The first few years of my SAP career was spent doing SAP training and documentation. That time in front of a classroom doing SAP courses helped me gain an understanding of the user perspective, the client perspective, and the ability to facilitate effective requirements gathering sessions.
Many SAP trainers do not have the “luxury” of specializing in a single module. Usually you learn the transactional processing of whatever module you end up being responsible for on each project. As a result, many SAP trainers with a few years and a few project experiences have a fair process understanding of the application. During my first few years of training I covered most of the major SAP modules [FN1]. This background was an invaluable experience for me. Because of the results I’ve seen when knowledge transfer is done correctly I’ve become a real fan.
Experienced SAP Consultants and Knowledge Transfer
Genuinely seasoned consultants recognize that the time they have spent “in the trenches” cannot be replaced by one project’s knowledge transfer; therefore, they are not threatened by encouraging your understanding. Many talented consultants thrive in an environment where they are challenged, and learning, and solving problems. It is a dimension of a successful consultant’s personality and character. So transferring knowledge is second nature to a skilled and experienced consultant.
Most often the truly skilled consultants with practical business and work backgrounds are the ones who can speak to issues in plain, understandable terms. They have been through the go-lives, they have done the production support for the user community, they have had to work through the complex or thorny processing issues, they’ve seen where things were done right (and not so well) and they have gained a solid process understanding. They do not have to rely on “fast talking techie speak” to keep you confused and in the dark. And if you’re not clear on what they are saying how are the project team and user community going to understand them?
Having explained my bias, one of the most important things a company can require of their software vendor is knowledge transfer. Done correctly this leads to operational independence. Done poorly, or not at all, it leads to perpetual vendor dependence. Worse still, done poorly the long-term organizational change and acceptance of the new system, new processes, and new way of doing business is much slower and more painful. In some of the worst cases strong enough resistance to the needed business change may lead to resistance and eventual failure of the implementation.
More on SAP Knowledge Transfer and Process Communication Skills
Most consultants come to a project with resumes that claim several years of full life-cycle project experience:
- leading requirements gathering sessions,
- developing blueprint documents,
- producing option assessment whitepapers,
- logging and troubleshooting complex issues with users,
- performing actual knowledge transfer,
- training client-side core team members,
- and post-go-live support.
For many companies looking to install SAP or other ERP applications many of the consulting companies deliver “generalists.” These “generalists” do not have the critical application and process knowledge to ensure that your company will gain the critical “operational independence” you need for long term success. Ask yourself how you are ever going to acquire the knowledge transfer your organization needs if the consultants who you are paying are also learning “on your dime.”
SAP Knowledge Transfer Requires Good Communication Skills
How can a consultant do any of the communication intensive project requirements without strong native language skills? Any language barrier is a red flag that you may not receive the critical knowledge transfer you need for operational independence. The lack of ability to do knowledge transfer is a serious red flag which should be a warning that the consultant may not have the level of experience required for results.
I have seen the results of projects where the vendor team would not effectively transfer knowledge, and projects where it was effectively transferred. While there are lots of reasons, some of the danger and warning signs of a problem vendor and of problem consultants are those who will not, or cannot, share their knowledge and move the dependent organization toward independence.
There are a number of warning signs indicating a serious problem. For example:
- Fast talking “jabber” that sounds sophisticated but is difficult to really understand.
- “Techie” terms and jargon rather than plain native language terms that make sense and even help the uninitiated to understand (frequently this is an indication of a LACK of experience because the exposure the individual has is to the “technical” material they have reviewed or are learning online).
- Lots of “consultant only” meetings where client counterparts are not invited to participate (some of these, like weekly team lead meetings for consultants only may be needed. But excessive use of these should be seen as a red flag).
- Layers of bureaucracy to get answers or to resolve problems from the “keepers of the knowledge” by the active or extended implementation team members (again, some of this is necessary as a practical measure from the extended user community).
- Frequent failures to communicate changes in direction, or new requirements.
- Constant refrains like “you don’t need to worry about that now” or “we’re not there yet” or “don’t worry, we’ve got that covered.” Or worse still, “why do you need that?” If you’re getting these types of responses without adequate explanations this should be seen as a danger sign.
- Or, the all time classic “I’m (or we’re) too busy to worry about that now.” And while many projects are busy, the knowledge transfer can not be neglected.
Effective SAP Knowledge Transfer Requires the Ability to Make the Complex Seem Simple
The important skill in all of this is the ability to take the complex and make it simple. Anyone can take the complex and keep it that way, or even make it more complex, however those with real talent can help you understand what you need to know for success. They are often able to do this in terms that you understand, and when the introduction of completely new and foreign concepts are introduced if they have enough experience they will have worked through it enough internally to be able to present understandable explanations. Often times those fast talking consultants, who are hard to understand and use lots of jargon or technical talk that “sound” so brilliant are most often the fakes.
All of these fakes are more common than many clients realize, and more damaging to your implementation than you can imagine. Even many vendors are duped and hire these consultants who hide behind their own lack of knowledge or experience by preventing you from gaining knowledge, or the ability to meaningfully challenge or review their work. By preventing meaningful review of the consulting work you are billed for it is difficult or impossible to recognize the level of competence and skill (or more likely, the lack of it).
Knowledge Transfer Exceptions
There is one other perspective and cause to consider here: there are some projects where the client company (not the vendor) does not provide enough resources for the project, or will not commit enough of their core team member time that makes it very difficult to transfer much knowledge. To achieve operational independence a company MUST commit their resources to learning the system, and learning it well, for long term health.
Trying to have core client team members do an SAP project while maintaining some additional responsibilities of their other job only hurts you (the client) in the long term. The reason is that once you go live things will change, SAP will be your new system and the old ways of doing business will not all be supported. As a result the more knowledgeable and capable your core team is the better and more productive it is for your business.
If you’re one of those clients where you really don’t care, money is virtually limitless, and you just want a warm body, then these types of consultants, their vendors, and the long term dependence on them are ideal for you. If you’re looking for results and meaningful long term value, run from these consultants and their vendors like the plague.
Operational Independence is the Key Success Criteria or Measure of SAP or ERP Knowledge Transfer
To avoid this problem, your vendor contract might include a provision where you commit to the number of resources and time (client staffing levels) and the vendor is required to reach a point of operational independence within 2 (or 3, or whatever number) months after go-live.
Define operational independence as the client resource’s ability to troubleshoot and resolve transaction problems within the scope (or list) of the transactions that are implemented. Also, the terms of your agreement might spell out that as of “x” date, the vendor agrees to support all client resources at “y” discounted rate (say 50% or less of the project rate) until operational independence is achieved. See how your vendor reacts to this. If they raise concerns, and want some contract language changed or modified to make things fairer and to spread the responsibility more appropriately that is fine. But if they are resistant to such an arrangement without a clearly compelling reason you may want to reconsider whether they are the right fit for your project.
Combat this throughout the project by building some of these knowledge transfer expectations into other parts or phases of the project. For example, by the time the project begins integration testing, the client resources should be able to configure or resolve “x” or “y” as part of the knowledge transfer.
How you resolve this is up to you, but let me assure you that knowledge transfer is a key component of every GOOD SAP project. If your project is lacking in the knowledge transfer and you have provided sufficient resources you may want to take a long, hard look at your vendor and consultants. You may be headed for more problems and more unnecessary expenses and cost than you know.
[FN1] I had trained classes on various parts of PP (Production Planning), SD (Sales and Distribution), MM (Materials Management), WM (Warehouse Management), FI (AR, AP, GL, and Asset Management)