.

I think legislative/legal updates fell to the bottom due to the “fun factor” (or lack thereof). It’s still going to get done, but we don’t have to like it. :-) To be honest, this felt like an unfair survey, because all of these are key areas to focus on; however, I was interested in finding out what others thought about which one made it to the top of the list.

Any surprises here for the rest of you?

My Experience in a Small HR Department

I’m a relative newbie to this world, but I know it’s where I was meant to be. What makes a small or new HR department different from other companies?

  • We don’t pick up the phone and call our corporate HR team. We ARE the corporate HR team.
  • We are comfortable with research and making judgement calls.
  • We constantly seek out opportunities for professional development–if you’re not growing you’re dying.

There are certainly more, but those three quickly jumped to mind.

Starting an HR dept in an existing organization? You should be able to answer these key questions if you plan to be successful:

  • What was the purpose for creating this new department?
  • Who made the decision? Who is going to support you as you learn about the organization and its key players?
  • What HR activities were being done previously and who was doing them?
  • What sort of culture exists? Do the leaders and staff have the same view of the culture?

managing an hr department of one

I had an amazing mentor, but like I said, I feel like I’m wired for this kind of stuff. I love the challenge and bouncing around to the different areas of HR on an hourly basis. There’s no substitute!

After doing a little research, I read this book last year and it had some great ideas and advice. It’s been around for a while and still makes the bestseller lists in the SHRM bookstore regularly. I admit that it’s pricey if you look at it only as a book; however, it’s much cheaper than a 6 hour study course plus travel costs to get the same content, so keep that in mind.

The Highlights Reel

I posted this short slidedeck on Slideshare as a way to share some of the ideas beyond the blog. It’s a “highlights reel” of the content and I hope it helps some people who otherwise would not find this article. If you’re waiting for the good stuff, skip down to the next section and you can get some tips and advice from people who do this stuff on a daily basis!

New HR Department Advice from the Trenches

I reached out to a few people I trust and also opened up a short survey for a handful of people who are (or have been) in this scenario before. Below you’ll see how real HR pros have confronted and overcome the obstacles facing someone in a new or small HR department.

Note: I want to apologize to anyone who submitted comments that were not included here. I had an overwhelming number of responses and had to limit myself to sharing the first few people who responded. As I said above, I plan to put this together into a free PDF so that anyone can read, print, or share the information. Look for that coming soon!


Richard wrote a monster of a contribution. I had to pull out some of the content for space reasons, but I have his entire piece linked here if you want to check that out. It’s phenomenal and worth your time to read if you truly want the advice of a guy who’s “been there, done that.” Here’s the extremely shortened version. Be sure to read the full piece or you’ll miss the good stuff.

  • If you are setting up a brand-new HR department, or you are taking on one all on your own, build your plans for immediate impact projects, short-term (within the quarter) projects, and long-term projects. HR project management is serious stuff.
  • Your plans WILL be disrupted. Constantly. Build that into your timeline.
  • Don’t underestimate how much information your employees want.
  • If you are a soloist, and especially if you are relatively new to employment laws, make yourself a binder (electronic or hard-copy) of the most up-to-date info on the basics (FMLA, FLSA, ADA, and if you handle benefits, COBRA).
  • Do your best to not become the “office cop” – the hardest role you have is to watch out for things that can get the company (and people) in trouble without being the person that everyone avoids.
  • And finally, the top three skills you should use on a daily basis: talk, listen, and learn. Again, (I’ll say it one more time) check out the full content if you haven’t already so you don’t miss any of the details on how to implement this yourself.

Thanks again to Richard Sherman for pitching in and offering some great advice!


Brian shared some very intriguing ideas for outsourcing the majority of the “HR” work to allow a small team to handle the critical roles of the HR function. I don’t know that I agree with all of Brian’s comments, but then again I’ve never been in a crunch tight enough to have to seriously evaluate something like this. It’s an interesting proposition if nothing else!

I would try to “outsource” process driven activities to as many internal partners as possible.  Payroll is likely already housed within Finance; perhaps open enrollment and qualifying life events could be something they tackle as well (the counseling portion still resides with HR).  Recruitment, orientation and onboarding? Give it to Marketing who can polish what you are selling to potential candidates and new employees.  Compensation is driven by numbers and spreadsheets; pull in someone from Accounting.  Training may be best handled by line supervisors and tenured employees.  Employee Relations can be farmed out to Legal.

With 1-3 bodies, you may only be able to effectively handle 2-4 areas even with the best time management skill set.  Pick the one thing each person can be an expert in and allow them to spend time in other areas that interest them.  Solve what you can afford through technology to avoid getting bogged down by process-driven activities; the rest needs to be shared responsibility where it makes sense.  Find that executive champion who understands HR and can go to bat when 3 bodies can no longer manage the workload. Brian Deming


Make sure to visit with each manager and ask them what HR can do for them to help make their job easier. Learn everything you can about the business and ask to be included instead of waiting around to be asked to do something (you end up being a paper pusher or sheriff if you don’t).

Linda Haft


In a small to non-existent HR department, strategy, talent, etc. isn’t important.  Most of the company is flying by the seat of its pants.  What is needed is benefits, knowledge of applicable laws, processes and procedures (performance reviews, requesting vacation time, requesting sick time, etc.), and guts.

The HR person has to have the guts to go to the company president and say “You can’t do that,” and be prepared to hear, “Sure I can; I own the company.”  Then you have to dig your heels in and insist.  Then you go back to your office, hold your breath and hope you didn’t just sign your own termination.

Donna Caissie, the ExtraOrdinary Assistant


  1. Expand your network of HR professionals. These are the people you can call on to bounce ideas around, vent, etc.
  2. Smile before you pick up the phone to say hello. You will be the point person for many questions such as insurance, retirement, pay, etc. We all have had the one employee who has gotten on our last nerve, but always remember that without the employees you would not be needed. Smile before you pick up the phone and you will automatically position yourself to be in a better mood to deal with the annoying employee.
  3. Enjoy what you do. If you don’t, move on.

Bobbi Wilson

Additional Resources

Below you’ll find a few links to other helpful resources. I went through several dozen and discarded the ones I felt would not be value-add to this discussion on working in a new HR department.

Your Turn

Okay, do you have anything to add? What has (or hasn’t) worked for you? What advice would you give someone starting out in a small or new HR department for the first time? Let’s make this thing even better!


Human Resources Job Titles-The Ultimate Guide

HR’s career ladder is never quite clear. So who cares? Human resources job titles mean nothing, right?

Human Resources Job Titles

Climbing the career ladder of HR job titles…

Wrong. Even if you really don’t care about it, others will judge you for better or worse the instant they see your job title. Today we’ll look at some of the various common titles as well as some career development choices you’ll have to make as an HR pro (generalist, specialist, or recruiting tracks).

Human Resources Job Titles-Ultimate Guide

Table of Contents

  1. List of HR Job Titles and Duties
  2. Progressing Up the Ladder
  3. Specialist vs. Generalist
  4. Recruiting-HR’s Cousin
  5. Education’s Role
  6. Additional Resources on HR Job Titles and Careers Continue reading

Entry Level HR Jobs-The Ultimate Guide

Welcome to the Entry Level HR Jobs Ultimate Guide! Feel free to share this post on Facebook, Twitter, via email, or by renting a plane to carry a banner proclaiming how much you love this guide. If you’re not already on the email list to receive free updates, here’s how you can do that. Now, let’s get on to the content!

Entry Level HR Jobs

  1. Places to find jobs
  2. Job descriptions
  3. Salary Ranges
  4. Tips from the Pros
  5. Career Resources Continue reading