How to successfully introduce a workforce planning system

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Jens Apelgren
CEO of Retendo AB

Jens Apelgren, CEO of Retendo AB

Having introduced workforce planning systems at 18 higher education institutions, I can verify that there are certain factors that are critical to the successful introduction of a workforce planning system. An introduction may be considered successful if the system is used to its full potential and the users are satisfied. In this article, I will go through through the 10 factors that are critical to a successful introduction.

1. Ensure that there is a clear mandate from the management

For successful introduction, it is important for the objective and business benefits of introducing a workforce planning system to be clear to the entire organisation. The project team must also have a clear mandate to introduce the system from the management of the organisation and there must also be clear communication from the management to the personnel on the reasons why a workforce planning system is being introduced. Without such a mandate, the introduction will be more difficult due to the natural inability to change that is always present in all organisations.

2. Set up a broad-based project team

In order for the introduction to be as broadly-based as possible, it is important for representatives to be chosen for the project team from all areas of expertise within the organisation. Future management leaders and so-called superusers (system administrators with full permissions) should also be included in the project team in order for the transfer to management to be as smooth as possible. If these roles are appointed subsequently, it creates an unnecessarily large gap when it comes to knowledge of the system and the judgments that were made at the time of the introduction.

3. Free-up time for users

Another critical factor is to free-up time from regular activities for staff who are to use the new system. It always takes longer than you think to learn a new system when workforce planning must be carried out at the same time. Simply imposing additional tasks on existing full-time jobs creates additional stress and resistance to the introduction.

4. Start up a pilot project

The introduction of a workforce planning system involves a great deal of work. One common strategy is therefore to select part of the organisation for a pilot introduction. In this respect it is best to choose the part of the organisation that has the most positive attitude towards the introduction. The pilot also provides valuable knowledge on how the system works and what organisational adjustments and adjustments to working methods may be needed. This in turn leads to a faster, smoother introduction in the rest of the organisation.

5. Motivate staff who have a negative attitude towards change

Willingness to change varies greatly from one individual to another. Introducing a new workforce planning system often means that old working methods need to be changed and new working methods need to be learned. For example, some people are unwilling to get rid of solutions they have developed themselves, usually in Microsoft Excel, and fail to see the benefits of a joint workforce planning system. They are then naturally sceptical about letting go of their existing solutions, which they have mastered, and switching to an unknown system.

Switching from an Excel solution that one has developed oneself to a modern workforce planning system also means that administrative work seems to have increased because some tasks require multiple steps. It can be difficult to see and understand the benefits of the wider perspective at first. It is therefore important to focus on motivating and engaging staff who have a negative attitude towards the change. This also applies to dealing with any worry, fear and stress on the part of the staff.

6. Make a clear decision that all departments must introduce the system

It is also very important for the introduction to receive the full support of the management of the higher education institution. And for the management to make clear decisions that the staffing system must be used by all faculties and departments. Allowing individual departments to decide for themselves on the introduction of a workforce planning system often makes the introduction extremely difficult and gives rise to a low level of use.

7. Do not be in a great hurry to adapt working methods and procedures

It is important to adapt procedures and working methods to the workforce planning system, but to start on procedures and working methods before the system has been introduced often leads to high costs. It also takes a long time and there is a risk that the working methods developed will not be fully applied by the organisation.

A standard system that is suited to workforce planning by higher education institutions is based on the supplier’s accumulated experience of different higher education institutions’ workforce planning processes. For that reason, the system is often well suited to the procedures and working methods of higher education institutions. It is a good idea to start by introducing the system and then adapting procedures and working methods. The higher education institution can then take its time getting to know the system and its features first.
It is also important for the management to realise that ongoing development of procedures and working methods must continue long after the system has been introduced.

8. Hold back with adjustments to the system

An initial adaptation of the system may be justified if the organisation has certain specific functions that are particularly important. Otherwise, I recommend that the organisation hold back with any adjustments until the system has been introduced and the users have received training. Only then can the organisation assess the benefits of any adjustment.

To enable adjustments to be made, it is important for the management to allow for this in the management budget for the system so there is scope for making the necessary adjustments.

9. Invest in training – an important part of the introduction

Training is a very important aspect and usually presents a major challenge. First of all, it is a matter of convincing managers and staff of the need for and importance of training in the system. The next challenge consists of the fact that computer skills and prior knowledge can vary greatly from one member of staff to another. It is therefore extremely important for these factors to be taken into consideration in the scope of the training.

It is also important for you to undergo training shortly before the intense workforce planning in the organisation takes place. If you provide training too far in advance, there is a serious risk that staff will forget what has been taught.
One success factor in the case of training is to continuously offer workshops where staff can work on their intense planning while they have access to support from the institution’s superusers.

10. Cheat sheets and support staff

Initially, users may have a great need for detailed descriptions of how tasks are carried out. It may therefore be necessary to produce specific cheat sheets for certain tasks which, besides describing how different stages of the work are carried out, also explain why these stages are needed in the organisation. The system manuals are often not sufficiently detailed and do not describe the aspects considered and guidelines produced by the higher education institution itself.

It is also important to have knowledgeable support staff at the institution. The questions received by the higher education institution’s front-line support vary from simple questions to complex, specific questions on how the activity works. One success factor is therefore to ensure that front-line support staff are involved in the introduction project and also ensure that they have considerable expertise in the implementation of workforce planning and the existing regulations. Recruiting and training support staff at a later date is extremely time-consuming.


If you would like to learn more about how the workforce planning process can be organised at a higher education institution, we have also produced an article on that topic. If you would like tips on what requirements a workforce management tool should meet, click on the link to read the article.

About the author

Jens Apelgren has over ten years’ experience in workforce planning at higher education institutions and has personally introduced workforce planning systems at 18 different institutions. Jens is CEO of Retendo AB, which offers systems to streamline administration for both higher education institutions and project-oriented companies. Jens is closely involved in the development of Retendo’s workforce planning system.