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Critical Knowledge and Insight for IT project Success

Project Success Insight

 This is a followup to a previous post that introduced a fascinating study on expert performance (see  Successful SAP Project Team Composition – Technicians or Experts?).  One of the key insights of the authors was that it was not experience alone, but a very special kind of experience that produced “expert performance.”  A very focused type of continuous achievement that goes beyond mere time of experience or practice

The study’s authors noted the difference between the amateur and the professional (or expert) was more about the amateur being satisfied that they had achieved a certain level of proficiency and the expert continuously pushed it to the next level.  And by next level it was within the specific domain of expertise that they focused on for at least 10 years.  The authors noted:

While stable individual differences in rates of learning (improvement of performance) in certain domains unquestionably exist, they are associated with differences in the type of practice activities and the nature of the students’ concentration and engagement. From retrospective interviews of international-level performers in several domains, such as sports, arts, mathematics and neurology, Bloom and his colleagues (citation omitted) showed that future elite performers engage in activities that differ systematically from those of recreational amateurs.  Amateurs in sports, such as tennis, golf and jogging, acquire an acceptable level of performance and then merely maintain that level for decades as is illustrated in the lowest performance trajectory [illustrated].

The single most important differences between these amateurs and the three groups of elite performers is that the future elite performers seek out teachers and coaches and engage in supervised training, whereas the amateurs rarely engage in similar types of practice.  (Ericsson, K., et. al. 2007, pg. 34).

The current SAP consulting world rarely, if ever, supports this type of talent development.  SAP certification and training programs only impart a superficial type of proficiency.  Even the “professional” certification offers little more than a demonstration that someone may have reached an “amateur” status.  There is little if anything in the consulting world that presses for this level of exceptional proficiency.  There is nothing in the consulting world approaching the level of practice and competition that Olympic hopefuls or professional sports figures engage in.

Expert Performance Approach for SAP Integrators

The difference between amateurs and professionals (or experts) has wide implications for consulting firms and for SAP’s certification program.  At a consulting firm if you have not achieved a senior manager level or higher within 10 years your future prospects are not very good. According to the research however this 10 year mark is where a dedication to excellence within a specific domain for a committed SAP consultant is the point at which they begin to emerge as a true “expert” or “professional” according to the academic literature.

The consulting field does not properly pursue long term domain expertise at the delivery level because most consulting firms create a “climber culture” that provides incentives for aggressive “career growth.”  There is little or no incentive for a long term focus on “domain expertise.” 

Until consulting firms move beyond the one or two weeks of “continuing education” in the form of training courses they offer to their consultants each year  nothing is going to change.  Combined with that, real, meaningful, and substantial knowledge transfer is just as important, and maybe even more important, than it is for the consultants to the client (cf. Change Management Strategies and Knowledge Transfer Processes for a Successful SAP Project 2).  [T]raining and deliberate practice are the principal causes of exceptional performance.  (Ericsson, K., et. al. 2007, pg. 33).

Major ERP vendors like SAP do not produce any type of transcript program or other verification mechanism for training or certification.  With only a few recent exceptions there are few lawsuits against fraudulent vendors and consultants. 

The mark of experience and knowledge is the ability to make the complex or technical seem simple or at least understandable

We’ve all seen this before.  It is the athlete that performs some amazing feat in such a way that it looks effortless.  These athletes or other skilled professionals take exhaustive hours and years of practice to sharpen their skills until they look so polished we almost believe we could do it ourselves.  This may come out in the business or technology sector where some sage wisdom or suggestion on a very complicated or difficult topic is boiled down to an almost overly simplistic phrase or term.  It seems and sounds simple but that ability to take the complex and make it simple, or at least appear simple takes many hours and years of practice and experience.  There are no shortcuts. 

For a number of reasons it may be difficult at best for any well-established consulting firm to ever deliver the real results you want for your project and business.

Reducing SAP TCO and Improving SAP ROI

Consulting “experts”, those with at least 10 years of experience, generally have enough experience to:

  • ensure scope is correct (reduce rework and reduce process gaps)
  • help ensure that data conversions are more properly mapped and handled
  • ensure testing is more thorough and comprehensive
  • facilitate knowledge transfer

The key consulting skills for a successful SAP implementation include several requirements gained over more than just a few years and a couple of SAP implementations:

  • clear oral and written communications,
  • requirements gathering sessions,
  • design sessions,
  • blueprint writing,
  • solution assessments,
  • problem resolutions,
  • fit / gap analysis,
  • business process design,
  • translation of SAP / ERP speak to business language,
  • knowledge transfer,
  • training,
  • and organizational change.

That clear communication, from an experienced background, provides the ability to translate SAP specific processes and requirements into easily understood business language.  Without that ability then all of the other critical skills listed above mean little or nothing.  If the individual does not have enough experience to translate techno-speak into plain, understandable business language then how much meaningful experience do they really have?  For more details on this list of topics for your SAP consultants please see the post entitled “Screening and Interview Methods to Find the Right Consultant – Part 2“.

As a result of this experience these consultants usually go-live with relatively few hiccups or issues.  Consultants with deep experience may cost somewhat more from an hourly rate but they generally need fewer hours to accomplish the same effort.  Because of the amount of experience and skill they also have less rework of any kind and their system settings are generally resolved more quickly.  Deeply skilled functional consultants can write better functional / technical specs to ensure that less development time and effort is needed as well.  Consultants with more and longer project exposure have had to work through and resolve more issues, and have likely been exposed to more of the functionality.  As a result you are more likely to have more standard functionality rather than custom coded long-term support headaches.

These and many more reasons are some of the possible results of getting a good consulting team with very deep SAP experience. 

I’d also like to see some of the mid to larger sized consulting firms begin to develop and engage in some type of national or international competitions around business and application integration.  SAP offers a small measure of this during some of their annual conference events, but there is nothing approaching a formalized competition that is needed to begin a real change in the SAP consulting world.

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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.

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Bill Wood
+1 (704) 905 – 5175
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