Project Management Institute

The human side


Human resources managers can set a firm foundation for project management within their organizations in four simple steps.


Project management practices are essential to survival: Especially in human resources, you typically parachute into an assignment with too many deliverables and limited time and resources. However, human resources organizations have been slow to adopt proven project methods, despite the fact that human resources stakeholders report that project management tools and practices deliver increased professionalism and confidence in a firm's ability to maximize resources, minimize costs and shorten timelines.

Bell Sygma International, a systems integration consulting firm that was later acquired by CGI Group Inc., offers a model of successful human resources project practices and the benefits of a project plan. Working to review and update the traditional human resources practices of Antel, the national telecommunications company of Uruguay, one Bell Sygma consultant was to assess the performance management program, the staffing and selection process, and the learning and development programs. New programs, recommendations and implementation plans had to be developed, translated into Spanish and presented to senior management—all within an 11-month timeframe.

Although this was a tall order, the consultant succeeded using three comprehensive project plans to track progress. Human resources managers can establish a foothold for project management values and methods through a four-step process.

A pilot project will prove that project management methods work in your human resources environment, and it will indicate which methods work best in your situation. You may find that cumbersome project plans only slow down the project and that the team members resist defining detailed tasks and keeping the plan current. However, you can customize a useful and meaningful project charter format. You will be able to showcase benefits—and risks—to senior management through your project status reports and presentations.

In the Antel project, the Bell Sygma consultant used a project charter to clearly document the expected project deliverables and to obtain stakeholder buy-in. Next, the consultant used a work breakdown structure to detail the necessary work packets.

Two other consultants worked on manpower planning and the compensation and benefit plans. The project charters for these two projects were used to determine where the resources could be leveraged during non-peak periods, and load-leveling was performed across the three integrated project plans. After optimizing resources, the consultant saw that the deliverables could not be met with the current resources in the defined timeframes.

When presenting the details of the work plan to stakeholders, the Bell Sygma consultant provided several alternatives to mitigate the risks, including:

  • Add more resources
  • Extend the timeframe
  • Eliminate some of the deliverables (reduce the scope of the project).

With the comprehensive analysis, senior management saw the issues, considered all alternatives and made an informed decision on how to proceed with the project. In the end, an additional consultant was brought in to deliver the learning and development recommendations, and with three comprehensive project plans to track the progress, the team delivered all objectives in the 11-month timeframe.

Step 2. Customize Project Management Tools and Processes for the Specific Human Resources Environment.

Once you've managed one successful human resources project, you will have tweaked some of the templates and processes from your project management toolkit so they appropriately meet the needs of the human resources environment. Any human resources project should include four basic elements: project charter; kick-off and status meetings; project status report; and lessons learned.

The project charter identifies the appropriate scope, deliverables and team participants. The team will focus on the deliverables, minimizing scope creep. The project charter may include:

  • Mandate/Scope. States the project objectives. Example: To implement a new recruiting program in North America.
  • Core Issues and Risk Management. Identifies the probability of risk (high, medium, low), the consequence of the risk (limited, moderate, severe) and the plans to mitigate the risk. Example: The lack of resources is a high probability and severe risk so the plan is to bring in contractors.


The PMI Human Resources Potential Specific Interest Group (HR SIG) provides an opportunity to network, learn best practices and support as you introduce project methods into your company's human resources organization. You can go to to find out more.

  • Project Plan. Delineates high-level tasks, associated due dates and resource lead representatives. Example: Conduct focus groups by 15 April (John is the lead).
  • Key Deliverables. Lists the major project deliverables. Example: Design new program and Web site for an employee referral program.
  • Funding. Calls out the project costs and the funding organization. Example: Conduct focus groups funded by the recruiting program's organization.

The kickoff meeting allows the team to review the project charter and budget, clarify roles and responsibilities, develop the project plan and align all team members.

The regularly scheduled status meetings (either weekly or biweekly), which are open to all core and extended team members, are not mandatory. To maximize everyone's time, team members should only attend meetings if they will be contributing. Action items from the previous meeting are reviewed, the ongoing risks are assessed, and the upcoming tasks on the project plan are covered.


Stentor Resource Centre Inc. (SRCI), the former alliance of Canada's telephone companies, applied project management practices to a human resources project to develop a resource-pooling process. As a project-driven organization, SRCI needed its resources to be effectively managed during and between projects, so management mandated a resource-pooling process called Resource Central to effectively utilize resources between projects.

The human resources project manager was dedicated to the project, but a virtual team—comprised of two managers, several employees on and between projects, and the human resources prime representatives for staffing, training and information systems— aided the effort.

The project team reviewed the charter at the kick-off meeting and worked though the project plan in more detail. To meet business imperatives, the project had to be delivered within three months, which was challenging without other dedicated resources. But the virtual team developed a much more comprehensive solution, exceeding the original scope, based on their diverse business perspectives.

The result was a process that met the needs of all the stakeholders (employees, managers, executives and human resources staff) and exceeded project expectations by streamlining and mechanizing all of the other human resources staffing processes. Project management enabled the staff to exceed expectations within the set timeline.


All team members and stakeholders review the weekly status report, which includes any schedule and budget updates or variances, issues and action resolution plans.

All team members and stakeholders review the weekly status report, which includes any schedule and budget updates or variances, issues and action resolution plans. The status report ensures all team members have the most current project information, whether or not they attended the status meeting.

A lessons-learned system allows team members and stakeholders to determine what worked well in the project to develop best practices to use on future projects. Also, pitfalls can be avoided.

Step 3. Provide Training to the Human Resources Organization.

As you roll out project management across the human resources organization, your pilot project team—essentially the first wave of project management converts—will help extol the benefits of project management to the rest of the organization. The team also can coach others who haven't used the project management tools yet.

The training materials are based on the tools and templates that have been developed and used during the pilot project, which also will be showcased as a real example of how the tools worked. Training should include a general project management overview before going into the customized tools and templates.

Step 4. Provide Project Management Consulting and Mentoring to Other Projects.

Effective training sessions allow the participants immediately to apply what they've learned. Many additional questions arise when the project management concepts and tools are used on the job, so an ongoing support structure is required.

With a simple mentoring system, the entire process will not become burdensome. You and other team members on the original pilot human resources project can support other project managers who are embarking on applying their newly learned project management concepts and tools. PM

Kathy Mosgrove, PMP, president of HRPM Consulting Inc., Ottawa, Canada, has 15 years of international project management and human resources experience in the telecommunications industry.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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