7 minute read

Agile Project Management for HR Professionals

Agile HR


Being in IT Industry for around 25+ years and played all kinds of roles from a programmer, analyst, leader, manager, delivery head, trainer, coach, and consultant I have observed the relationship between a Project Delivery team and HR team very closely. I have seen a change in this relationship; a change in expectations from each other and changing role of HR within the organizations.


In the last 25 years, businesses have changed hugely because of technology, the internet, social media, competition, democracy, innovations & availability of workforce, super-super specialization of skills. This all leads to much more expectations of the organizations from HR, but unfortunately, in my observation, most of the HR leadership is continuously failing to understand that the rule of the game has completely changed and work is not that easy as it was one decade back. Apart from this now delivery function thinks that HR is a bad guy in the organization and their biggest contribution is they should remain away from our work because instead of solving our problem they make the problem more complicated because of processes, an external intervention that too without understanding the need of our customer and team. While writing this article I know many HR professionals will disagree with me and I am willing to learn from the experience of other professionals.

The audience of this article

  • HR professionals who are working in the traditional setup.
  • HR professionals who want to understand how to help delivery function.
  • HR professionals who are looking for Agile HR practices.
  • HR professionals who are trying to understand why delivery functions don’t consider them as a friendly function.

Closing the Gap between Delivery & HR Function

I personally feel rather than doing the duties which HR professionals learn in Business School, they need to work closely with the Delivery function. To make any relation or transaction successful we need to define who is give what in the relation. One who gives services is a vendor, another who has consideration is a client. HR can contribute more to the organization in the agile environment if they align their work keeping these two points in mind.

  • Understand, what is the need of their immediate customer (delivery function) and the need for the organization’s customer for which the organization is working.
  • Understand, how can they bring agile practices in managing their own HR projects.

As we know the function of HR is not only to perform day to day operational work and coordination but work in project (mission) mode as well; when there is some critical or large project is being taken by the organization.

Examples of HR Projects

  • Training N number of people on new technology by D date
  • Hire N number of people of T technology by D date. The hiring budget is B. Resources annual budget is X.
  • Hire X number of people for R role by D date
  • Performance appraisal by D date, max budget for increments is B.
  • Reduce human resource cost by x%
  • A succession plan for the key leader(s) should complete by the D date
  • Cost of bench employees should be under x% in this year
  • The team assigned to a project should be a “Self Organizing Team” within D Days.
  • Ensure a particular HR KPI is brought under control within W weeks.

Key Changes in Project & Business Environment

You can visualize the impact of the following changes, which happened in the last decade, on HR project’s planning, success, execution strategy, risks, quality, scope, cost, coordination, stakeholder management, communication, employee hiring/retention. I prepared a list of changes that happened in the last decade, this list is based on my observations, but it can be very exhaustive.

  1. Role of an organization’s intranet in the training of employees
  2. More collaboration across the expertise, geography, culture
  3. More contract-based work
  4. Employee performance is coming from real-time data so subjective evaluation has reduced
  5. People have more job opportunities as per their interest
  6. Super specialization in job skills
  7. Traffic on the road, environment awareness, cost of transportation vs cost of communication forcing people to choose alternative work methods
  8. More virtual team
  9. 8-hour work culture, starting and finishing at a fixed time has contracted to a great extend
  10. Now 40 hours per week is not 8 hours every day for 5 days. It can be like 6 hours x 7 days or 12 hours x 3 days or something else.
  11. Legislations around employee health, welfare, retirement benefits have changed and hugely in favor of employees.
  12. The focus of Corporate HR is to ensure alignment of an organization’s overall values, direction, vision by the local HR department
  13. Business easily flow from one country to another country
  14. HR needs to know about international business practices, international labor laws, multiculturally sensitive, and multiple languages to be relevant in the geography they are working.
  15. People, based on expertise easily move from one country to another
  16. More acquisitions and mergers of businesses
  17. Explosive growth in the number of companies doing business across their country’s boundary
  18. Cultural understanding and sensitivity is more important than the language you speak
  19. A flood of start-up companies
  20. The younger generation wants “work to live” not “live to work”
  21. More women entering the business and at the senior level, so it is not men dominant market today.
  22. More democracy in the countries so politics and government interfering more in favor of employee benefits.
  23. More CSR activities, more involvement of the communities.
  24. Technology advancement enabling more and more physically challenged people to enter the market
  25. To be competitive one need to be committed to lifelong learning
  26. The focus of training has moved from “number of hours training” to “impact on the business”.
  27. Specialist are technical vs generalist are management people
  28. JIT in training
  29. Customer changing requirements very often and cannot commit full requirements at the start of a project
  30. Technology is changing so fast that there is a fear technology becomes obsolete by the time the project complete.
  31. The need for a “self-organizing” team is more than a “manager-directed” team
  32. Due to technology, the seamless workflow between various departments, business partners across the geography.
  33. Crazy deadlines from customers
  34. In projects, delivering as a team is more important than working as a sole player
  35. Hierarchies are becoming very thin, managers’ cabins are dissolving into work floors.
  36. Reporting is not on seniority or to a grey hair person based but authority-based, i.e. whoever is authorized can take a report
  37. To ensure the delivery you need more leadership skills and lessor management skills. Management and Leadership style itself is changing.
  38. Due to high transparency, too many data points; hence organization politics is not based on a group, nepotism but data-based.
  39. Functional organizations are facing tough challenges in delivering projects successfully.
  40. Projectized organizations are a high guarantee for a project’s success.
  41. Work and project are not task-driven but delivery driven.
  42. Last 5 decades leaders have realized that the matrix organization creates confusion and poor workers hide under one or another manager.
  43. More focus on “work practices” compare to “work processes”
  44. Due to project “environmental factors” project managers are least responsible for long term planning. Higher management is taking that role.
  45. Stakeholders have realized no matter how much planning we do, we need to deviate from that, therefore, do only just enough planning
  46. Managers have realized no matter how much planning we do if a team does not have the will to succeed then no plan can save the project and the reverse is also true.
  47. Customers know the perfect product will not come in a single delivery, a perfect product is an outcome of many iterations.
  48. Customers do not see much value in project artifacts, project plan or management work therefore do not want to pay for project management work.
  49. In the agile market, taking a risk and failing fast is encouraged and not seen as a bad sign of the project management
  50. Performance reviews in an agile environment are team-based and NOT individual based
  51. Finally, HR people and Project Leadership have realized that Agile Project success depends upon people’s behaviors, so if treat them as resources and manage them as a resource we will end up in a problem. They are human beings and unlike our other resources, they have the most complex behavior.

Keeping all this in mind, if you as HR manager or your delivery management team continue the work in a traditional way then you are going to face serious delivery, customer satisfaction, retention, and survival issues. Because all the above pointers are indicating towards an agile environment.


Now as an HR manager you need to ask these questions to yourself

  • Do we know what it takes to manage the business under these circumstances?
  • What needs to be done to finish our HR projects successfully and make our customers happy?
  • How can we be part of the solution if our HR department manages HR projects in a traditional way?
  • We are not a simple administrative function, but part of the business and we also have customers and vendors, so how to manage our customers and vendors?
  • How to justify our efforts in terms of value created in the business? HR being a cost function, the focus is not only to reduce cost but to ensure high business value!
  • The focus is not to measure # of hours of training, people trained, budget vs actual budget consumption but to ensure what and how much business value is added by activities of the HR function.
  • What is the agile way of working?