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What to Expect When You’re Expecting Workday

What to Expect When You’re Expecting Workday

Congratulations! You just found out that you’re getting Workday! Maybe you’ve never heard of Workday until recently, or maybe you previously had minor interactions with Workday at a prior company, or maybe you’ve managed a pre-existing Workday tenant… but this one will be yours. That’s major!

Whether you are implementing a brand new Workday tenant or a new SKU, you’re probably considering several thoughts and questions:

How much work will be involved?
How long is this going to take?
How hard is this going to be?
Are we ready for this big change?

In my role as a member of Kognitiv’s Advisory Team (and in my prior life leading Phase 1 implementations), I’ve helped navigate many clients through the ups and downs of Workday projects; you could say I’m an expert. With that in mind, let me share what you can expect when you’re expecting Workday.

Preparation is Key

Digging yourself out of a hole is much harder than digging a hole in the first place. Proper planning can help you avoid such pitfalls. This includes developing a realistic timeline with reasonable deliverables.  Business requirements, current vendor contracts, and regular process cycles (such as Open Enrollment or Compensation Planning) can help determine your optimal Go-Live date, but keep in mind that Workday implementation and configuration is inherently an iterative process. You want to make sure your employees are paid accurately on Day 1, so prioritize certain functional areas like Benefits, Time Tracking, Absence, etc. (the ones that relate to payroll). If your first Open Enrollment or Performance cycle is scheduled for 3-6 months after your move to Production, you can save time and effort by focusing on the most critical functional areas during initial deployment, with subsequent implementation projects following shortly after. 

  • Be realistic and practical when planning your scope and start developing a roadmap early for the following 12, 18, 24, or 36 months so that you know what to expect.

The Right Project Team Makes a Huge Difference

Assembling a project team will be a critical part of your project preparation. A strong team consists of internal functional subject matter experts, system testers, senior functional leaders with the authority to make quick decisions, and a skilled project manager. Many organizations switching to Workday do not have extensive in-house Workday experience and may not have a dedicated HRIS team yet. Inevitably, this usually leads to the hiring of at least 1-2 employees to manage Workday after the move to Production. Hiring an experienced third-party Workday professional before the project begins will ensure smoother and more productive Discovery and Alignment sessions from the outset. If you aren’t ready to permanently grow your team, you can still find temporary help early in the process.

  • The Advisory Team at Kognitiv was developed with these projects in mind. Since joining this team last year, I’ve helped numerous clients through all phases of Workday projects serving as their internal Workday expert and helping them get the most out of their projects.

Projects Move Faster Than You Expect

Workday implementations move quickly. Regardless of the project timeline or implementation methodology, “later” sneaks up on you. Implementation projects require a lot of hard work and (sometimes) long days, but you will reach milestone dates in the blink of an eye. Most project teams consist of team members managing current systems or processes. The day-to-day challenges of your current job can quickly take away from your availability to pull data, test configuration, or discuss internal process decisions.

  • A 3-4 week period on a project timeline can evaporate quickly, so make sure to dedicate time each day or week to stay on top of project responsibilities.

Some Details May Have Been Lost Over Time

You are going to be asked questions that you haven’t been asked in a long time. When architecting Workday, many “who”, “what”, “when”, “how”, and (most importantly) “why” questions will be asked to determine the best configuration approach. It’s easy to get into “autopilot” mode when supporting so many people, programs, and policies. Even the best, most tenured administrators may have lost a detail or two from a dense summary plan description or an older policy. Nearly every discovery or alignment session I have attended revealed at least a few items that need reevaluation. Workday implementations are hardly the time to completely overhaul your entire policy and procedure catalog, but you might discover some items that need to be administered differently to comply with policies. You can also decide to tweak policies to match your current state, but be careful to avoid those updates spiraling out into a bigger (distracting) effort.

  • Revisiting policies and procedures before the project begins can help you anticipate the decisions you need to make.

Your Data Has Issues

In addition to policy and procedure issues, you are going to find plenty of data problems. The nature and timing of these discoveries will vary based on the project. This could occur when you start populating foundation workbooks. When extracting data from a legacy system you might find missing, inconsistent, incorrect, or out-of-date data. However, payroll parallel testing could be when you start noticing issues. Once you start comparing Workday against legacy payroll calculations you will find several differences. From tax calculations to benefit rates, parallel testing will reveal the differences between what you are doing now versus what Workday is going to calculate on day 1.

  • Regardless of what you find, know that you will find something. This happens to everyone and quick, purposeful decision-making to address the issue will get you over this hump.

Testing is the Best Training

Workday provides many great opportunities for training and you should take advantage of those offerings as time permits. As I mentioned earlier, however, your project will move quickly and you could face scheduling issues when looking for training time, but fear not: active participation during discovery and alignment sessions will provide a foundational understanding of Workday concepts. As you work through the repetition of running many (and I mean many!) testing scenarios, you’ll start making the connections between Workday’s design philosophy, your foundational data, and your business needs.  Thorough testing reveals areas of immediate correction, future development, and the reality of managing the system.

  • The repetition of testing helps build muscle memory and, before you know it, navigating the system and understanding what is built (and why) will start to become second nature.

There Will Always Be a Workday Project

Completing the initial implementation and launching Workday is a great accomplishment and should be celebrated, but it’s only the beginning. Workday covers a lot of ground and it’s alright to not have everything perfect on Day 1. This is why roadmapping during project preparation is so important.  Workday releases two large semi-annual updates, annual process cycles will continue, and you might sign on for new SKUs in the future.

  • Workday is frequently described as an ecosystem and your Workday tenant will continue to evolve with the greater ecosystem.

It’s Going to Be OK

I’ve never seen a flawless Workday project. Sure, some are easier than others, but they all have unique challenges. The project is going to feel simultaneously long and short, you will discover procedural issues, and your legacy data won’t be perfect. It might not make you feel better in this moment, but it happens to every Workday client: past, present, and future. If you carefully plan, assemble the right team, and work purposefully and practically you’ll set yourself up for success. Workday implementations don’t happen overnight and most things aren’t even locked in once you finish the project.

  • If you ever need help at any stage of a project, Kognitiv’s Advisory Team is here to help.


  • Nick Crockett

    Nick started consulting in the Workday ecosystem in 2016, leading clients through Phase 1 HCM implementations. Upon joining Kognitiv in 2018 he expanded his areas of expertise into Recruiting, Time Tracking, Absence, Benefits, and Project Advisory. He’s also the co-host of Kognitiv’s podcast “Everyday Superheroes”.

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