There is a much-repeated mantra “All talk and no action”. Much-repeated because too often true. Currently my working world is that of the HR systems (HRIS) project and in that context, it often occurs to me that just sometimes it is worth turning this apparent truism on its head and considering the equally unfortunate case of “All action and no talk”.

Read on if you’d like to look at whether your own case is one of too much action or too much talk and, in your HRIS work, why scoping matters.

Readers are unlikely to be at that happy “wish-list” point of system selection, wherein lies a fabulous opportunity to do a bit of talking and quite a lot of scoping – and to make a real difference to the success of a project. Nonetheless it is of course the start point of making sure that enough is said.

It’s not easy to write a specification for an HRIS, whether you are in a fresh tender situation, or looking to re-contract. We as HR professionals know to ask “open questions”, yet when it comes to system specification, did you find yourself writing “Does your system do X?” The chances are you did not have the opportunity to quiz a product specialist to explain to you exactly how a process is achieved and what you’d have to do as a client to make it achieve it, but rather somebody in a sales presentation had the happy chance to say a confident “yes”, or to tick a box and move on. In fact, these questions are fairly difficult to write well.

To give an example: Perhaps you asked whether the HRIS system could accept data that you wished to upload automatically? Let’s say the answer is “yes” (and of course it could). If your product is NGA ResourceLink you may not have established that the upload of data files is achieved by a consultant – less effort for you and a lot of technical capability, but availability and cost implications. The same “yes” in the case of Midland HR’s iTrent and you have greater client powers to do those same uploads yourself – and lots of flexibility, but I’d suggest you take a look at those data conversion manuals and your own interpretation of “yes” might be more or less confident without expert help. I saw a great demo of the Cascade HR product, which included a very client-owned upload tool. Had I been a purchaser, I would have liked to run by that team the specific examples my organisation is going to need to upload just to check out that I really have the “yes” that I need.

To move on to the early days of implementation, again I’d like to suggest that action and talk need to be in balance:

There is inevitable impatience and typically a project plan that is compressed, whether driven by organisational imperative, or optimistic sales. Clearly, it is true that every part of a high-value consultancy day or indeed internal Board discussion, is a very real cost and the “all talk” mantra rings true where project progress is slipping in favour of conference calls and meeting time, seeking to agree details we are not well-informed to agree on at this stage. So what if we look at that balance of talk and action differently and ask the question “Do we know enough to talk about this sensibly now? If we don’t, shall we talk about finding out about the impact instead?” In my article (focussed on the Midland HR system iTrent) “The iTrent Serenity Prayer”, I talk about wise questions and this is a great example of the simple thing that I mean.

Again, to make this a bit more practical, let’s say that we are trying to decide at the “blueprint” stage whether we want to have a recruitment process built to accept CV’s and attachments or to use a pre-configured application form. Many a vendor consultant would allow you to take your organisational choice based on the factors that you already know about – what you’ve used before, what your managers tend to prefer, the kind of candidate pool you’re working with, whether you use agencies – and of course these are all important considerations. However, I would suggest you hold off an extended chat about that until you’ve also gathered your (technical) facts. What does each option look like? Is there a limit to data files that can be attached? How are forms and attachments viewed to the candidate/manager/HR user? In short, I’d skip the detailed discussion and jump straight to “Show me”.

This example is a terribly simple one, but once into the complex territory of user calculations, payroll and pensions configuration, absence schemes or structure and security and there is a strong case for an approach which we might call “outline blue-printing”, rather than too much detail.

[Next week: why scoping matters]

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