Improving HR project performance

By David Barrett
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 10/02/2002

More and more people are working on projects, in every sector and in every department, including HR. That is why project management skills have become useful attributes, although some still don’t understand why project management is relevant to them.

Project management practices, procedures, tools, software or people can be applied to any task that has a start and end date.

In this way, almost anything can be deemed a “project” — moving into a new building, a software installation, a merger of two companies, an event planned for next quarter or a rollout of a new product. Each of these events has a timeline, a budget and in most cases a number of people involved.

Now here comes the crux of the matter — the project must be delivered on time, on budget and within scope. Those are the three pillars of project management.

For a project to succeed you need a dedicated team of people and a practical budget. Always remember: the budget must be scaled to the most reasonable and affordable levels.

But the application of project management skills improve the chances of project success. The benefits include — faster time to implementation or time-to-market, better reporting during a project, better team morale, less “reinventing the wheel,” better quality control, better knowledge of risks along the life of the project. Regardless of the project size, the benefits are the same.

As project manager, the important thing to do before starting the project is determine the importance of the project to you, your organization and the people involved. This will guide the level of management (processes, people, tools) applied to the project.

Some projects only require a paper napkin, one meeting over coffee and a few phone calls. Others require a more comprehensive approach, for example, having a team of project management professionals on board whose sole purpose is to manage the budget, the schedule, stakeholders, the project team and deliverables.

Project management software will assist in all of those things and a formal process will ensure every milestone is reached, every stakeholder informed, every goal met.

When considering project management software, Microsoft Project, an industry leader in scheduling tools, often comes up. But there are many other programs that can help, from scheduling to time tracking tools, resource management specific and risk management software.

In most cases, HR projects are unique and must be handled with care. For an HR department, the hiring of a new vice-president is considered a project, and it has both a budget and timeline. If it’s not delivered on time and within budget, there will be some explaining to do. But is software required to manage the schedule? Of course not.

However, let’s say there is a team of new people to hire by the third quarter, they all need to sign contracts, be assigned office space and receive e-mail accounts and business cards. In this circumstance, you may want to ask the purchasing department to order some software.

A well thought out plan with the help of MSProject will paint the total picture: a list of tasks, start and end dates, durations, work responsibilities and, most importantly, what other tasks are spawned by the initial task.

But it isn’t all about scheduling tools. If a project manager is on board they can also offer:

•Risk management — the consequences of an event or outcome within a project on the rest of the project (what happens if we loose 30 staff next year?)

•Quality management — making sure there is continuous testing for quality (are we really delivering what we promised?)

•Procurement and contracting tools and techniques — to help with the legal end of things.

•Communication tools — a formal plan to help manage “who gets what information, when, where and why.”

Other HR projects that may benefit from project management include the relocation or downsizing of a company, a new union contract, a pending merger or even the selection and implementation of a new benefits provider.

Each project should be dependent on an evaluation of size and importance to you and your organization. If there are many tasks to handle, a lot of people to manage and a large financial investment involved, then you should be looking into the benefits of project management tools, techniques and people.

David Barrett is the president of Solutions Network Inc., and the founder and director of the Academy for Project Management, The Schulich School of Business, York University. He can be contacted at dbarrett@solutionsnetwork.com.

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