The Case for Project Management’s Place in the HR Practitioner’s Heart

Project Management
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Our work is a series of projects, connected by periods of maintenance on projects of the past.

I often make that argument with friends and colleagues when I try to explain why project management should hold a much larger place in the hearts of HR professionals.

What we often refer to as “helping our employees bring their best selves to work,” or “ensuring that every employee has the chance to succeed” in our departmental mission and vision statements is really a series of current, or completed projects with a similar purpose, and a similar end in mind.

Case in Point

The applicant tracking system (ATS) that your HRIS analysts spend half of their time maintaining, was once a project. It was initiated at some point in the distant past through a needs analysis. Stakeholder interviews were conducted, a plan was put in place, and that plan was executed through completion.

Today, that ATS might be taken for granted as one of the many interlocking systems that make up your modern HR department, but at some point in the past, bringing that ATS to life was a serious undertaking that took a great deal of planning and considerable time and resources.

Definition of a Project

The Project Management Institute (PMI) defines a project as “temporary, in that it has a defined beginning and end in time, and therefore defined scope and resources.” PMI further states that “a project is unique in that it is not a routine operation, but a specific set of operations designed to accomplish a singular goal.”

Below are additional instances in which projects defined the way many of us do things in HR:

  • The research, planning and effort that went into developing your organization’s compensation structure probably met the definition of a project. Annual maintenance and adjustments of that compensation structure however, doesn’t live up to that definition.
  • Annual sexual harassment prevention training is not a project, however the effort to initially develop and disseminate the training most likely was.
  • The work of assessing the organization’s need for leadership development, then implementing a mentoring program was in all likelihood a project, but maintaining it over the years is not.

What if, however, we decided to switch to another ATS? Or, what if we scrapped our compensation structure for a newer, cooler model? Further, what if we dropped our vendor and developed our Sexual Harassment Prevention training in house? If this is the case, we’ve got another project on your hands! Each of these scenarios meet the “uniqueness” test, in that they are not performed regularly. Work of this magnitude is performed rarely, and demands the focus that project management requires.

Project Management Defined

PMI defines project management as “the application of knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to project activities that meet project requirements.” Further, PMI states that project management “brings a unique focus shaped by the goals, resources and schedule of each project.”

The key is focus, and having a method to bring focus to the most important aspects of an initiative is what project management is all about.

If you’ve worked on any of the initiatives above, or projects that are similar in nature, you know the amount of focus and effort involved in bringing each to completion. You’ve experienced what I started this post expressing; our work is a series of projects, connected by periods of maintenance on projects of the past. Perhaps most importantly, you know that the work we do on projects is often the work that makes the greatest impact.

Project Management is how we get our most important work done, and because our work crafts the culture that brings out the best in people, it deserves a place in the HR practitioner’s heart.


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