Ask the expert!
In the Ask the Expert column of July 2009 Newsletter, Ari Kopoulos, National Sales and Marketing Manager, will answer one of the questions raised by a number of our newsletter subscribers. Read beyond to see what our expert recommends.
This article is first published in Human Capital magazine – issue 7.6.
Q. I am trying to evaluate the preferred implementation strategy for an HRIS project. What are the criteria for assessing whether we take a ‘big bang’, or ‘phased’ approach?
A. This is a very common question, usually asked of a vendor during the evaluation phase of the purchase. Do we get it done quickly, in a big bang approach, or do we slowly phase in the new functionality and technology? The reality is, it depends on your business requirements and the amount of planning and resources you’re prepared to put into the project. Both approaches work under the right conditions and have the same project risks. It’s just that the probabilities of those risks are generally higher under one, uber-phase than with multiple phases.
The lure of the big bang is that it offers an organisation with a sizeable budget an efficient, speedy yet intense implementation option. This often helps in situations where resources are limited. On the down side, the shorter time frame condenses the challenges and difficulty, magnifying the pain and demanding more effort in issue management. If you are prepared to dedicate budget and the required resources to change management, then the big bang has the advantage of a relatively speedy implementation, with all your users on the one system , allowing you to move on to managing the process.
The track record of the big bang implementations is that the projects are often rushed, details and testing are overlooked, and the proposed solution may not be aligned to the existing business. Project success is compromised, resulting in a less satisfied end user. And, as mentioned above, the pain is often more severe due to the shorter timeframe.
The other alternative is to follow a planned, phased approach. The phases can be mapped to system functionality, business process, or location. The appeal here is that is allows project teams to take their time in planning, enhancing, and testing of the system whilst tending to their existing workload.
The downside is that these types of phased projects often lack the urgency and focus, risking drawn out implementations. The constant change can also be draining to users and employees. Also with longer implementations comes the risk of losing the project champion, resulting in a shelved project.
So, which approach is the best? Both approaches have clear pros and cons. To help you select any implementation approach you need to consider the size of your organisation, budget, scale and complexity of your requirements and solution, alignment to existing workflow processes, end user functionality and training, data migration, existing business workload, testing and support, and change management.
I would generally argue that phased is the preferred, less risky option in HRIS implementations. Most systems these days offer modular functionality which easily lends itself to phased implementation. The prospect of spreading costs across more than one budgetary year is also appealing. Furthermore, if you are migrating from a manual to an online workflow process, then phased is the way to go.
If the system you have purchased is large, non modular, or is a payroll system bundled with HR, then it probably needs to follow a big bang approach. Also, if you are replacing existing automated systems, possibly mission critical processes, then big bang eliminates the need to maintain dual business processes.
What’s clear is that today’s business landscape is in a state of flux, and any software that supports a business process needs to be deployed rapidly and deliver the benefits. However, detailed project planning anticipates and addresses any issues arising out of the implementation strategy irrespective of the approach. Naturally, selecting the right partner with a proven track record would take away the pain associated with any type of implementation.