People, organizational, and change management strategies on an ERP implementation are usually more difficult than the technology implementation.
ERP implementation changes to the business cause employees from different departments to become more knowledgeable about business in general (Hall, 2002) (see also The Top 5 ERP Success Factors by Project Stage from 22 Critical Success Factors about interdepartmental cooperation and communication). While this is good, it also presents a set of knowledge transfer process challenges that consultants without the depth of project and business skill may not be able to navigate. They may not even be aware of knowledge transfer techniques (see Screening Methods to Find the Right SAP Consultant Part 2 about the required skills and communication requirements of a good consultant).
The Critical Nature of Training and a Knowledge Transfer Strategy and Techniques in Any SAP or ERP Project
ERP applications like SAP have a “single source” of information creating a need to develop understanding of business processes. Duplicate entry tasks are eliminated and the degree of data accuracy is increased. Organizational processing speeds increase over time (after the initial learning stage downturn) and the dependencies between departments increases requiring a level of cooperation that makes some tasks and jobs obsolete. Employee skill level and performance increases (Scott and Sugar 2004) making knowledge transfer techniques, like training, a critical component for long term success.
Different Types of Training are Needed for SAP and ERP Project Success
One of the biggest problems in workforce preparation for ERP applications like SAP is the type of training they receive. The types of training you decide to use are all part of the knowledge transfer strategies, techniques, or methods to support business transformation.
Most companies only perform the traditional scripted keyboard training which consists of carefully controlled individual transaction exercises. The training contains only a very limited focus on performing a small sequence of keyboard tasks to impart the understanding of a single transaction. They generally do not transfer process related knowledge. Often there is little or no knowledge transferred of:
- The significance of the data that is entered.
- Where that data is integrated into other parts of the system.
- What the underlying data dependencies are.
- What types of troubleshooting steps to take.
- What interdepartmental impacts exist.
- What part of the overall process is affected.
Together with these common gaps in knowledge transfer techniques and methods there is little ongoing followup after the system is live such as:
- Communications about maintenance or performance tips and tricks after the system is live.
- Additional troubleshooting training or techniques as they arise.
- Where to find key data and information for decision making.
Current knowledge transfer processes, plans, strategies, techniques, or methods do not include these key activities even though they are important for long-term business success. Essentially users are trained on what tasks to perform but little or no training is done to help them understand why the transactions are being performed. They have little or no understanding of the upstream and downstream dependencies within their own departments and across the enterprise (Wheatley, 2000). The type of insight that would produce these kinds of knowledge transfer plans and techniques only comes from significant experience.
The typical system implementation focuses on training individual transactions without the explanation of dependencies or processes. This works for initial exposure to the system–, for learning the user interface and the new data entry requirements. This method is not good for long term business transformation or for high productivity.
Successful Change Management Planning Requires Multiple Strategies and Types of Training — A New Training and Change Management Model is Needed
A more complete change management process and plan, which some companies installing SAP or other ERP systems conduct, is an explanation or overview of processes and how the transaction fits into an overall process stream. This is still not a sufficient change management strategy or process to ensure you are doing the right knowledge transfer methods and techniques.
A more complete list of knowledge transfer methods includes several components:
- Transactional processing (typical keyboard training).
- Business process understanding (some projects use this method with transaction flowcharts for showing dependencies).
- Master data dependencies (few projects do this level of end user training because it is generally the implementation consultants who have this level of understanding).
- Operational processing (fewer projects still do this type of training because this is the production support “troubleshooting” type of training that requires seasoned consultants to be on site long enough to help users work through the issues).
- Ongoing knowledge transfer activities such as ad hoc troubleshooting meetings with all affected users (work through problems as a group in a conference room).
- Continuing communication about tips and tricks after the system is live.
The first 3 items on the list above can be carried out by competent and skilled training professionals. Or, as many companies do, they can also be done well by training team members. Most consulting companies use a method called the “Train the Trainer” approach. This approach relies on teaching internal company employees how to teach, or train, the transactional (keyboard related) courses. It relies on them to be able to walk-through carefully scripted and controlled user exercises of limited and discrete transactions.
The “Train the Trainer” approach is a good knowledge transfer technique or method for many companies if the staff they have provided is not stretched so thin that they have an opportunity to learn what they need to know. For this to be effective it also requires the consultant to be skilled enough to transfer the critical understanding needed to be successful. If a consultant has deep experience they can transfer the transaction knowledge together with the data dependencies, key process understanding, and even troubleshooting tips. If the consultants on the project are unable to do this then it is highly likely that they do not have the experience you may have been presented. Your engagement agreement may be beneficial to include some type of language to support the knowledge transfer requirements, not just that it should be done, but expected results of that knowledge transfer.
If the consultants on the project do not have a good overall process understanding your trainers will struggle and the fourth item, the exception processing, will be nearly impossible. For example a good consultant’s knowledge transfer plan should include the ability to transfer understanding of the entire process cycle of their area such as:
- Order to Cash
- Requisition to Payment
- Plan to Produce
My experience is that the “Train the Trainer” approach is the most effective method for knowledge transfer to internal employees. And in turn, good knowledge transfer for internal employees helps to ensure longer term change management. As a result of the need to understand the overall process cycle area the consultants must have deep experience in their respective area of expertise.
Hall, R.(2002), “Enterprise Resource Planning Systems and Organizational Change: Transforming Work Organizations?” Strategic Change, Vol. 11, pp. 263-270.
Scott, J. and Sugar, D. (2004), “Perceived Effectiveness of ERP Training Manuals.” Proceedings of the Tenth Americas Conference on Information Systems, New York, pp. 3211-3215.
Sia, S. and Soh, C. (2002), “Severity Assessment of ERP-Organization Misalignment.” Proceedings of the Twenty-Second International Conference on Information Systems, New Orleans, pp. 723-729.
Wheatley, Malcolm (2000), “ERP Training Stinks,” CIO Magazine, June.
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