The Ufirst Project

Let's Remember "Why"

Dr. Richard Shannon addresses Ufirst team leads at a planning retreat

Ufirst Project Team Lead Retreat, August 2015

The Ufirst HR Transformation Project began with a hypothesis in the summer of 2015 – we could improve the delivery of administrative services across the University.

What began as the Hackett benchmarking study across multiple functions soon proved that we needed to explore this hypothesis. While there were many options, UVA intentionally chose to focus on Human Resources (HR).  The rationale came down to this:

  • The faculty, staff, and team member experience was essential to the UVA mission
  • The current HR experience left much to be desired


photo of a Ufirst event at Bavaro Hall to host the UVA Community and explain the project

Ufirst Community Kickoff January 2016

We understood that data alone wouldn’t mean anything if we did not genuinely engage the University community in “co-building” a shared vision for UVA HR. From this understanding came a small project known as the HR Strategic Design Initiative, which evolved over the course of the next 18 months into the large-scale Ufirst Project. The need for change was clear:

  • Getting basic HR work done was harder than it should be
  • There were sometimes more than 15 ways to do the same HR task and all were complicated
  • Many HR teams struggled to keep pace with the volume of work in their schools and units
  • The HR technology was painful to maintain and the user experience was worse
  • The quality of HR data was very poor and answering basic HR questions took weeks
  • There was growing distrust between “central HR” and the schools and units
  • There was minimal sharing of good HR practices across Grounds
  • Finger pointing and unhelpful behaviors heightened the pain/frustration felt around HR services
  • The cost of HR was growing rapidly while the perceived value of HR was falling faster

As the reasons “why” were compelling, the attention of the University then shifted to answering the question of “what” – what would great HR look like?  The answer to that question, we needed to work across Grounds in uncommon ways:

  • The Academic Division, Medical Center, and University Physicians Group worked across entities and degrees of codified autonomy on a shared vision for HR
  • The voice of Deans, Administrative Associate Deans, faculty members, and Health System executives were as important to the design as the perspective of HR 
  • Equal respect was paid to both how you get to the answer (inclusive approach essential in the Academic Division) and the quality of the answer (outcome focus in the Health System)
  • HR leaders from central units (UHR, MC HR, and UPG HR) worked hand-in-hand with HR leaders embedded in the schools and units


Ufirst Project Subject Matter Resource Session

Subject Matter Resource Session, December 2016

After multiple design sessions and countless hours of spirited debate (yes, even CavMan was in on the action), design principles and agreement on the service delivery components became the building blocks for the future:

  • A single HR leadership team that serves the Academic and Health System divisions
  • An HR solution center that is the transactional engine and quality & innovation hub
  • A set of centers of expertise to provide specialized HR services to the University
  • The introduction of HR service partners who will solve the most complex people issues across Grounds
  • The investment in contemporary, cloud-based HR technology to enhance the delivery of HR services

The Ufirst team thanks all faculty, staff, and team members at the University for their hard work and dedication over the past 3 years. While no one thought it would be easy, the belief that it would be worth it kept everyone going. It is remarkable to think that the original vision for great HR at UVA will be a reality in a few short months!