Business Solutions with SAP

Agile Project Methods for SAP ERP Projects?

October 29th, 2012 by
Agile or Waterfall on SAP ERP projects?

SAP Project Guidance


Looking at the “Agile Manifesto” and how Agile methods are applied generally involves small, discrete, “digestible” work and task components. 

Trying to juggle the number and complexity of dependencies on a full scale SAP ERP project involves management and coordination efforts which completely go against the idea of Agile methods.   


ERP projects tend to have too many moving parts for Agile–, there are too many dependencies and Agile provides too little control and coordination.  The level of coordination required for a large business package implementation flies in the face of “Agile” methods and techniques.  For example, you have to coordinate:

  • process configuration teams,
  • custom code development teams,
  • data conversion,
  • change management,
  • training,
  • testing,
  • governance,
  • infrastructure, etc. 

On complex projects like this all those “sprints” that are not carefully coordinated and planned (which goes against the “Agile Manifesto” listed below) become completely disjointed disasters.  There are too many work streams with dependencies that can not be going in “their own direction” regardless of the impact to other work streams.

Agile Manifesto Activities

The following chart, from the Agile Manifesto, illustrates serious trouble spots for ERP projects like SAP.



Individuals and interactions Processes and tools
Working software Comprehensive documentation
Customer collaboration Contract negotiation
Responding to change Following a plan

Notice, 3 out of 4 of those items on the RIGHT side are often precursors to ERP implementation failures according to the academic literature.  Numerous case studies prove Agile “De-Valued” areas are the places ERP projects fail.  For example:

  • Failure to follow good processes and have solid tools.
  • Failing to have adequate documentation (training materials, help, etc.)
  • NOT following a well laid out plan (i.e. SAP’s PROVEN ASAP implementation methodology, including sample project plans, templates, etc.).

The only Agile Manifesto item that might have strong need to be followed in the ERP space is the focus on the customer over the system integrator contract.

All of those Competing Stakeholders and Constituents

Not only are the project related dependencies and work streams significant, there are numerous competing constituencies which must also be coordinated:

  • business stakeholders or organization,
  • IT,
  • external business customers,
  • external vendors,
  • system integrators (when you use consulting companies),
  • internal business senior management,
  • business department heads who don’t always agree with each other, etc.

While Agile methods might work well for small, discrete, component areas of an SAP or other ERP project the academic literature proves it is a disaster for ERP implementations. 

Agile is not a waste of time, it must just be understood and used in the PROPER CONTEXT of an overall SAP project.  Even the ASAP Methodology includes an “Agile” overlay.  This is an overlay of the existing ASAP Methodology–, it does not replace more traditional waterfall methods and does NOT adopt the “de-vauled” Agile Manifesto areas.

Does Agile Have a Place in ERP Projects?

It might. 

Agile is not suitable for projects with multiple, overlapping / parallel activities with dependencies between them.  The parallel and overlapping dependencies create a requirement that is more suitable to traditional project management methods with:

  • full project plans,
  • discretely defined tasks and responsibilities (to avoid “border wars” at transition points),
  • clearly defined deliverables,
  • management of parallel work-streams and parallel critical paths, etc.

Applying Agile principles to an overall SAP project creates a high likelihood of blown timelines, blown budgets, and collapsed scope — delivery  suffers while  stress balloons.

Agile in SAP ERP Project Examples

I know about the struggles, stresses and messes of Agile SAP projects.  I’ve been on three of these types of projects and none of them went well.

On one SAP project they tried to manage it with “Agile” and it was a complete mess –, the coordination and responsibility struggles forced  a change to the more traditional waterfall approach.  Using Agile methods the project had an unsustainable burn rate for the budget,  dates were ALWAYS slipping, inter-team coordination and planning were a complete disaster, and before the mid-course correction this project was not  going to go live. 

Worse still because of the “Agile” methods of only planning small, discrete work components just before they are due, each dependent group tried to minimize their own work and risk by dumping many of their traditional responsibilities and tasks onto any other group.  With Agile they were allowed to “self define” much of their own effort and naturally tried to minimize their effort while maximizing their success (at the expense of other project participants and work streams).

I do NOT place this responsibility on the clients who hire outside help, they obviously recognized a capability gap or a need they are willing to pay for.   I hold the outside project managers responsible for this and if you ever encounter one of these snake oil salesmen then you should FIRE THEM!

My Conclusion on SAP and Agile Deployments?

Pure application of Agile is a disaster  on any major SAP, ERP, or business software implementation project.  I can absolutely guarantee you that any Agile SAP project delivery “success” claim violated the Agile Manifesto to get there.   There are too many moving parts and too many constituents to use pure Agile on a full blown SAP project.

However, Agile can work within certain task areas, and at different periods and phases in projects.  I have used “agile-light” approaches which have a waterfall overlay.  It is possible to successfully combine agile tasks, to provide a higher quality project result, as long as you continue with the waterfall coordination between work-streams and efforts.

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Figuring Out IT’s Future in an Organization

October 23rd, 2012 by
Business Transformation

Business Transformation


“What is the value proposition for IT in your organization?”

IT can be just a service organization, providing a commodity service (and be outsourced to a cheaper provider), or they can identify where to add value to an organization, to the business, and to business leadership.

Hallmark does not sell greeting cards – you can buy the same card cheaper at the grocery store – Hallmark sells empathy, and customer intimacy. 

Exemplary restaurants do not sell food, they sell service. You can buy food anyplace.

Apple is NOT a computer or technology company, but sells instead, a compelling user experience. 

It may not be intuitive, what one’s value proposition actually is. In each case, the distinction between just someone in each of their industries, and being superlative, is understanding that regardless of the currency of trade (technology, in Apple’s case), the value proposition itself is what distinguishes your organization, your company, your success from everyone else. 

IT Organization Leadership

Leadership is not something that is done by the tired cliche of leading by example, but in creating a compelling vision, unique value, and the ability to enable others to succeed, that gets you to the top.  You rise not on the backs of others, but carried on their shoulders in triumph.  What can you do to make your business counterparts into heroes? It is not about making IT look good, but in making the business players be everything possible with your help. 

What Can You Do as an IT Leader to Move to the Next Level?

  • Get IT people invited to staff meetings in every organization.
  • Create a liaison/business partners group with technical people that can understand business.
  • Meet the business leaders daily – find out what they need;
    • share the unique insights as to what IT capabilities can provide;
    • work out if it makes financial sense, balancing the risk/reward tradeoffs. 

And Mr. CIO, take down that wall.  If you want to be part of business then join the business.  Change the dialog.  A CIO should be 80% outside of IT; the 80% inside is your VP/IT’s function.

You think disaster recovery is an IT function? You weren’t listening. 80% of business continuity and disaster recovery don’t even have an IT component. Be the leader, and bring the WHOLE plan into play, not just getting your data back. 

You think system reliability is measured in 3-4-5 nines? The business could give a rat’s behind. They care about 2 things; tolerance for planned downtime measured in window of opportunity and duration, and tolerance for unplanned downtime measured in duration and time to recovery. The latter provide a completely different engineered result, with far different costs that some arbitrary statistical number. 

Learn to speak in those (and other) business terms, and business will be your partner, not your customer.

Conclusion and Summary on Building a Business Centered IT Organization

IT today, typically covers half of what the functional role of the organization should be – the half that all IT organizations are comfortable with striving to deliver. 

The other half is business intimacy – moving from the back end of business requirements to the front end, and moving to a business partner, who works hand in hand on solving identified needs, up to business peer, collaboratively identifying new needs and how IT can expand business success, and maybe even to business leader, where business capabilities encompass how technology can best enable future business strategy. The transition is from reactive services organization, to improved business interactions, to trusted adviser, to proactive definition of future state business vision. 

If your organization is in a functional delivery role then your CIO is functionally equivalent to a VP of IT, with an inflated title.  If your organization is integrating with the business then your CIO is on the path to C Suite success and peer respect. Welcome to a small, but highly successful group.

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