What is Agile and what does it mean in the HR Applications world?

The emergence of SaaS HR applications has proved a game changer for HR, allowing the potential to make full use of the advantages of Agile approaches to HR Transformations.

Traditionally, HR system implementations have followed a ‘Waterfall’ approach. In this methodology, projects move through requirements-capture, analysis, design, build and test phases in a structured, pre-planned sequence. The scope is clearly defined and dependencies are managed holistically across all phases of the project.

In contrast, Agile focuses on the implementation of features in rapid, iterative cycles. Changing requirements can be accommodated quickly and with ease; systems can be delivered straight ‘out of the box’ followed by rapid cycles or ‘sprints’ of development. Quicker and easier configuration phases and an ‘off-the-shelf’ approach to deployment increase speed, flexibility and cost-effectiveness.

What are the challenges?

In the case of many large-scale, global organisations, implementation projects will involve the manipulation of complex system landscapes with interlocking components and legacy elements. The short, sharp development phases of Agile may not adequately support the more considered approach required to effectively configure such a multifaceted landscape. Furthermore, deployment in regulated industries requires detailed planning, additional documentation and acceptance processes, which can significantly hinder the quick development cycles required for an Agile approach.

Agile methodologies rely on regular (often daily) short meetings between the project team: this is required to make sure development is focussed in the right areas. When working across multiple geographies or locations, as is often the case with global HR implementations, organising these regular meetings can be a barrier.

For organisations with consent-driven cultures and teams with a lack of decision-making ability, governance can quickly become problematic. Additionally, an Agile approach to implementation depends on a greater degree of collaboration and partnership between client and implementation partner. This becomes difficult if the client is unable to devote the required time and resources to the task.

Adopting ‘structured Agility’

Many of the challenges referenced above can be mitigated though extensive planning. Having a clear picture of the scope of the deployment, the resource requirements needed from both the client and implementation partner, and a committed governance structure from the outset of the project will greatly facilitate the journey. If any of these elements are missing, the implementation will soon run out of steam and get caught up in an endless cycle of reiterations, rework and reviews without any clear direction or purpose.

Agile in its truest form can be challenging in the context of HR implementations: the scope and complexity (for example the sheer number of interlocking systems in the IT landscape) are just too great. Development of technical components like interfaces and data solutions should continue to be managed through a more structured methodology. Components of Agile development are more suited to the Design phase of a project, where the focus is on creating iterative prototypes to demonstrate a solution.

Most importantly, however, effective Agile deployments require a shift in mind-set. For an implementation partner, this change requires a more flexible approach to changing requirements and minimal documentation. For clients, the ask is greater: quick development can only work when supported by quick decision making, and to really benefit from the prototyping approach, clients must be ready to dedicate significant time to working alongside the development teams and shaping the solution on a day-to-day basis.

Agile provides an opportunity to move away from intensive and laborious implementation projects, and there is no doubt that this has opened the door for many clients who could never previously consider a project of this scale. However, exercise caution: adopting Agile without a supporting structure will leave you running in circles.

Sophie SIZEDSophie Ashwell
Sophie is an Analyst in our Human Capital practice. 


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