So, you’ve selected your HR software, but now comes the task of implementing it. I’m often asked “how can I be sure to get this part right?”

Part of the answer actually lies in the preparation you have done during the selection process, which will indicate your current state of readiness.

At this point you should have:

  • From the selection exercise, process maps (e.g. starters, leavers, changes, recruitment, absence and performance management) and organisational rules (such as pay frequencies, overtime rates, holiday entitlements, benefits, working hours, maternity/paternity pay and occupational sick pay)
  • Diagrams of the structures of your organisation to reflect departmental or divisional set-up, the hierarchy of jobs within these structures with reporting lines, together with grades and any dependent benefits
  • Clean data for migration. Don’t opt to import the data “as is” if you know it’s inaccurate in the hopes of correcting it later; that is never going to happen, and the first inaccurate reports from your new system will kill all credibility. You should have conducted an updated data request from your employees near the end of the selection phase, to ensure all is pristine when it appears in your new software

All the above will form the basis for configuration of the software so that it works in the way you need it to. If you don’t have these, you have a lot of ground to cover immediately and your timelines are already under threat.

Person jumping off a mountain

A time frame should have been agreed internally, and with your system vendor. If your new HR software has to be in place to support the new holiday year or performance review cycle, that needs to be clear to everyone.

You will also need to emphasise to all concerned the priority of answering queries or clarifying issues as they arise during implementation.

If your implementation is large or complex, perhaps covering a workforce of thousands in several countries worldwide, avoid the temptation to personally take charge of managing the client side of the implementation cycle. Unless you are an experienced project person, just forget it. It’s not an activity than can be undertaken in addition to the day job. And, it’s a real skill to effectively marshal resources, deal with time constraints, manage the liaison with the vendor, and communicate clearly with all of the interested parties.

Of course, it’s a cost, but this should have been budgeted in your business case, and the project is business critical for the organisation, the department – and you!

There sometimes comes a moment when someone has a Bright Idea. “Why don’t we….?” It takes root somehow, and before you know it, the project has an additional series of problems to overcome, and some new cost implications.

An example: part way through implementation, a client I worked with in the past wanted to give their HR system an additional functionality which the selected software was not designed to do. Fortunately, I persuaded them that the costs accruing from this were not supported by any real benefits, and the idea was discarded.

This sort of distraction shouldn’t happen, but be on your guard!

Cost cutting is not the answer

Don’t try to cut costs and workload by reducing system training to a minimum. This is a serious mistake as users need to be comfortable and proficient with the software. Make sure you manage increased workload issues caused by parallel running by backfilling your regular team while they work on the new software.

Go Live isn’t the finish, by the way. Long after your system is in and running, make sure that all new users of the system are given proper training in it. A sketchy half hour sitting with an overworked current user just doesn’t cut it; I can cite one case where due to this very issue, the HR department had lost the capability to produce its own reports, and had to ask the IT people for assistance each time.

Finally, be prepared for the unexpected. Make sure that rapid decision-making powers exist to cope with emergencies. Here are some of the most likely ones that can happen along the way:

  • Your project lead falls ill or is otherwise unavailable – can you delay the deadline or find a replacement?
  • Testing reveals a problem, perhaps your data wasn’t as clean or complete as you thought – identify the cause and solve
    Time slippage due to non-availability of your own personnel or other cause – know who else you could call on to assist
  • Unforeseen diversion of resources from project – you’ll have to fight this one!
  • Budget insufficient or threatening overrun –identify the cause and the implications for the project. Don’t do a Lidl and pour good money after bad. Sometimes it is better to walk away.
  • Political pressure to deliver the system while it is still incomplete. Push back or look at reducing the scope of the deployment instead, for example, to solve the most pressing problems first and delay the nice-to-haves until a second phase.

Implementation, like any other project is composed of stages. If you have done all the hard work at the outset and approach the task in a methodical manner, you should have every expectation of success.


David BarnardDenis Barnard is acknowledged to be a leading expert in the selection of HR & payroll systems, and other HRIS, both inside and outside the UK.

He has been instrumental in leading successful selection and implementation projects in a wide range of sectors, including local government, Higher Education, publishing, music industry and manufacturing.

His recently-published book “Selecting and implementing HR & payroll software” has been acclaimed by leading HR practitioners.