Over the years the most successful SAP projects I have participated in had strong client side leaders. They had some knowledge and understanding of how to deliver large, complex, or difficult projects. Not just SAP projects but large complex undertakings. Their ability to deliver projects came from their ability to manage, direct, and engage with project participants. They took the initiative to directly manage their own projects.
Many of these leaders had something else in common, they understood you can become overly reliant on consultants to deliver a project –, it creates an artificial sense of security.
One project and leader in particular stands out from my past because of the attitude about SAP project delivery. That project’s senior leader used a phrase about consultants I found a little insulting but have since learned to appreciate. He had a “rented skills” attitude about consultants and frequently referred to us in that way. Along with that attitude he and the senior leadership of the company chose very strong leaders from within the company ranks to manage each module or key area of the project. And by strong leaders I mean REALLY strong leaders. During the course of the project a number of consultants were replaced when they did not perform up to the company’s expectations. That project was probably one of the best delivered projects I have ever seen:
- It had one of the largest SAP scope and functionality footprints.
- That project’s first phase replaced nearly 60 homegrown legacy systems.
- It was delivered ON TIME and WITHIN BUDGET.
- It met every business requirement.
- It was delivered across international company codes and business units (including foreign trade).
- And for similar sized companies, with similar scope, similar time frames, etc., it was delivered for probably 10 – 20% of similar projects.
That project was very different because the level of automation and how smooth the go-live went, and even the post-production support issues were far fewer than any other implementation I had participated in.
I participated in this implementation’s post production support as the SD lead and to help with reporting for about 6 months after we went live. They had slightly more support issues than many companies have with “stable” SAP implementations. This senior leader went on to become CTO and nearly all of the company’s leaders involved in that SAP project went on to senior level leadership positions.
How Clients Can Effectively Manage SAP Consultants to Deliver Results
The background I just provided illustrates one of the most important factors necessary for successful SAP project delivery. The Ivey Journal published by Harvard Press about “Leading Consultants to Exceed Expectations” (PDF file) went into detail on this issue. The key is in aggressive client management of SAP projects for companies that want meaningful results and value.
For me this involves a few critical components:
- Develop a project or team set of values and expectations for project delivery. The expectations should be focused on action and execution.
- Provide a training course to client participants on the latest SAP ASAP methodology. It can be made available through Solution Manager or as a stand-alone HTML download from the SAP Service Marketplace.
- Define clear boundaries, tasks, and roles for all project participants. No one should have to try to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
- Every client project participant should be trained in how to manage and work with consultants. Use RACI charts to help manage consultants.
- Every client project participant should be spelling out the specific tasks, assignments, and expected completion of deliverable for each project participant.
- Each person on the project, whether contractor or employee, should have clearly defined deliverables, tasks, and criteria for success.
- The client project participants should capture and regularly discuss lessons learned on dealing with consultants, including challenges and soliciting ideas on managing them.
Client and consulting leaders should accept responsibility for the delivery and execution of those they are responsible for. Be on guard for excuses, deflection, and blame-shifting. At times these are common consulting tactics to hide a skill, talent, or capability gap.
One key thing to consider is that any decent SAP consultant who has managed to deliver SAP project results can be difficult to manage at times. Because of their type “A” personality tendencies they need input and awareness of anything within their domain of influence. To manage high performing consultants the use of a RACI chart cannot be underestimated. Because of these tendencies project managers must activity work to solicit their input and feedback, and well as keeping them in the loop on what is happening in the project. If you fail to do this you are setting yourself up for trouble and unnecessary conflict. This is why a RACI chart is a useful tool on an SAP project.
For an overview of the key SAP project success factors, including allocating responsibility, please see this table which provides an overview of success factors:
For a detailed explanation of each of these success criteria you may wish to review the series which analyzed them from the consulting selection point of view:
- SAP System Vendor Project Success Criteria 1
- SAP System Vendor Project Success Criteria & Factors 2
- SAP System Vendor Project Success Criteria & Factors 3
- SAP System Vendor Project Success Criteria & Factors 4
- SAP System Vendor Project Success Criteria & Factors 5
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- effective client management