March 8, 2022 Implementation Support

Discovery & Analysis: Why The Pre-Planning Phase Can Make or Break Your Implementation

Implementation is like playing in a championship game. Though the actual game is what can clinch the trophy, your team had to spend weeks training to get ready to perform. With implementation, your ‘go-live’ date may feel like game-time, but it’s all the hard laying of groundwork that will bring you a resounding win. Adopting the outlook of a seasoned athlete and backing up further, it is important to understand that analysis of past wins and losses plus the pre-planning of effective training methods and schedules is also essential to earning a run at the championship trophy.   

In other words, the time you invest in discovery, pre-planning, and analysis before beginning implementation directly impacts how smoothly this lengthy and complex project will run and, ultimately, the achievement of short- and long-term results you want to see. We recently sat down with Marta Williams, CPP and VP of Client Services, here at Wise Consulting to take a closer look at what a successful pre-implementation period looks like. 

Building Pre-Planning Into the Timeline

HCM system implementation projects are almost always bigger than initially estimated. Building your timeline to accommodate pre-planning analysis is a key predictor of whether your team is going to make the ‘go-live’ deadline. However, budgeting time for pre-planning often gets overlooked. “While everyone is laser-focused on their ‘go-live’ date, if they don’t focus on the analysis and the pre-work, then they miss the boat and find out afterward that they didn’t take the time needed to think through things like how to best leverage the product, what their definition of success is, or how they’re going to get there,” explains Williams. If this essential time of discovery and planning is missed, an implementation can be doomed before it even begins. “It’s like trying to throw an amazing party without doing any of the party planning,” says Williams. 

Williams and her team recommend building in at least four to six weeks purely for pre-planning work. “The pre-planning is crucial for long-term success,” says Williams, noting steps the Wise team takes when approaching implementation with a client. “We’ll ask questions such as ‘What is your definition of success?’, ‘What are your goals?’, ‘Who are going to be the main project team members?’, ‘What will decision-making processes look like and how will we keep them on track?’” While they may seem obvious, many unseasoned implementation teams only look ahead to the ‘doing’ part. Taking time to define what was lacking in your last system and which gaps in implementation team knowledge need to be filled before starting is tough to backtrack to when realization dawns that those details are integral to the project.   

Baseline discovery questions will help to establish how success will be measured, what the process will look like, and even what the results will be 5 years into product use. Williams suggests that teams should understand why a new system was purchased in the first place. “We need to know what the end goal is. Are you consolidating? Are you centralizing? Are you looking to get something different out of the new system that you aren’t able to get out of the current one?” Understanding what didn’t work with the legacy system and the clear goals of the new system will help ensure that the new HCM system is designed from the start to resolve the problems it was purchased to resolve. Many companies rush implementation of a new system only to discover that it has the same problems they were looking to get away from because they did not take time to plan the approach to obtain the results they wanted. Proper understanding and planning of how to handle data transfer and system configuration prevent falling into that trap.

Lean On Analytics for a Successful Implementation 

Once the pre-planning questions have been answered, Williams and her team typically dive into a more thorough analysis of the legacy system as well as the new system. “Once we have the important information from pre-planning, we can start getting into the analysis of the different pieces of the products,” she explains. “This can include setting up organizational models, talking about earnings, deductions, benefits, add-on modules, and data conversions. Those are the main high-level areas that we’ll spend a lot of time on.” Taking the time to build these structures correctly based on your business’s unique needs will ensure that your HCM system can be successful long-term. 

In addition to analyzing how the system needs to be set up, it is important to take the time to analyze what skills the implementation team needs to bring to the project. “No matter your timeline, it’s important that you’re working with a team that understands what questions to ask and how to make those decisions efficiently,” explains Williams. If your team lacks this ability, it’s important that you recruit an expert to help. “Many times, smaller organizations get into their implementation before realizing they need an expert. Doing the legwork beforehand and identifying skill gaps that an expert can fill will help to make the process more successful.”

Keep the End-User Top of Mind  

When making sure that you’re equipped for an implementation, it’s important that your team takes into consideration one of the most important players in the game: your end user. Williams and her team often find that clients overlook the importance of user adoption and fail to incorporate change management into the project. “Change management is the process of working with the client, up front and throughout the entire project, to think through how they’re going to educate their end-users about the new system. We think through what’s going to change in the employees’ day-to-day: Is their paycheck going to look different? Is self-service going to open up to managers or all employees? How will current processes evolve? All of that has to be decided and communicated before you get to your ‘go-live’ date,” explains Williams. 

One of the most crucial pieces of change management is developing a plan to train end-users. This is especially important if the implementation team is small. “We have worked with some clients that just have one or two people involved in the implementation. When that one person isn’t available or leaves unexpectedly, that company is in a bind,” explains Williams. Taking the time to establish training processes early on and properly documenting the why behind certain decisions can help prevent the brain drain that occurs when a key employee departs. 

From Old To New: Setting Up Your Transition From Legacy to New HCM  

After you’ve analyzed what needs to go into your new HCM system, you can start the transition from old to new. While the process of extracting historical data and getting it set up in your new system may seem straightforward, Williams explains that it can be a tedious process yet must be done correctly. “You can’t just take your old data and stick it into the new system,” she says. “The data needs to be extracted with care, needs to be scrubbed, and then needs to be turned around and inserted meticulously into the new system in a way that will set the system up for success through ‘go-live’.” 

This process is just one example of the importance of doing your homework during pre-planning. The analysis that you’ve completed will allow you to set up a map that better fits your new HCM system and eradicates any previous errors or pain points. Using that map, you’ll insert historical data from the legacy system into the new HCM system. For example, Williams explains how job codes may change from one system to another. In the legacy system, jobs may be coded numerically, while the new system may utilize actual job titles as codes – think ‘Marketing Manager’ versus ‘Employee 123’. All data associated with ‘Employee 123’ must be accurately carried over and applied to ‘Marketing Manager’. Failing to do this correctly can have detrimental impacts on key processes. “It’s not always just employee profile information, it’s also important paycheck information,” explains Williams. “Every earning, every deduction, every tax code, every taxable wage.” 

This process can further peel back the curtain and allow you to look for errors in your legacy system. “If you don’t do so thoroughly enough, you may be carrying those errors into the new system,” warns Williams. “In these cases, clients will get into the system and it can be a troubled implementation for all involved. Even after they’re ‘live’, they’ll have problems and find that they are no better off than they were with their legacy system.” Williams points out that this is a common time for leadership to begin doubting the decision to invest in a new system and start looking for outside help to make it right.

Prevent Buyer’s Remorse On Your New HCM System: Talk with a Wise Consultant Today 

When it comes to an implementation, one of the worst-case scenarios is ending up with a new system that doesn’t feel like much of an improvement over your legacy system. However, there are things you can do to prevent that from happening – taking the time to properly go through the pre-planning process is one of those things. “Often, when clients feel like they have buyer’s remorse, they don’t truly have buyer’s remorse. They have ‘I didn’t take the time to make sure that this system will work for me’ remorse,” shares Williams. “Two or three months down the road from ‘go-live’, they’re wishing they had taken that time because the system would be more meaningful and accurate to their company.” 

At Wise, we understand better than most that an implementation is a long and complex process, but taking the time to do it correctly can make a world of difference in the longevity and efficacy of your HCM system. If you’re beginning to feel that your current HCM system just isn’t cutting it, reach out to a consultant at Wise today. Our team of experienced employee-owners will work with you to understand what is – and isn’t – working with your current HCM system and what needs to be done to keep your new HCM system delivering desired results for many years to come.


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