Each year, Wake County Human Resources performs the critical but very time-consuming task of collecting comparable compensation data from around 30 benchmark organizations regarding a third of the County’s job classifications.

When the study reared its head this time around, Anza Harker came to our team to discuss options to improve the study.  As is often the case with innovation, the change began when someone who felt the business pain recognized that there had to be a better way to do the work.

We decided on a couple of fundamental principles to guide our problem-solving: 1) we chose to use an incremental approach,  2) we decided to use tools we already own until they were no longer robust enough to be effective, and 3) we wanted something that would immediately impact HR in this cycle and not wait until the next year.

With those principles in mind, the first step was simply changing how we thought about and used Excel.  HR already used Excel for their annual compensation study, so merely visualizing the information in Excel as data instead of information in a spreadsheet offered HR the ability to make a novel interpretation of the data that they already had.

From there, and over the course of almost a year, Anza met with the team biweekly to incrementally improve the way the data was both collected and analyzed.  Based on their business cycle for this work, we built three different Excel-based tools and released them as they were ready.  While the whole solution took a year to fully develop, the business value for the tool was partially realized as early as the third month.

At the end of the cycle, what started as a 6-week data entry process, with an HR team member dedicated wholly to the task of data collection and entry, evolved into a 45-minute streamlined process that was much less painful for HR.

The business gain here is threefold: 1) the streamlined process for data collection means that outside of the 45-minutes now required, the rest of the time can be re-purposed to actually scrub, interpret and analyze that data, which is the goal of the study. As a result of this re-purposed time, additional layers of data have since been added to the study to offer a more robust review of how the County compensates their employees. 2) Anza developed into an Excel expert, which she can carry over into other aspects of her role, and which she can help transfer to other peers she works with, 3) the value of incremental change was realized; we didn’t know what the end product would look like, nor could we have visualized it at the start of the project.  Instead, the tool developed through iteration, inspection and adaptation which are principles of agile methodology.  The solution we arrived at is functional, but can continue to be improved upon as necessary and as time allows.