Why many HRIS projects fail and how to avoid this fate

Rachel Hill


written on October 22, 2016

Human resources information systems (HRIS) seem to have gone into over drive, with an explosion of new features and modules in the past few years.

These major IT system automations and purchases are not traditionally in the HR remit. However, HRIS projects put HR firmly in the spot light to deliver on the new system on time and within budget, with the added pressure that users – your employees – will embrace the new technology.

Here are the most common implementation mistakes and how you can avoid them:

1. Realise this is a big deal

There is a tendency to underestimate the complexity, time and cost of the HRIS project and its impact on the behaviour and processes of the whole organisation. HR and the wider business needs to acknowledge this will be a major overhaul. Allocate the right IT and HR resources and budget, and anticipate a big change for everyone.

2. Do more planning

About 68 percent of all IT projects fail due to poor planning, according to a 2009 Standish CHAOS report. You’ll need to plan out each phase of the implementation, taking stakeholder and user needs into consideration, and creating some detailed timelines. Take a proper project-based approach. Making sure that the key milestones and interdependencies are identified.

3. Begin with the end in mind

Before you even look at products or talk to vendors, stop and take some time out. What are you trying to achieve from the new system? What is your HR strategy? Articulate how the systems will help support this. Is your focus recruitment, or performance, or culture? What HR services do you want to provide? If you begin with vendor demos, your likely to purchase something that, down the line, doesn’t fully support what you really wanted to achieve.

4. Senior executive buy-in and sponsorship

This is crucial. Without senior stakeholder buy-in, don’t even consider commencing a new HRIS system or upgrade. A good starting point is always an excellent, well-researched and well-consulted business case for change.

5. Select your project manager wisely

Many companies make the mistake of relying solely on the vendor for project management. Hint: their priorities will not always be the same as yours. Appoint your own project manager, and go for a project leader who has experience in HRIS (not necessarily an internal person) and is good at change management.

6. Allow for resources and a dedicated team

Second people from your HR team to support the project manager – ideally those who know the business, culture and processes well, being subject matter experts (SME). This team should be allowed to focus strictly on the HRIS, not running the project ‘off the side of their desk’ while maintaining other full-time duties.

7. Sufficient Budget

These are major purchases and major projects. Make sure your specifications have been clearly mapped out up front. Don’t set and forget! These systems need constant upgrades or tweaks. Make sure you have sufficient budget to cover not only the cost of the purchase, but the implementation, the project team, ongoing maintenance and upgrades. Get help from the IT department to scope out the Statement of Work and fully vet any vendors and customisations.

8. Wider stakeholder buy-in

Get other stakeholders (ie departments) involved early. This is essential before the business case is approved or the vendor is even selected. This is not just an HR project, but the purchase of a new HRIS will have wider business impacts and benefits. Your employees will have to work with the system, so it is only fair that they have some say in what kind of system is chosen and what features are prioritised.

9. Get organised and map your process

Organise your paper work, and gather together all current HR processes and procedures. Map them out so they can be quickly automated, rather than having your vendor wait around for HR. Mapping your current ‘as is’ processes will help you map out what’s working and what’s not (and what can be dropped) to create the new ‘to be’ processes.

10. Change management, communication and training

For me, this is the biggest reason why most HRIS projects fail. Having a dedicated change manager on the project is essential. Communication plans, extensive user training, familiarisation, and time and patience are crucial. Sell the benefits. There is nothing worse than a new system that nobody uses. Education is often key to ‘likeability’.

11. Get independent advice and help

Vendors are very good at the sell! They might over promise what the system can do and how easy it can be customised. There’s nothing worse than purchasing a new system only to find out that the software doesn’t actually do what you want without major expenditure. Double check functionality and ask for demos or check with others who have used the software before.

12. Data accuracy: Rubbish in equals rubbish out

After the project has begun, many companies make the mistake of rushing the data transfer phase. Rushing data transfer, rules setup, testing, security or any other technical aspect of HRIS implementation is a recipe for disaster.

13. Team work

Implementation, change management and user buy-in is not the vendor’s responsibility – it’s yours. The whole HR team will need to be involved, on the same page and engaging the business at roll-out stage. 

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6 thoughts on “Why many HRIS projects fail and how to avoid this fate

  1. In the the 20 plus years experience my company has been implementing HRIS Systems, the single biggest mistake that was common with every delayed and/or over budget project was the same task that made other tasks come in on time as well as on or under budget: a full and complete needs assessment of information needs and business processes BEFORE even starting the search for a system.

    Most BP’s are undocumented as well as not very well thought out — along with this comes the back and forth many docs as well as processes go through from incomplete forms to illegible writing, missed signatures, someone (or someones) being unavailable for various reasons… Add to this the wishlist many reports have by their viewers and a golden chance to start anew is missed for one reason: the lack of belief that addressing these matters beforehand won’t make a difference.

    Our studies as well as experiences show otherwise — most Project Management methodologies loads the resources and budgets at the time of the setup and configuration of the system. The reason is usually this is where the most unknowns occur — yet how many have thought of addressing this before the setup and configuration would reduce the amount of time, resources and budget necessary for the setup and configuration?

    We have discovered doing this homework before shopping also increases the likelihood of a better vendor/client relationships as everyone is on the same page and there are much fewer stalls and stops along the way. And stalls and stops there are, usually are resolved much much quicker….

    One brings more pain, the other reduces it… something they only believe after they have had made their decision to do so or not…

  2. As an HR practitioner working in the SME space, my clients do not have HR “teams” – let alone members of those teams who can be freed from doing their day job. They also usually lack “process”; so the intention of implement an HRIS is to create and implement good processes, as well as being able to create good records. I would love to see an article on how best to select and implement HRIS in SMEs.

    1. Hi Catherine great points as many companies in Australia have very small or no HR teams. This is a space I seem to be specialising in at present. How to automate HR on a budget? with few resources and little IT knowledge….. I’ve had lots of demos, know what off the shelf (best of breed) software is out there and the prices. So if you want some HR IT / Automated solutions at a good price – talk to me. I may know the vendors and tools for you. Hundreds of options out there but I’ve reviewed a lot of them (so you don’t have to). happy to have a chat with any one who needs some initial advice on products and offerings. Rachel Hill 0403 899083.

  3. To add to your points:
    – Know what your organisation needs now and in the future. How will this new system help meet business goals (directly or indirectly)?
    – Having a clear understanding of the current pain points can also be used as a selling point to get buy in as well as shortlisting the vendors.
    – Besides reviewing current processes and educating employees on new system / processes, it is also good to look at how people seek and find information and possibly embedding these “transactions” / processes as part of employees daily work flow so that it becomes a productive and meaningful employee experience through solutions that are compelling and simple.
    – Time and effort needs to be dedicated to data cleansing as that will affect the credibility and success of the system

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