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When the HCM sponsor exits mid-project

If the HR software project champion leaves the organization or, for some other reason, leaves the project, the team must act quickly. Learn what steps the team should take.

When the HCM implementation project sponsor leaves unexpectedly, the project is in greater danger of failing. That's why it's so important to minimize the disruption.

Human Capital Management (HCM) implementation project sponsors are often in executive level positions within an organization and have overall responsibility for the project. Typically, the project sponsor, or project champion, will see the project through until the end. However, they might get another job within the organization or at another organization, or they may not finish the project for some other reason. In those cases, the right stakeholders need to move quickly.

Here are steps that can help ensure a successful implementation and resolve issues that can arise in the wake of the sponsor's exit.

1. Appoint the new project sponsor quickly

Initially, the project manager may be the person accountable for moving the project forward and ensuring that the right person identifies a new project sponsor. Assigning the new project sponsor and champion will likely fall to the organization's leader or another member of the executive team.

While the new project sponsor may need some time to get up to speed, having someone at the helm will reassure the project team that the project remains a priority for the organization. A sponsor also serves the critical role of point person who can escalate issues when things are not going as planned. Ideally, the new project sponsor will have a vested interest in ensuring the project is a success.

2. Onboard the new sponsor

Assuming the exiting project sponsor has given notice, the organization's executive team can use that time to transfer project knowledge to the project sponsor or an interim sponsor. The team can review information such as why the project was required, why the team selected a specific vendor and other key data points the team may know but may not have documented in detail.

In addition, the key members of the project team, such as the project manager and technical lead, can serve an important role in educating the new project sponsor and other employees within the organization. Key members may have been involved in the project from the very beginning and therefore have a good understanding of factors such as timeline, risks and goals.

3. Prepare for reset

A new project sponsor may want to reconfirm all or many aspects of the project. These may include the selected HCM system, the implementation schedule and the project resources. The new project sponsor may want to reconfirm the whole project or just aspects. While this may be a distraction for project team members, the new project sponsor may want to gain a certain comfort level before assuming responsibility for the project in its current form.

For example, the new project sponsor could prefer a particular vendor and could choose to stop the project and go in another direction, even if it is midway through. If they are taking over responsibility for the project and are accountable, they may not want to settle with what their predecessor did, even though changing course is likely difficult.

4. Provide documentation

While documentation is always important, when a new project sponsor joins a project, the project team should anticipate a number of questions. Knowing where to find the answers and point the project sponsor to reports, presentations and other documents relevant to the implementation will add credibility to the project and its team members.

5. Understand the potential impact

Losing the original HCM implementation project sponsor midstream is not ideal, since it can have a number of negative effects on the project. The goal is to minimize the impact and set the project up for success. Challenges may appear, which is why a concerted effort to address the departure early is so important.

Project abandonment

The HCM system project could be canceled for any number of reasons such as a lack of support from senior management, the new project sponsor's preference for a different vendor or a review of the project revealing too many challenges to warrant continuing with the implementation. Having a new sponsor join the project team as early as possible helps to minimize the fallout from a cancelled HCM implementation project.

Poorly executed implementation

A lack of clear direction and ownership may cause the implementation to fail. The project can continue along without a project sponsor, but that's not wise. The project team might make key decisions in isolation, without the broader organization in mind. This can lead to issues that only come to light post-implementation. For example, the project team may lose sight of important developments happening in other areas of the organization that impact the HCM system.

Lack of escalation point

The HCM implementation project team may run into serious issues with the implementation partner or vendor that require an escalation. Without someone in the project sponsor role, these escalations may not happen, or may not happen as forcefully as they should, and could lead to issues later in the implementation. For example, the vendor might charge additional costs or have a dispute about the organization's implementation of certain features.

Loss of additional key resources

The unexpected loss of the project sponsor and champion may lead others to follow suit. Whether the departure was a result of this project or not, others may believe it was and also choose to leave. The way in which the organization handles the departure also has an impact. For example, sharing positive messaging related to the project, and quickly adjusting the reporting hierarchy for the project, even if only on an interim basis, can put people at ease and allow them to focus on the necessary tasks. When left with too many unanswered questions for an extended period of time, project team members may start making assumptions about the viability of the project and decide to leave.

Project sponsor enthusiasm

The original project sponsor was likely committed to the project because of strong belief and passion about it. A new project sponsor may not have that same level of commitment for the system or agree with how the implementation project is progressing.

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