Leaving the Present in the Past

December 2, 2015

Stop mapping the current state HR processes and focus on the future.

I recently attended a session at an industry conference to learn about creating an HR technology strategy. Much of the advice resonated with my own experiences in helping clients through the difficult process of building a business case and then defining a better future state. However, there was one bit of advice that I strongly disagreed with. It was the assertion that a team should spend at least a month mapping out current-state HR processes in detail.

The argument was that the gigantic paper flowcharts could be hung in corporate hallways to impress stakeholders with their mind-bending complexity. Later, simplified future-state maps could be hung on the opposite wall to demonstrate the power of a red pen and to promise a better future.

The biggest problem with this ideas is that mapping out current-state processes is a ton of work. Yes, it is great for consultants who bill by the hour to interview and document, but does it add enough value to be worth the cost?

Current-state maps are so much work because, when documenting something real, it’s nearly impossible to stay at a high level. There’s a strong inclination to capture all the tiny details that are collected from the people who live within the process. The resulting charts have far more swim lanes, decision points, and action steps than are necessary. The charts become an expensive work of art that rarely can explain the big picture or show you how to move forward.

Incidentally, those future-state maps look suspiciously like someone did a “Save as…” in Visio of the current-state maps and just started deleting sections. (Because that’s exactly what happened.) Why throw away a month’s worth of work?

One of the reasons that current state mapping is still popular is that in the “old days,” systems were custom-built to model these maps after a few adjustments. However, today very few organizations build custom systems. Instead, they now implement configurable SaaS solutions that generally follow best-practice processes. The details of the current-state are much less relevant in the new world.

Don’t get me wrong – understanding the current-state is important, but process mapping it isn’t the best approach. A better way is to draw a box around the whole process and then define inputs and outputs. Define what relevant “use cases” or “user stories” are delivered. Then, look at the big picture metrics such as FTEs involved, cycle times, and quality for the entire process. These alternate activities can then stay high-level while still capturing the baseline information needed to show real improvements critical to the business case.

Now focus on the future state. Spend time understanding the industry best practice that have been codified in the market-leading HR solutions. Review other people’s process maps to understand the flows and make sure that your requirements are met. In some cases, you may find some needs that are unique to your organization for good reasons, like competitive advantage, industry compliance, or factors truly outside of your control. You will find that these unique items will then drive much of your decision making on the vendors. Some vendors will have the right flexibility and others won’t.

Now you have what you need to identify a short-list of vendors, who you can ask to explain how they would handle your unique (and important) needs. Use your extra month to see demos, check references, and carefully review contract terms. This will be time well spent.

HRchitect can handle all your needs in creating an HCM Technology Strategy, including creating meaningful documentation which will assist you and your organization to streamline processes and become more effective and efficient.