When is the best time to implement a human capital management system?

Best practices for starting your HCM implementation journey

Feb 08, 2024

Key takeaways

Pre-planning analysis is an essential phase of HCM system administration.

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Effective project management is important to achieve implementation success.

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Experienced, knowledgeable consultants can expedite and enhance implementation efforts.

Dayforce Technology consulting Business applications UKG

There is no right time to begin a human capital management (HCM) system implementation. Companies have different fiscal calendars, open enrollment cycles and busy seasons. Often the decision about when to start comes from the top, and if you are the one who chooses the start date, keep in mind that when done correctly the process can be much longer than it initially seems. You must factor in pre-planning analysis as well as post-go-live troubleshooting when you build your timeline, and if you embark on a system selection process before making a software purchase, back up another few months.

The duration of an HCM implementation also varies greatly depending on an organization’s size and industry. However, we often see that HCM implementations take, on average, four to eight months for a middle market company and up to 18 months for a large, international organization. 

In reality, there isn’t a bad time to start an HCM implementation, especially if your organization is in dire need of an upgrade. However, planning ahead is a must to make sure you can assemble a team that is up to the job, especially if you need to find qualified help to fill skill gaps or guide the project with the benefit of software-specific experience. Understanding that an inexperienced team will need more time or more help—or both—is important when targeting project success. Implementation is always more complex and detailed than it seems like it will be at the outset.

Remember to factor in pre-planning analysis

It might be tempting to skip this phase in a bid to save time, but a thorough pre-planning analysis is key to achieving a smooth and secure HCM system implementation. If you do not spend time evaluating what you need in your new system based on what was missing in your old system, and you fail to align company goals with a configuration plan that supports desired outcomes, how can you set up a system that meets organizational needs? 

Pre-planning must also include the vision for the team required to complete the implementation tasks. Your human resources (HR), payroll and IT teams will need to consider and plan for the extra work this will add to their roles for a lengthy time. Be sure your team has the skills and capacity to complete the preparation, task execution and training necessary. Remember to build in time for researching and vetting the right consulting advisors to get the results you want, on time, from this major project/investment.

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HCM implementation best practices

Ready to start planning your implementation journey? As you take the first steps toward your new HCM software implementation, here are some things to keep in mind:

Set yourself up for success

Unless you are experienced in HCM system implementation, you likely don’t know what you don’t know about what you need to know. Get informed and seek guidance when appropriate. Take stock of in-house skills and what percentage of time each key player will need to allocate to this project. Implementation burnout is real—and losing a knowledgeable team member in the middle of the project is the worst time. Being realistic about project scope, doing your homework, choosing the right system for your company’s needs, engaging experienced professionals, and securing dedicated support to train end-users and troubleshoot issues that crop up post-launch are all elements of the project to consider well before embarking on your implementation journey. 

Effective project management is critical

Successful HCM system implementation requires attention to detail and the foresight to spot potential obstacles—and work to prevent them before they become project-breakers. Informed decisions need to be made about configuring the system and importing data accurately to ensure the system works the way you want it to. Intensive testing needs to be performed and change management must be considered to foster user adoption. Because of the heavy lifting HR and payroll professionals must do throughout implementation, effective project management and delegation of tasks are critical. The role of project manager should go to someone experienced with the process, or better yet, recruit the help of an experienced consultant who has seen it all before.

Understand what the software vendor needs from you

Once you have chosen your system, talk to your vendor and get a list of your organization’s responsibilities throughout the project. If you haven’t gone through a system implementation recently or ever, it is important to reach out to others to get an idea of what that time commitment will be. You can connect with companies that recently implemented your chosen system. Ask them how much time they’ve spent on this actual project in addition to their daily work. Then you will be prepared to dive deeper when the vendor comes on site for the initial kick off and analysis sessions. Some helpful questions include:

  • How many people do you typically see involved in this type of project?
  • What are their roles?
  • Who is the best person to fill each role?
  • How much time do they need to spend on it?

Going through these steps will prevent you from being blindsided on Day One so you can go into your implementation with the right team already in place and with time carved out of their schedules to focus on the project.

Document your requirements

When you were looking at a new system, you likely collected your requirements by working with people in your organization to define and record them. During the demonstrations, these requirements were used as a basis for determining which system best fit your organization’s needs.

But now, you will need something much more in-depth. This includes everything from your paid time-off plans to your benefit eligibility rules to how each earning or deduction is calculated and taxed. It includes organizational structure and how it supports approval workflow, HR reporting and the general ledger.

If you are working with an implementation consultant, they will guide you through this process as well as help translate your desired results into the language the vendor teams understand.

If you are taking on the implementation project in-house without an implementation professional to guide you, make sure you understand your exact current and future requirements before you take any other steps. The temptation is to document exactly the way your system is set up or working now. But there is a reason you are changing. Think about future needs and what is not currently working. Fix it now or live with it into the future.

This discovery/analysis document becomes the foundation for your entire configuration, for individual unit tests and, ultimately, for the sign-off decision to go live or not.

Integration with existing systems

Many organizations have existing systems in place that need to integrate with a new HCM system. Often, an implementation consultant’s support will include seamless integration with other applications such as payroll, time and attendance, and talent management systems, enabling data exchange and process automation. 

In some cases, you will implement another new system along with your new HCM system—say, an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system—and you will need to ensure the two systems are optimally integrated during this period when you have the most ideal window to align them properly for best results. It is worth doing your research ahead of time to select systems that are compatible.

Testing and quality assurance

Rigorous testing and quality assurance checks are required at every stage to ensure a smooth implementation. Identifying and resolving potential issues early on helps minimize the risk of system disruptions and greatly increases the odds of having a successful go-live and post-go-live experience. Failure to test thoroughly and repair issues that crop up during the testing phase might come back to haunt you after your system goes live.

Remember change management and training

Implementing a new HCM system often requires changes to existing internal processes and workflows. Recognize the importance of change management and offer support to employees throughout the implementation process. From communication strategies to stakeholder engagement, it is worth expending the energy and time to navigate the organizational changes required for a successful implementation. If your new system offers many self-service options, line up either “train the trainer” or end-user training to be sure employees do not feel like to system features are inaccessible.

Post-go-live considerations

Will you need payroll support through the first few post-go-live cycles? Does your staff need end-user training or business intelligence report training? Will you need help with your next open enrollment cycle or automating your benefits vendor interfaces? Think through what support will be needed for your team to make certain the organization, and your employees, will have the best possible experience through the system transition. The new system should bring increased employee confidence and satisfaction.

Begin your implementation journey

The right HCM system that is set up optimally to meet organizational goals and deliver desired results is a key component of long-term business success because it affects every process and every person in the company. But implementation is complex and involves much, much more than just following a set of instructions to shift to a new system. Approaching the initiative with a project-savvy consultant who will guide the implementation process from planning to execution is a smart investment. Reach out to an experienced implementation consultant to discuss your project well in advance of getting started.

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