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Successful SAP Project Team Composition – Technicians or Experts?

September 27th, 2010 by

performanceContinuing on the theme from a previous post about getting SAP expertise do you need SAP Technicians or Experts? There is academic study I want to take some time to review about gaining SAP ROI and reducing your SAP TCO.

The study points out the type of SAP project team expertise to gain ROI and competitive advantage from your ERP project.  If you want real return, real results, and real benefits then you need real skill (see e.g. Screening and Interview Methods to Find the Right Consultant – Part 2).

These consulting skills for SAP project benefit are available but they are difficult to find even in economically challenging environments.  What the marketplace needs is reproducibly superior performance, or real expertise.

Reproducibly Superior Performance for SAP Projects

The academic study has significant implications for any type of expertise, across any domain of experience. 

The study itself was quite lengthy and boring but in spite of the “dry read” it was one of the most enlightening studies I have read in years.  The basic premise is that with few exceptions it really is possible for anyone to be a superstar. 

Ericsson, K., Roring, R., and Nandagopal, K. (2007);  Giftedness and evidence for reproducibly superior performance: an account based on the expert performance framework.  High Ability Studies Vol. 18, No. 1, June 2007, pp. 3–56.

Boring or not this is required for every HR employee, every manager, every supervisor, and every executive who is interested in the secret to breakthrough success.  It is required reading for anyone who manages people, processes, or has any form of leadership role in a company.  And it is among the most critical reading for anyone considering a vendor selection for an SAP implementation.

ANY “technician” can ask questions, but only experts can efficiently, effectively, and fully address the issues or problems those questions raise.  In some cases only an expert can even understand the issue or problem.

The “Expert Performance” Study Background and its Broad Implications for SAP Consulting

The lengthy study (over 50 pages) does a thorough and fairly comprehensive evaluation of studies, literature, and research dating back as far as 1904 to the year of the publication in 2007.

The research on Expert Performance has wide ranging application to nearly any domain of expertise

The authors challenge the idea that “giftedness” is an inherent attribute that cannot be reproduced.  The study offers a very compelling and accurate evaluation (or criticism) of past analytical approaches to superior performance.  They pointed to research problems in reliability and methodologies from prior studies which suggested “giftedness” is an innate trait. 

What the authors show is that in nearly any focused domain of expertise it is possible to achieve significant levels of consistent superior performance.  They evaluated the domains of scientific research / discovery, memory, medicine, chess, various professional (and Olympic) sports, aptitude tests (reading, writing, math, verbal, and IQ), art , music, professional writing, psychology, and other areas. 

What is the Expert Performance Approach?

The study’s authors advocate for a new method of evaluating, developing, and pursuing high performance called the “expert performance approach.”  That approach, summed up in a phrase is the relentless pursuit of excellence.  It means that “reproducibly superior performance [is the result of] extended periods of incremental development” (Ericsson, K., et. al. 2007, pg. 14).  At roughly 10 years of experience, with a minimum of 10,000 hours of focused effort it has “been found to be closely correlated with the attainment of expert and elite performance in a wide range of domains…” (Ericsson, K., et. al. 2007, pg. 17).

“[E]ven the most ‘talented’ need 10 years or more of intense involvement before they reach a level where they can consistently demonstrate superior performance in international adult competitions in sports, sciences and the arts… Even in cases of famous legends, such as prodigies like Bobby Fischer, the required time to reach grandmaster status was still around nine years, and it took another two decades before Fischer played for the world championship. In many domains of expertise, most elite individuals take considerably longer than 10 years of intensive practice to win international competitions consistently. Further, outstanding scientists and authors normally publish their first work at around age 25 after an extended preparation, and their best work takes an additional 10 years…[E]ngaging in particular practice activities produces dramatically elevated levels of performance over an extended period of time.” (Ericsson, K., et. al. 2007, ppg. 16, 17)

The implications of this research for system integrators in the SAP and ERP space cannot be underestimated.  Because of the way consulting companies are structured and operate it is nearly impossible to achieve expert performance levels from their consultants.  Even consultants who really desire to achieve expertise find the consulting firm culture difficult to ensure domain expertise is acquired.

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SAP Implementation Projects: Still Crazy After All These Years – Part 2

September 20th, 2010 by


With Michael Doane’s permission I’m re-posting part 2 of his critique on SAP implementation projects.  For the first part you can see it here, SAP Implementation Projects: Still Crazy After All These Years.


Project Guidance

In a previous post, I pointed out my discovery of an anonymous blogger who is providing a blow-by-blow of his firm’s painful SAP implementation. (SAP: Loathe It or Ignore It, You Can’t Like It http://sapmesideways.blogspot.com/. )

Since that post, I have had some e-mail contact with the writer, who has agreed to my re-use of our correspondence.

The most striking comment of his was this:

“I don’t know if the SAP project methodology is being used as I have nothing to gauge our experiences against; however, over the past 2 years, I have read a number of items by experienced SAP consultants, and I suspect that they are not applying it correctly, if at all.”

My reply:

“…if they were using a methodology, you would definitely know it. Outside of IBM and Accenture, all certified partners MUST adhere to SAP’s ASAP methodology, sometimes referred to (recently) as Focus ASAP. Most of these partners add some of their secret sauce to the core SAP methodology. I am willing to bet that if you look at this firm’s proposal of services to you that they make a big deal about their methodology.”

The blog was started in January of 2009, so over an eight month period our correspondent is not sure whether or not a methodology is being followed. While this may seem “crazy”, it is unfortunately a more widespread (mal)practice than the systems integrators will admit.

When clients search for SAP consulting help, they are looking for:

a) specific expertise (business process design, configuration, and technical) and

b) a proven project method or methodology by which all necessary project activities are navigated.

My research since 2001, both in the field and through extensive survey work, reveals that the leading SAP systems integration firms routinely fail to adhere to their own methodologies.

They claim to have best practices repositories that are referenced in the course of business blueprint but clients report a high incidence of white-boarding.  They claim to that their proven methodologies result in on-time, on-budget implementations and yet SAP implementations are still routinely late and over-budget. (I actually blame this aspect on clients who just as routinely establish wildly optimistic budgets and time-frames).

Failures to actually leverage promised assets are not limited to the usual suspects. Our anonymous correspondent had this to say about his firm’s SI partner:

“My main beef is with the consultants (what you would call the system integrators I think) – they are a mid sized company and it appears they have not previously implemented in the specific sector which my company operates in. They are an SAP gold partner, but I’m not sure what value that has – in my opinion they do nothing to enhance the reputation of SAP, the company or the product.

Although we had one person for a few months that was very experienced in SAP implementation (some 15+ years), most of the people seem to be very new to the role, less than 2 years. We have had so many different consultants, that I have actually lost track of the number (almost 60, I now believe, where they originally proposed just 4). They have failed to meet a single target on the deadline, or on the budget and in many areas have not met all of the requirements of the business. “

Individually, clients should do a better job of holding their systems integrators’ feet to the fire. Collectively, only SAP itself can directly address these failures and they can do so through the leverage of third-party project quality assurance as well as by leveraging more pressure on all systems integration partners, be they gold, silver, or bronze.

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The original article can be seen at: http://sapsearchlight.blogspot.com/2009/08/sap-implementation-projects-still-crazy.html

Visit Author Michael Doane’s web site for more insightful articles on SAP projects at http://sapsearchlight.blogspot.com

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SAP Technicians or Experts

September 13th, 2010 by

Organizations must take ownership of their projects for successThey say a good magician never reveals their tricks. Well, I’m no magician so I’ll give you a little insight. Lagging indicators, those affected by process improvements, cost-based ROI and TCO methods, and current ERP mindsets are reactive.

Leading indicators, those which directly affect the competitive business landscape are proactive.

SAP and ERP technicians are reactive. They can make system settings, they can help you to make a small tweak here or there, but they are tactical and tend to be shortsighted.

SAP experts are proactive. Not only do they understand how to deliver process improvements, along with those process integration points, they also tend to be proactive and propose innovative solutions to nagging business problems.

SAP experts evaluate more than the SAP application alone, they are aware and actively promote solutions that address the key areas your business is concerned with. They consider the customers in your marketplace, the vendors in your supply chain, how you might innovate your product or service pipeline, and the competitive strengths and weaknesses of your company compared to those in the marketplace. On top of that, they know what processes, or process improvements, are necessary to address each of those areas to address those competitive pressures. Along with all of this the truly talented ERP experts can evaluate your company’s culture during the implementation to understand how much change the organization can absorb.

SAP and ERP technicians on the other hand simply replace your existing legacy systems with a more integrated IT system. They work to make your brand new shiny ERP system look and behave a lot like your old system. They are unskilled at knowledge transfer and have little ability to deliver critically needed change management and business transformation. In effect they are high-priced IT technicians and contrary to popular mythology they are NOT knowledge workers. [FN1]

SAP Consulting Skills Include Change Management and Strong Communication

And when some new “gee wiz” requirement comes up, or when some new problem presents itself, the technicians are the first to immediately race to a new system requirement to solve it.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been on projects where the client had a legitimate need SAP’s applications could address but the organization could not absorb the change. Experience has taught me to look ahead to the days, weeks, and months after go-live and consider whether or not the level of support for the new processes would be sufficient. And if not, either find some way to work through the necessary organizational changes or push back on the client because it was not in their best interests. ERP technicians will not do this, all they are interested in is being able to stick something else on their resume. Some “new skill” or “new experience” they might be able to sell to some other customer. [FN2]

What Can You Do to Help Promote ERP Project Success – Get Educated!

Be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Get educated about the best approach to use with your SAP implementation or upgrade project.

If you’re an SAP customer, take the time and trouble to thoroughly evaluate the vendor you bring into your company, carefully evaluate every consultant they propose, and not just on the face of a resume either. If you need to, do your own background checks on their resumes and if you find one that is a fake (which is more common than anyone cares to admit) then throw the entire vendor out the door. If they can’t even check the background of their own candidates then why should you pay them one dime to bring fakes onto your project.

If you want to get the best implementation you possibly can then create a structured, objective RFP process that has a rational scoring system to evaluate the vendor. When you go strictly on “relationships” you may be missing out on your own fiduciary duty and responsibility to deliver to your company the best possible solution to win in the marketplace. And in today’s world that responsibility could very well mean the difference between being in business or out of business. Or at least facing the prospect of massive layoffs and cutbacks. You can’t afford to “give away the farm” to a “friend” who might not be able to deliver on what you need.

If you’re an implementation vendor avoid getting burned by some of the sophisticated SAP fraud shops. The ones that create fake resumes, they do the bait and switch with someone else doing their phone screen, and they get some of their friends to “vouch” for their “experience” at large companies. [FN2] The minute you find one of these resumes from one of your recruiters STOP doing business with that recruiter or recruiting firm. If they can’t or won’t do a simple employment / project verification on a candidate then run, don’t walk away from them.

Take some time to get familiar with the various SAP tools and methodologies. For customers they are freely available and for implementation vendors who are partnered with SAP they have access to even more resources. And once you’re in with SAP, those tools and resources are free! If you’re an SAP customer paying for maintenance and support then take advantage of what those fees are for. Get educated through your OSS ID access to internal SAP resources and tools. If you find something internally you think will benefit you and you don’t have access to it as a customer then contact your SAP sales rep and ask for access to that resource.

In the end there are lots of things you can do. But you have to get out and do them.

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[FN1] See the section of the following essay that explains the difference between what many companies call “knowledge management” and what knowledge management actually is. This essay addresses collaboration, social media, and SOA in the enterprise. “SAP, ERP III, SOA — Learning Organizations through Social Media Collaboration”
http://www.r3now.com/sap-erp-iii-soa-learning-organizations-through-social-media-collaboration

[FN2] See the following posts about avoiding fake SAP resumes, fake SAP experience, and get the experience you pay for.

Screening methods to find the right SAP consultant
http://www.r3now.com/screening-methods-to-find-the-right-sap-consultant

Screening Methods to Find the Right Consultant – Part 2
http://www.r3now.com/screening-methods-to-find-the-right-consultant-part-2

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