by Donna Fitzgerald | November 1, 2016 | Comments Off on A Case Study — Forming an HR/IT Alliance: How GE Built its Own Software to Lead Cultural Change
I don’t normally post case studies but when Lauren shared this case study with me I thought there was so much useful information in the study that I couldn’t help but ask her if I could cross post.
For those of you how are familiar with Gartner research here’s a cheat sheet of what you should look for
- A clear example of a successful system of differentiation
- GE’s approach to achieving the goal of business agile
- Successful user/developer collaboration
- The emerging role of the product manager
Forming an HR/IT Alliance: How GE Built its Own Software to Lead Cultural Change
GE’s survival has been due to adaptation. This is true for both the products that it brings to market and the workflows that define its culture. So, when GE began its evolution to a company that is working faster and simpler to become more customer-driven, Janice Semper – GE’s Head of Culture – was unafraid to propose solutions.
Semper learned through internal focus groups that employees wanted more frequent feedback from their managers and peers, as well as the ability to give upward feedback. She also learned that as the way work got done was being redefined, GE needed an approach to support employee performance and development in a different way.
Her research confirmed that GE’s legacy performance management system was no longer in sync with GE employees’ new way of working. So, in the winter of 2014, Semper started designing a new approach to performance management and researching HR software that might meet GE’s needs. At that time, GE was working with Lean Startup author Eric Ries to implement FastWorks – a custom framework based on Learn Startup principles of “build, measure, learn.”
Semper needed an HR software solution that would enable GE’s new performance development approach. In turn, this new approach would empower all employees to apply the FastWorks mindset and principles to their unique roles. But her research offered no tools that could get the job done.
“Before we decided to build our own app, we did go out and look at what was currently on the market,” Semper explains. “We went to the large, historical places where you’d look for these management systems. And what we found was that these tools were still very heavy, and that [outdated processes were] built into the technology.”
That led her to partner with Jeffrey Lau – GE Digital’s Senior Director of UX Design. She wanted to see if they could unite their teams to build an in-house HR software solution that was tailored for GE. Her clear assessment of the problem that needed to be solved– and her choice to team up with Lau early on – led him to say, “Yes.”
Semper and Lau got to work in the spring of 2014. Three months later, they shipped the first version of PD@GE, a web and mobile HR software app that allows employees to capture their shifting priorities throughout the year; take notes from the ongoing conversations with their managers; and give and request ongoing feedback (downward, upward, and across the organization).
A collective team of 33 stakeholders built PD@GE within three months. Today, it is used to support employee performance and development for a company with 200,000 employees across 180 countries and 10 industries
By the end of 2016, PD@GE will have replaced GE’s legacy Employee Management System (EMS) across the company with a few exceptions in Europe. Here are their top tips to do the same in your own organization:
Hold Stakeholder Workshops First
Before Lau’s team built the product’s first wireframe, they took a crucial first step: understanding its users through ongoing feedback. They also created a simple storyboard to show the product’s three user segments – employees, managers, and senior leaders – which problem PD@GE aimed to solve.
Kristen Kelly, Senior Program Manager at GE, says that a combination of Agile/Lean processes was used to keep these stakeholders in sync through weekly status meetings and quarterly “immersion weeks.” Participants in these immersion weeks included all of the project’s stakeholders, who brought their feedback to the group.
“It’s amazing what happens in workshops when you bring all the stakeholders into a room for two to three days,” Lau reflects. “There’s the [initial] alignment that happens. But then what comes out of those two to three days after dinners together, talking through the strategy, etc. is a common collaboration and communication.”
Managing your software as an ongoing product
Within the span of one year, Semper and Lau had led one of GE’s largest internal changes. But their work is far from done. Semper still collects ongoing feedback about PD@GE to share with the dev team in their weekly meeting. She says that her biggest challenge is to keep the product simple. She also acknowledges that she is not the project manager she once thought herself to be.
“I think of myself as a product manager, not as a project manager,” Semper explains. “I would have previously considered myself a project lead with the goal of completing this on time and under budget. And now, as a product manager, my measure of success is the impact that this product is having on our employees and company.
“This project is not done and it never will be done. As new muscles are developed and our culture shifts, we’ll have to iterate [our] approach.”
GE aims to thrive as a digital business after building its brand as a hardware company. CEO Jeffrey Immelt has said that his goal is for GE to become a “top 10 software company” by 2020.
To make that happen, Gartner research shows that an HR/IT alliance like the one that Semper and Lau formed is a must.
“Janice and her team were totally open to our Agile UX design and software engineering process,” Lau explains. “They embraced both from the outset, which helped our teams move quickly because we had great communication.”
The most successful digital teams don’t work in IT silos; they collaborate across teams to solve true user problems. This holds true whether one works in a small business or a global enterprise.
Lauren Maffeo covers trends in the project management, finance, and accounting software industries for GetApp – a Gartner Digital Markets company. She focuses her research on strategies and tools to help small and midsize businesses create unique value.
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