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NextGen HR Software Development: From Mindset to Customer Value Realization

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There is an interesting paradox to consider related to professional skill sets. It is that in many of the professions requiring significant depth and range of knowledge, skill and expertise, one’s mindset or mental approach is probably as important as any of their tangible demonstrations of knowledge and skill.

A good example might be a research scientist, one with perhaps decades of rigorous education, training, and specialized knowledge guiding their actions. Even with all that impressive background, it is commonly held that what separates good from great in that profession is the ability to routinely “think and act like a scientist”.

This basically refers to not being driven by preconceived notions or undue zeal to prove one’s own hypotheses, but instead, the operative guiding principle is to research or investigate wherever the data takes them.

The same dynamic of “starting with the right mindset” absolutely applies to today’s software developers, and particularly those supporting the HR business domain and working daily with ever-evolving HR technology solutions.

 

We know that anyone building, optimizing, or integrating enterprise software products must be guided by a solid understanding of current and potential business requirements. HR-related requirements, however, are arguably of a special breed, and for a variety of reasons.

As with most corporate functions, HR relies on the automation of processes largely underpinned by standard industry practices, such as in talent acquisition, time and attendance tracking, payroll, or performance management.

That said, today’s HR “processes” might best be described as dynamic and complex worker experiences and activities. Moreover, technology enabling them often involves disparate data sets, extensive historical data, and working with multiple platforms with dissimilar architectures possibly designed for different operating systems.

And that’s just the beginning of what can set HR software development apart, necessitating a special type of mindset and approach. Let’s now overlay elements such as the infinite number of ways employees, managers, candidates, and other stakeholders want to work with and leverage these systems – including a wide range of reporting and analytics tools.

Then add critical compliance considerations which are different around the globe and we’re now forming a more complete picture of a day in the life of an HR software  developer. This picture nonetheless remains incomplete without bringing in all of the exciting HR technology use cases for AI/ML and the wider, ever-increasing basket of HR/HCM-relevant digital innovations this set of developers must stay constantly abreast of. (Other specific data points around the uniqueness of the HR technology development environment covered shortly.)

For some additional “AI in HCM” context, I developed a framework a few years ago that included use cases grouped into the following five categories, with an example given:

HR Technology Industry’s Uniqueness 

Many of the key methods and techniques proven to be valuable in HR software development are similar to those applying in all enterprise software development, although typically with one important nuance or extra consideration.

That added dimension is the type of mindset needed. It’s the mindset needed to remain highly effective amid an extreme degree of heterogeneity in architectures, possibly operating systems and certainly end-user profiles, all spread across an increasingly large number of systems in play (Sapient Insights Group recently reported the average organization now deploys 16.25 HR solutions).

Finally, what many believe to be the most challenging issue for developers working with all these HR/HCM platforms: neither their resident functionality nor the platforms themselves tend to have a very long shelf life.

System replacements every few years seem to be the industry standard, particularly in the larger, more prestigious brands that are routinely enticed by their product vendor partners with new capabilities and pricing incentives. And with these larger enterprises, they have considerable end-user data about what’s working, what’s being used or not, etc.

This all means continuous change is the order of the day for product development teams in this space. Note that for expediency sake on terms used here, “HR systems” largely have the mission of managing and recording employee life cycle events and powering back-office HR processes; and “HCM platforms” refers to optimizing more strategic front-office and ideally, self-directed HR processes.

Industry Uniqueness Drives NextGen Best Practices

Here are five software development best practices largely rooted in, and adapted for the uniqueness of the HR technology industry:

1. Start with the core principle that a “NextGen architecture” must be agnostic to surrounding technologies in use, thereby avoiding major disruption to a customer when HR/HCM systems are swapped in and out, or even when 3rd party, integrated technology products are updated or changed.

2. Modularization of an enterprise platform is not enough. While this architectural approach is best practice for allowing de-bugging, performance tuning and upgrading functionality, even more “componentization” is needed in the HR systems environment. Each module within an HR technology product should be able to operate totally independently if detached from all the others. Inter-dependencies between data models, technology stacks, utilities or architectures are simply not ideal in a very changeable, even unpredictable operating environment.

3. Excellence in HR software development is clearly more than technical skills and domain knowledge, As stated, mindset is a huge element not to be underestimated. Developers MUST place themselves in the end user context, and frankly to the degree that they can visualize the entire end-to-end experience for the end user. Yes, there are tools to aid in this effort, and this blog’s sponsor, Azilen Technologies has for example made very creative use of IoT sensors to gain a more complete understanding of why a piece of technology is being used the way it is, or not leading to the best outcome for the user, or even exactly why the best outcome is occurring. No key dynamics in coloring the end-user experience should be ignored.

4. Speaking of “end-user engagement”, proven approaches to maximizing this include an extremely intuitive user experience or UX, which basically means “no manuals or training” is the ideal to aim for. While this is not always possible, it is an ideal worth having front and center in HR software development. Additionally, sophisticated mapping tools can or should be employed to effectively simulate real-life experiences and scenarios. It’s also vital in development cycles to be using the most relevant content, again, the “real life” dimension. I’ll mention two more here that are closely related: An effective analysis of system performance drivers and/or impediments is frankly a never-ending process; and doing that as part of continuously reinforcing team learnings and best practices is essential.

5. Lastly, change management considerations for customer organizations and their end users must always be top of mind for HR software developers. A key implication of this is not only that major new systems should be “eased in” when practical, but that this incremental adoption approach also extends to modules, UX changes and even architectural fine-tuning – all of which will positively impact ROI when the pace of deployment and adoption are aligned.

Final Thoughts

In the spirit of discussing the importance of “mindset”, let’s ensure that we do not lose sight of one of the main goals of all software product developmentCustomer value realization. This is so very critical, but it’s not always easily ascertained or determined with a very diverse customer base … plus value realization can lend itself to subjectivity or even bias. For that reason, this needs to be assessed on a continuous basis and using a variety of means.

Steve Goldberg
Steve Goldberg
HR Process & Tech Leader | HCM Analyst & Advisor

Steve Goldberg's 30+ year career on all sides of HR process & technology includes HR exec roles on 3 continents, serving as HCM product strategy leader and spokesperson at PeopleSoft, and co-founding boutique Recruiting Tech and Change Management firms. Steve’s uniquely diverse perspectives have been leveraged by both HCM solution vendors and corporate HR teams, and in practice leader roles at Bersin and Ventana Research. He holds an MBA in HR, is widely published and is a feature speaker around the globe. He’s been recognized as a Top 100 HRTech Influencer.

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