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Where Does Agile Fit in SAP Projects?

November 12th, 2012 by
Agile on SAP projects

Agile SAP Success

After offering insight based on my personal experiences around “Agile Project Methods for SAP ERP Projects?” I thought it would be helpful to highlight a couple of areas where Agile does work.

  • Development efforts (i.e. coding)
  • Data conversions

Once you begin to move very far beyond these two areas you quickly encounter dependent work streams that need much more coordination.  Those additional dependencies make it difficult to apply Agile methods beyond development and data conversions.

While Agile tends to emphasize the 1 week to 1 month “sprint,” I would define a “sprint” in more of a completed requirements and planning package rather than a pure time-box approach.

Applying Agile Methods to ABAP Software Development and SAP Data Conversions

Development (ABAP, Java, or other coding)

Since Agile methods have been used for some time with small, discrete components of software development I won’t spend a lot of time there.  On a typical SAP project you will end up with a functional spec which defines the program requirements and a technical spec which informs the development details.  Even though the more typical “Agile Manifesto” method would not require the documentation it is well-placed on an SAP project.  In fact, it is foolish not to have it for long term support and maintenance. 

Development can work well for the Agile stages of build / prototype, demonstrate, gather feedback, adjust, and repeat.  The key here is to limit the number of these “Agile” cycles to no more than 3 for software development.  By 3 cycles I mean 3 completed cycles too.  This is not a demonstration with feedback that is only partially built.  If the feedback cycle is not completely implemented then it is not a complete cycle.  Even though Agile would consider these “sprints,” I would consider them a FAILED sprint if the requirements of the current plan, or the subsequent plans, are not fully realized in the prototype or demonstration.

SAP Data Conversions using Agile Sprints

With data conversions I suggest at least 3 complete cycles or “sprints” (not including a minimum of 1 mock go-live conversion, probably 2 or more if you can). 

  1. Build the initial conversion program to all of the requirements (again, partial requirements do not count as a full cycle).
  2. Pilot a test conversion with all data, no matter how much fails, and capture all necessary changes.  This will include data dependencies and sequencing.  At this point you will be lucky to achieve a 70% success rate when considering all of the data dependencies.  This step is not about getting things perfect but about identifying data and programming issues to resolve.
  3. Implement all SAP data conversion changes the conversion pilot exposes, script every conversion step and rough timings, and aim for a successful test target of at least 90%.
  4. Make additional changes and attempt to follow the scripted conversion, making adjustments to the conversion script where necessary, and achieve a goal of at least 98% conversion completeness and accuracy.

Once you achieve this level of conversion consistency it is ready for a mock-conversion.  These Agile “sprints,” or as they are starting to call them now “Scrum-ban” (as a spinoff of Kanban) will help to ensure a successful data conversion.

Conclusion on Agile ABAP Development and Data Conversions

Even with newly packaged Scrum, Agile, or other methods, on an SAP project there are so many moving parts and work streams to coordinate that there is no substitute for a good waterfall project approach.  Using “Agile-like” methods for the ABAP development or data conversions is not a substitute for good project management either.  Done properly this approach can work well as long as it is carefully managed along with the rest of the work streams.




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Building an Effective SAP ERP Delivery Organization

November 5th, 2012 by
Effective SAP Delivery

Effective SAP Delivery

There are generally 3 big components for improving SAP delivery.  These 3 components have the capability of improving SAP and technology delivery in general while impacting corporate business performance and marketplace success.

  • Delivery Approach
  • Delivery Methodology
  • IT Organizational Development

The following content is written with a focus on SAP, however it can be completely generalized to virtually any IT organization.

  1. A careful focus on the delivery approach is needed.  Here there are 2 key paradigms to focus on.  The first paradigm is service delivery vs. value delivery (SAP Service Delivery versus Value Delivery), and the second paradigm is software engineering vs. business process engineering (SAP Implementation Focus: Engineer Software or Business Processes?).
  2. A formal, structured, internal delivery methodology.  This should include a “checklist” of all project requirements including templates, tools, and resources for project delivery.  Because I know SAP I use it, however they have a powerful methodology which can also be generalized to virtually any IT project.  For more information see Why Use the SAP ASAP Methodology?
  3. A strong focus on IT organizational development.  The current “best practices” around IT Organizational Development includes a 3 tiered maturity structure:  Service provider, Business Partner, and Business Peer (Organizational Change Management Inside the SAP IT Support Organization).  The second part of that is a structured approach to creating the premier IT “Center of Excellence,” converged business-IT delivery organization (see SAP Service Provider to Business Peer Through Center of Excellence Maturity).  You can use 3 Development Phases for SAP Center of Excellence Maturity as a completely structured organizational outline.  It includes key activities and maturity steps.

Adopting these three pillars will create a great foundation for your company or organization for the long term.  They will also help immediately and transform your enterprise in the mid-term.




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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.

Valued

DE-Valued

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?

Wide 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.




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