HR Vision Podcast #17 – Project Management insights ft. Imran Ibrahim

By FourVision
Oct 27 • 1 min read
HR Vision Podcast Episode 17 ft. Imran Ibrahim

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Project Management is often a misunderstood field of expertise. Sometimes these people are seen as bossy, always asking for deliverables and not having a great knowledge of the tools they’re helping implement.  Let’s try to change that perception, shall we?

Imran Ibrahim comes on this episode to give us his approach to Project Management, the common challenges he’s seen and to tell us how communication and teamwork are the basis of a successful implementation. Spoiler alert: There’s a lot of tips in this one!

Ivo:
Hey everyone, and welcome to the HR Vision podcast. I'm your host, Ivo, and every week I'm going to have a conversation that matters about HR. This week I have Imran Ibrahim with me. Welcome Imran, how are you?

Imran:
Hi welcome. Yeah I'm very good. Thanks very good. How are you?

Ivo:
I'm doing great. Thank you so much. Thank you for being here. Imran is based in the UK. He's a project manager at FourVision, and today we're going to discuss what it's like to be a PM in HR tech. So let's start. You ready Imran?

Imran:
Yeah, that's the way.

Ivo:
Alright, well, let's start from the beginning like we do normally with every guest. With a small introduction about yourself, what you've been doing in the area, in the field. Take it away.

Imran:
Yeah, so project management is something that I've been doing for quite some time. I've been in the Dynamics 365 workspace for a number of years. I've worked for various different clients, so I've had working from various Microsoft Gold Partners to end clients. And I've always had a passion for Dynamics 365. Now the thing around with HR is that I was looking for previous clients and I was actually on the end-client side. And FourVision were one of the suppliers that are providing the the payroll services and I was quite intrigued and interested about some of the services that FourVision actually provided. It was a good product.

Also, last year I got a call and I was asked to join and ever since I joined, I just thought "Wow this is, from what they're actually providing, it's quite a advanced product in terms of the web apps and everything. So I never actually picked HR as an expertise that I want to go towards or go down. for me it was always about leading the team through a successful implementation in there. Regardless of the technology. So for me, it's been a great journey so I've been, managing projects in that workspace. So yeah, that's what I've been doing for for most of my time anyway.

Ivo:
Alright, so you worked in other areas before tha? In areas other than HR in project management management or has it always been HR?

Imran:
No it's been lots of other areas so I've been working with FNO or F&SCM, as Microsoft likes keep changing the names. Yeah, and there's been integration. There's been warehousing e-commerce so you know, I've worked in lots of different areas and then AX, CRM, CE. Overall, but the common theme here is that it's all being around, Dynamics 365. So yeah, as a project manager, it's very, very different. It's like I mentioned previously, it's all about leading the team through a successful implementation, so it's not really about knowing everything about technology, about the product, and although it does help, but it's more about guiding the team through that successful implementation and making sure everything is being controlled, maintained and everything. So that's what a project manager really needs to do to be honest.

Ivo:
OK, that's an interesting point of view. Do you notice any difference between the teams you're working on, or even the clients that you work with regarding if you're doing an implementation on the HR side or on the CRM side or financial side, did you? Do you notice any difference? Or basically the same same thing?

Imran:
Well, there will always be a difference, even if it's the HR side, because every client you speak to, they've got subtle differences between each other. There will be some clients that want everything 100% standard, so you go through a pretty straightforward approach and deliver the product. But then you have. Some clients will say yeah, we want standard, we don't want to pay the extra, but we want to have all of these extras as well. So and then you'll have that discussion, we have negotiations. And you may start having to pull out the statement of works again and everything. So every client has its own challenges regardless of what it may be. I mean with F&O, it's always about tackling with the financial teams and a lot of the backing they get from the CFO, because effectively they were the Chief Financial Office.

So with HR, I don't tend to see a lot of the CFO'getting too much involved. It's more of the HR directores, and pretty much on their side. Whereas with the F&O system, I do see lots more involvement around the businesses as opposed to HR. So but ultimately all implementations are implementations without, and for a successful presentation you have to follow the same principles. It's from what I've seen. That's my feeling anyway.

Ivo:
Alright, I was wondering if there's a big difference in people profiles, and when you're leading with financial people IT people, HR people. There must be some differences there, because different profiles of people select different fields of expertise. So that was why I was asking.

Imran:
Yeah, of course!

Ivo:
OK. So you were always interested in technology as well. It was something that you picked on as a project manager that you really enjoyed. The fact that technology comes in to improve processes and what people are doing with their daily job lives, let's say?

Imran:
I've always had a passion for technology and I've always been fascinated how this has actually evolved today. HR systems, for what I remember, were a combination of complex spreadsheets that would be difficult to report on. And would continuously break from what I remember. Now cloud computing has been a huge game changer from what I've seen and has allowed global companies to stay connected with HR. With Dynamics 365 for visual web apps, so that's, that's where I see the game change going forward. And that's where I've been interested.

Ivo:
Alright, let's pick up on the thing that you were mentioning a couple of times. The fact that it's all about taking a project from the beginning to the end. Successful successfully coordinating the team. Trying to do it within the timeline that you have. That's what it's all about for project managers. So my question for you is: What is it like to be a project manager in HR, now that you are? What are the the main important factors for a successful implementation of the projects that you've been working on?

Imran:
The question customers tend to ask the most when introducing project managers is: They say "What is your management style?" "In what style do you manage projects?" Everybody is quite interested in that. And and everybody's got their own style. It's like personalities. You have your own personality of how you do things and how you behave. And it's a style. But It's more about yourself now. I think with me it's about, a project manager should not be seen as a team leader or a master or anything like that, or "we need to go to the project manager". I mean the way I see it in my world, in my bubble, right? I see that a project manager should be a person that is encouraging, enabling and energizing people to gel as a team. And be able to realize their full potential, so that as a team we achieve a successful implementation. And that's how I see it, you know?

So we all work together, individually. So a project manager will have their responsibilities. That team will have their responsibilities and the role of a project manager is to just get everybody together so they can, you know. work towards their full potential and I think that's what's really important that to get to that level, and that's just that's just my style.That's why I think we should. We should do and and a project manager in HR tech and for the world we are living today. It should be more like a a servant leader, whose focus is on the needs of the team members and the customers that we have that we serve. this is all achieving results, you know. In line with the organization values, principles and business objectives. So I think that's how that's how I feel that we should. We should do things. More accustomed to that, as opposed tot the traditional carrot stick mentality where you give a carrot if they're doing well and you give a stick, if they're not doing so well. I'd rather work with people supports and that way we come to a common goal and so far I've not had any issues. It seems to be working And what gets me really excited is, when I see the whole team collaborating, and we want to achieve that common goal. That's what really gets me excited.

Ivo:
OK so I imagine that communication is a big part of that. Keeping the those teams in engaged and knowing where they're going, getting the work done all altogether. What are what are the main tools? The main things that you take into consideration that you use to keep the team engaged in terms of communication.

Imran:
Yeah, so I mean you're right. Typically communication is one of the key qualities that a project manager needs to have. Because obviously if you can't communicate effectively, then we're going to be lost really. It has been challenging when working remotely, because of the pandemic, so that's been a different party in itself, so we had to be quite strict in the tools that we use, because of the fact that we're remote now. Because typically if we want remote, then you'd have, like you have like a team meeting, like a stand up call for about 10 to 15 minutes maximum. Where you'd probably go through the team and you probably ask questions of what did we you know? What did we complete yesterday? What have we achieved? What's our plan for activities today? And then we go through other any impediments or any issues or any concerns from team that we can tackle. So this is the kind of thing that you typically go through on a on a daily basis. Depending on what stage you are in a project.

Also you probably have like a weekly meeting, just to go through a bit more detail to see about the activities. The more project related activities, or timesheets, or risks and issues and those those typical items that you'd want to go through the team. When going through it, we want to make sure that it's combined. So until the communication it shouldn't be just about. OK. Well, I'm having this discussion with the FourVision team or the partner team, but not with the client team. We need to have the client team as well so that that they feel also part of the global team. Because we're in this together basically. We gotta make sure that we do that. And I think that's quite important as well so that we are always aligned. Otherwise there will be misalignment between the teams. Or where we are. In what stage of the project. So that would be typically, the kind of things I do.

In terms of tools, there are various different tools that we could use. So there's tools like, I mean what I use is, we've got the highlight report. So it's like a template which has got a nice summary page where it shows milestones of where we are, and with and what percentage is completed.

Ivo:
You share that with the clients or it's also for the team tp be aware pf where we are in the project?

Imran:
It's shared with the clients. Also there's a lot of discussion with the team as well. Going through the project plan of where we are, and that's typically what we do in our, weekly meetings. But yeah, absolutely, these are always, shared with the client. It gives a 'RAG status' which is which is known as a Red, Amber or Green. So it's like a traffic light. So if somebody looks at the at the summary page immediately, they can say, right? OK, we are in red, amber or green. Red as in "we're in trouble". or Amber, cautious and green: "We're doing well, we're doing fine.". Yo you could just quite honestly look at the page it's green, we're fine, I don't need to see anything else. It does a red right? OK, I need to step into it, so you normally would get somebody like the project sponsor or somebody senior from their side to look at the problem and find a fix for it, or find a solution.

So this is typically how we communicate things on a very fast basis to get to an issue. Then you'll have your issue and risk register as well where if there's any risks or issues. If it's an issue, again if it's a problem, an issue needs to be resolved pretty much straight away. We do that on a regular basis. And then you have your steering committee meetings with the steering committee. That would be typically on a monthly basis, that we would have sessions with their senior colleagues. So it could probably be the project sponsor. It could be the CEO, it could be the CFO or CTO. So it would be very people in quite high positions in the organization that would have discussions with about the progress of the project and the budget. And and everything else. So a project manager doesn't always get invited to those sessions is normally somebody like Bert or Peter or Mike.

But I have been in Sessions where the project manager is also invited. just to you know. To summarize in very succinctly the project on what status we're at.

Ivo:
Alright, very interesting indeed. I think you gave some very nice pointers for people listening what it is to work as a project manager. So thank you for that. So following up on that, you already gave an overview of the best practices. But for sure you also you also face some challenges when implementing any product. Specifically referring to the HR since you've been working FourVision for a year. What are the common challenges that you come across? In your on your work as a project manager for this kind of product.

Imran:
I guess typically, so the challenges that I've come across. Arguably it is always about, what has been sold from pre sales to the customer. Because that's what the customer has bought. We show them a dream, they want something specific. And we've sold them this dream and they're expecting this dream when it comes to the implementation. I guess 6 out of 10 times that is what tends to happen, but not always the case. Because there could be some customizations, or there could be other areas, or it could be a case of maybe a dream was sold, but it's not been communicated to the right people correctly.

So what typically tends to happen is that when when it goes from pre-sales from the setup of the product. That maybe the CFO and that maybe one of the directors and they did go there with this list. And they say "Great, look. We've got this superb HR solution. It's going to solve all the problems through the HR team. It's a great product. This is what we need to do. And this is what's going to cost you." And they're like "Wow, OK, we need to do this. Great, let's get a statement of work prepared. Give it to me I'll sign it. And then let's start.". And that's typically what tends to happen. And then what then happens after that is that there's a sales handover. To the project manager, the project manager will then go through it and scan this whole scope of the project. Look at it and thinks right. OK, we've got set number of days to do this, and then what tends to happen is that we'll then go back to the client, the project, the project manager on their side, and they go through the scope. And then they realized afterwards that "Hold on a second, this is not what we signed up to." or "We need to sign up for more.".

Because, the people who are responsible for the jobs that they need to do, do not get involved when contracts are being put together. And I think that's a big problem and and therefore when it comes to going through the workshops and going to other sessions, a lot of gaps tends to appear and then people and then the client gets frustrated. Stakeholders get frustrated. That why do we have this statement? Why do we have this product with so many gaps? What's being sought? It's because those particular people that were there to sign this statement did not communicate that to their stakeholders. Not communicate those people. Those business leaders who are responsible for those areas. And that's why it ends up costing more money, which means they've got back to the business to say "Can I have more money?".

This is always a challenge that as project managers we have to challenge. I think that's why it's quite important as well; that presales or when, or at least when the statement of works is actually being prepared, that a project manager is actually involved and goes through it. And gets it approved as well to make sure that the effort and time and the scope is relative to what we're going to be delivering. Otherwise, we have this continuous loop of a challenge.

Also. The client is not always aware that how much effort they put in themselves for activities such as there could be a lot of requirements gathering and we mustn't always assume that the client is aware of how projects are meant to be implemented. I mean the the client is just doing a normal day-to-day job just like everybody else. So I think what tends to happen is that when when projects are started. consultants come in. PM's come in, they just assume that yet the client will just know the process and know the approach. No, no, no!

So that that needs to be. That needs to be really explained. So when we have the project kick-off, we go through the project approach. We go to the project style, we explain what we're going to be doing. And that needs to be properly understood. Again, that needs to be then communicated to the stakeholders of the business. When I've been in kickoffs, it's always been the senior management team. Which is fine, they understand the approach, but it's not the people. It's not really where it counts, because where it really counts is those stakeholders, because they need to understand the approac. Because when they understand the approach, they know how we're going to be managing the project. If they don't understand the approach, they won't know. And again, this is a challenge, because you have requirements gathering that needs to be done by the clients. They need to put together requirements or what they need and then that needs to be signed off. That needs to be agreed by their business. Because again, there's a process that needs to follow when you said there requirement.

For example, if you have a requirement like "Well, I've got. I've got a shirt, I've got some trousers on my shirt I want two blue stripes on this side. I want two pink stripes on this side.". If that's not agreed and somebody said "No, actually, I want all blue stripes all pink stripes.". Or if we say, "Well actually, I'm sorry we can't do the pink stripes because that's not in the standard. The sttandard is only blue stripes. If you want a pink stripe, it's going to cost you money. That's a gap. How big is that gap? Oh, that's a small gap because it's only two strips. Wait, hold on. I actually want 50 pink stripes. Wow 50 pink trap. That's a big gap. That's going to cost you even more. So this is how we present the fit-cap analysis, and it's normally presented as a T shirt size. So you got a small, medium or large. A small gap, medium gap, or a large gap. You know? Just so clients can understand the terms better.

Until the challenges you got that, and then you got data migration. Sometimes clients don't understand how much is actually involved in putting that data together. How much you got to do. And then there's also a UAT preparation and go-live. Again, you gotta create UAT test scripts, unity scenarios. And then go live activities such as cutover. So all of these typical activities are quite large. I think in order for a successful implementation both parties have been working close together, instead of blaming each other when things go wrong.

Ivo:
These are great insights. Wow, yeah, yeah, if I can summarize, let me see. I think setting up the right expectations in the beginning involving the right people in the right phase of the project. So everybody knows what is coming; Communicate well, so from everybody's side everybody understands what needs to be done and what expected to be done. So I think those are the three main things, right?

Imran:
Correct, yes.

Ivo:
But I think it was. It was a a great insight team and thank you for that. A large part of software implementation and and you talked about this on the challenges that you presented, is changing management. Making people understand that they were not involved. Probably in the discussions up top, but then when it comes to them it's like come on. We have a we have this software, It's working, in a relatively good way. So why are we changing today? It's a lot of work, etc. etc.. I guess you need to sometimes. Convince these people, or at least try to persuade them into adopting these new tool and and and getting better at that. So that's change management basically so. So my question for you is that do you face a lot of that? And how do you go about that? Changing management and trying to to get people used to a new system that you are helping implement.

Imran:
Change management is really an area where the client needs to be managing their stakeholders throughout the implementation. We will obviously support them in those in that journey, but typically what we need to do first is, during the change, is to define on the approach. What's the approach? how we're going to be doing this? what's what's our positioning? And there's different types of approaches that we can use.

A typical approaches is that, to gain a business impact analysis, that needs to be measured for the changes that are being adopted. And these need to be communicated to the business leaders to the SME's in order to gain the sign off of what typically the changes are going to be. And then once you go through all those changes and understood that, then this will then be followed by the training approach. What approach; how are we going to be training these users? Based on the changes that we're going to be adopting. So there needs to be then be a training needs assessment. So of how the onboarding is going to take place for training all the users, so that would be typically something that we need to. Obviously, then assess with the whole team and then in order to ensure that that is happening in the correct manner, changes need to be communicated effectively. with a solid communication plan. To all to all users, so you'd have things like you'd probably have quick reference guides. You'd probably have, maybe flyers everywhere about the new system that's coming; Dynamics 365 HR for. it's going to be a change, you know. Come to our seminars. If you have any questions, come and see us, come visit us. Maybe have a few tables and chairs.

I mean this is what you'd have if we were not remote, I know it's going to be a bit challenging when remote, but again, you'd have like regular meetings but with all your users. Or regular people comes to talk the business through of the changes. Or you'd have like promotional videos or training videos and you start inviting people. You'd get them closer and get them on your side on the changes as to be seen as a positive, because we want to avoid is that obviously: not many people like change. Because it's tough! You're used to doing a your job in a certain manner that certain way, you become very good at it. Your speed is very great. You could almost do it with your eyes closed. And now the sudden somebody comes in and says right I want to change everything you're doing and now you're doing it like this. So it's going to frustrate people. We have to find a positive spin on it and being able to make. People see the benefits and and explain what they can gain from it.

For example, let's say if it's something like your your leave or holiday booking. Maybe it could be a case of, well, you can now see your leave balances. You can now see what you have available. Or you can see who your team looks like as a manager. You can see who's approved, who's not approved. You can get, things done a lot quicker, so that's how you'd probably sell it to the users. What you could see now, we could not see before. A bit like an iPhone update or something. You see all these different things and stuff, that's how I'd say that would manage change and stuff.

So in effect it could be again, we've you started the theme from before, communication is absolutely key. It's always about how you communicate this to the community of how it's going to be solved.

Ivo:
Absolutely. That's a great insight up. Yeah, I just have one last one kind of last question for you. It's regarding technology in HR tech. If you've ever thought about things being implemented. Things changing at Microsoft. Now we're going back with the HR syst; Dynamics 365 for Human Resources back into Finance and Operations module of Microsoft, so there's a lot changing in HR tech. You've been into it for a while now. Do you see any trends coming up? Stuff in HR tech that that people should look out for because they are very interesting, that they they might be game changes. Is there anything there out there that you feel like it can be a nice thing to anticipate?

Imran:
My personal, based on the way we're actually moving into the future with a lot of this and a lot of tools. A lot of things that we're using today, already use some of this technology, but I'm just thinking that what will tend to happen is individual employees will have more power and control of managing themselves with probably the use of bots. Making decisions based on rules. They're using their mobile phone apps as opposed to managers waiting for a manager to actually review and approve. This will be instantly approved based on rules in their profile and a few things, and again those be bots making those decisions and that's just my feeling. So I think going forward there will be more faster ways and and I think that demand will be that we need to get items approved quicker, managers to spend less time just going through a lot of the aministration. And instead, as long as we've got, strong, reliable rules in place. Bots can make all the decisions.

Ivo:
Alright, that's a good one. OK, that's all about it.I just want a small thing at the end, like a small challenge. For people out there listening, they never experience an HR tech implementation. Let's say Dynamics or something. In a quick word, what can they expect from it, and what should they prepare for?

Imran:
I think for people who have not heard of implementations, and I think in order for it to go nice and smooth, the scope and the requirements to be agreed by all key decision makers, doing a show and tell, is what I'll say. For key decision makers to be available to witness the system that has been designed, based on what has been agreed from the start. So and everybody to be working collaboratively on a project to a common goal, and so that's where I see what we all need to do. So the base of all is: If you want to go smoothly, we gotta make sure that the scope under requirements or have been agreed by those key people and they need to be involved and we all need to work together for a common goal. Those to me are the key successes.

Ivo:
Alright and communication. We cannot stress that enough.

Imran:
Oh yes, of course yeah. I mean communication is all actually part of that.

Ivo:
Absolutely. Alright Imran, thank you so much for for your time. This was highly insightful. I really enjoyed the conversation. I hope you did too.

Imran:
Yes, yes of course. Thank you. This was this was great for everybody listening out there. We hope you enjoyed the episode and we'll see you next time.


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