HR and Project Management: 6 Best Practices for Success
Sharlyn Lauby

By: Sharlyn Lauby on August 13th, 2020

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HR and Project Management: 6 Best Practices for Success

Est. Read Time: 3 min.

One of the activities that’s great for building skills and experience is leading a project team. As a project leader, you can gain exposure to different situations, learn new things, and start to build positive working relationships with a different group of coworkers. 


While meeting the project goal is essential, leading a project team is sometimes expressed in terms of a “stretch” assignment. Meaning there’s an opportunity to lead a team that’s facing a big task or a tight deadline. An example that comes to mind is when the organization is planning to implement a new technology solution. It’s almost always a high-profile project that involves lots of resources and touches a huge portion of the organization. This is when our leadership skills are really put to the test. Here are six HR project management best practices you can use to make sure that leading your next project is a success.


1. Provide the project team with development

Team development is different from team building. It’s focused on giving employees the skills they need to be effective members of any team. Common team development skills include problem solving, consensus building, decision making, and communication. Employees should regularly receive this type of training so that, when they’re asked to lead or participate on a project team, they already have the skills in place to be successful.


Example: Let’s use the example above about the project team implementing a technology solution. The group is going to need to be able to gather information from stakeholders about technology needs (communication), reach agreement on the needs of the new system (consensus building), evaluate technology partners (critical thinking), just to name a few.


2. Create a formal project document

According to Villanova University, only 32% of all projects are completed on time, within budget, and with required quality standards. A project document would help keep the team on track. It should contain three things: 1) A list of all team members, including the project team leader, and the project sponsor. It might be useful to use the RACI acronym (responsible, accountable, consult, and inform) to document team roles and responsibilities. 2) The scope of work for the project including timelines. 3) Of course, the project needs a budget.


Example: The project team to implement a new human resources technology solution is going to include representatives from HR, IT, and possibly accounting. This may or may not be the group that approved the project. If it’s a solution that will have some sort of employee interface, then it could make sense to include a couple of employees from other departments. 


3. Hold an official project kickoff meeting

The project leader and sponsor should make sure that the first project team meeting is memorable so the team starts the project with enthusiasm and can gain momentum. During the meeting, the project leader should share the project document and discuss the WIFFM (what’s in it for me) along with any potential challenges. In addition to the team understanding the details of the project, it might be good to incorporate some team building activities so the group can begin to form some camaraderie. Unlike team development (in #1 above), team building is about the group bonding, building relationships, and growing engagement around the project. 


Example: The HR technology implementation team should discuss each group’s unique position in this project— both their strengths and concerns. The HR project team leader might talk about how much administrative time the solution is going to save them. Additionally, they might want to admit that they need IT’s expertise to make sure the system is compatible with payroll.


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4. Use the principles of agile in project management

Agile development is a process often used in software development. Think of it as breaking the project into milestones with a beginning, middle, and end. This approach allows the team to regularly evaluate their progress and make adjustments along the way. One of the big benefits of agile project management is that it can help save time and resources through those ‘reviews and adjustments’ that happen during the project.


Example: Let’s say during the project’s initial assessment, the HR technology implementation team realizes that they can’t afford all of the software features they wanted. This might result in the project team creating plans for a Phase 1 (essential features) and Phase 2 (enhanced features). It’s better to find this information out early, so the team can manage resources and expectations. 


5. Build the project plan

This is different from the project document (#2). The project document defines the group. The project plan defines what the group will do. A common project management planning tool is the SMART acronym (specific, measurable, actionable, responsible, timebound). Having the team build the project plan allows the group to create consensus around the plan. As a side note, consensus building is about everyone being able to LIVE with the plan. Not necessarily being in LOVE with the plan. There’s a difference


Example: One key element to successful project teams is having a common goal (aka the BHAG—big, hairy audacious goal). In the case of the project team that’s implementing a new technology solution, the SMART plan ensures that everyone has an assignment and can see how their individual tasks help the group reach success. It also serves as a double check that no one person is overwhelmed. 


6. Conduct a project debrief

There’s research that shows teams that conduct debriefs perform up to 20% better. The debrief doesn’t have to be long or complex. After each phase of the plan is completed, the project team can conduct a two-question debrief: What did we do well? What can we do differently? Give the project team an opportunity to celebrate their success and reflect on best practices for the future. 


Example: This step ties into agile project management (#4 above) and allows the team to update the plan for the next step/phase. The project team can make sure they don’t repeat the same mistakes – like having too aggressive of a timeline or not budgeting enough for software customizations. The point of the debrief isn’t to point fingers to place blame. It’s to make the project team stronger for the next project. 


All organizations have projects they need to manage. Some are big, like implementing a new technology solution, and others are small. Regardless, employees should have the skills to successfully lead, manage, and participate in team projects. It’s good for the employee and their career development. It’s excellent for the company’s strategic goals and resource management. 


Thinking about implementing a digital employee file management system? In our eBook, The Complete Guide to Digital HR Document Management, we explain how to (1) get buy-in for going digital, (2) choose a solution, (3) prepare to go paperless, and (4) maintain a paper-free HR department.


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About Sharlyn Lauby

Sharlyn Lauby is the HR Bartender and president of ITM Group Inc., a Florida based training and human resources consulting firm focused on helping companies retain and engage talent. Sharlyn sees human resources as a strategic partner - the marketing department for a company’s internal clients rather as administrative. During her 20+ years in the profession, she has earned a reputation for bringing business solutions to reality. Prior to starting ITM Group, Sharlyn was vice president of human resources for Right Management Consultants, one of the world’s largest organizational consulting firms. She has designed and implemented highly successful programs for employee retention, internal and external customer satisfaction, and leadership development. Publications such as Reuters, The New York Times, ABC News, TODAY, Readers Digest, Men’s Health and The Wall Street Journal have sought out her expertise on topics related to human resources and workplace issues.