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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.   

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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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Being an Expert Witness in an SAP System Integrator or Consultant Fraud Trial

May 29th, 2012 by
SAP Expert Witness

SAP Expert Witness

Those who have followed this site for any period of time are probably aware that one of my passions is to see the whole business application space “cleaned up.”

A recent group of comments and private messages I have received about consultants who knowingly commit fraud really got me aggravated.  I’ve actually received e-mails through my site from these “freshers” who would brag about having their fake resume ready and they were excited about actually conning their first customer.  Enough already, I decided to do a series on helping expert witnesses through the litigation process against some of these unscrupulous tactics.  

Although I am NOT, NOT, NOT, a fan of litigation I believe we have reached an unfortunate time in the business application consulting space where something must be done.  There are too many fraudulent consultants, too many staffing firms which facilitate and in some cases participate in this fraud, and too many system integrators who take advantage of clients who do not fully appreciate how SAP projects work.  Please understand this is not legal advice, for that you must consult an attorney. 

You Just Got Called to be an Expert Witness in an SAP, Oracle, or other Business Application Lawsuit

Being called upon or contacted to be an expert witness in a court case for your field of expertise can be an exciting and frightening proposition.  Over the years I’ve been contacted by lawyers and expert witness brokers to do exactly that.  I’ve never taken them up on the offer but have taken the time to understand the process.  If you want to be an “expert” witness in some multi-million dollar litigation about a failed SAP, Oracle, or other business software implementation you will want to prepare for…

What Can You Expect?

First, be prepared to have your writings, resume, personal life, and your past carefully scrutinized in tremendous detail.  Anything you’ve written online, in publications, or even in social media spaces is fair game for legal evaluation over your judgment as an expert witness.  Consider carefully whether you want past events that might be “colored” to affect your professional judgment raised in a court of law (and no, that is NOT why I haven’t accepted any expert witness assignments ;) . 

What are the Legal Requirements for Expert Witness Testimony

First of all expert testimony in the United States is generally governed by Federal Rule of Evidence 702.  That rule governs “technical or other specialized” testimony from experts and virtually every U.S. State has either the same rule or some equivalent.  However, each state can have different ideas of what that Rule actually means in their own state level courts so it is really important to understand what state a case is in, or whether it is in federal court.  In legal terms this is related to “venue” or what court the case will be tried in.  Is it is state or federal venue.

Standards for Admitting Expert Testimony

Two key U.S. Supreme Court cases govern the admissibility of expert testimony.  The two cases which either open the door, or close it, for expert testimony are often referred to as “Frye” and “Daubert.”  To be an expert witness you really should be familiar with these two cases and what they mean to you if you consider offering expert testimony. 

These legal cases use two different standards which are in use to some extent throughout the United States.  The Frye case comes from a Washington D.C. Circuit court case with the case style (or caption) of Frye v. US, 293 F. 1013, 34 A.L.R. 145 (D.C. Cir 1923).  That case established a “wide acceptance” standard meaning that something should not be admitted into evidence unless the subject matter being testified about covered something that was widely accepted.   This usually (although not always) meant that there was lots of published material that had been peer reviewed or scrutinized in other ways.   An expert under Frye addresses issues almost exclusively from the “wide acceptance” standpoint.  Keep in mind that the “wide acceptance” standard may have allowed the “flat earth” society to have prevailed in court in the Middle Ages.

As both science and technology continued to mature at a faster pace additional clarification was added in another U.S. Supreme Court legal case which is often cited as Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharmaceuticals, 509 U.S. 579 (1993).  That case established newer and more robust “scientific methods” which must be considered before accepting expert testimony.

While there is no complete checklist, and there are several additional factors to consider, one U.S. Federal Appeals Court has summarized a short list of a few key issues which should be considered for the Daubert standard.  These include:

  1. Whether the theory or technique of the expert can be tested.
  2. Whether there is a known, or potential, rate of error that can be determined with some level of assurance.
  3. Whether there has been any peer review and publication (think Frye here).
  4. Whether the theory or technique is generally accepted in the expert’s community (again, think Frye).  For us it would be in the SAP community.

The Gatekeeper Role to Prevent Unreliable Expert Testimony

The role of the judge in court cases involving expert witnesses is to act as a “gatekeeper” by letting in only those experts who at the most basic meet two key criteria: the testimony has some measure of reliability by fitting the criteria of either of the cases above, and the testimony directly relates to some set of facts or circumstances of the case that the expert will help everyone understand.  The expert’s testimony should help bring enough clarity that the judge and jury can more easily make an informed decision about some fact or issue in the case.

Which Expert Testimony Legal Standard to Use?

It is important to understand that if you end up litigating as an expert witness in a state court case in the United States rather than a federal case you may be subject to different standards and requirements as an expert witness.  Again, which venue is this, is it a state court case or a federal case?  For example, as of 2011, the following states use the following expert witness standards as defined in the legal cases above [FN1]:

[A]s many as 34 state jurisdictions have adopted the U.S. Supreme Court’s standards articulated in Daubert. Those states include Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wyoming – and most recently in 2011 Alabama and Wisconsin.

Currently 9 states and the District of Columbia follow the Frye rule – either specifically rejecting Daubert or choosing not to apply Daubert principles. These include California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington.

Meanwhile, 7 states have their own unique approach and utilize neither Daubert nor Frye: Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, North Carolina, North Dakota, South Carolina, and Virginia.

This is more than enough of an introduction to the legal standards. There are a few areas to focus on here.  There is the consulting fraud itself – fake skills, experience, and backgrounds.  There are considerations for how much affect the consulting fraud has had on a project (i.e. damages, etc.) and then there are potentially fraudulent system integrator tactics which are designed to maximize their profit while taking advantage of the client. 

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[FN1] Daubert, Frye … or Both? Tracking Florida’s Buy-In. http://www.ims-expertservices.com/blog/2012/daubert-frye-or-both/

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Do You Know When To Do SAP Custom Development?

April 11th, 2011 by

Use SAP Best Business Practices for commodity processes and development for value added processesUse SAP Best Business Practices For Commodity Processes But More Carefully Evaluate Competitive Processes

The debate and discussion around SAP best business practices usually assumes an “either-or” mindset.  Either you use the SAP best business practices as they are or you abandon them (for more background on SAP’s “Best Business Practices” see What are SAP Best Business Practices Anyway).  Several commentators suggest you should not do a software vendor’s “best practices” because you are adopting the “herd” mentality and will not be competitive in the marketplace.  They completely ignore the reality that some processes do not need huge development investments.  SAP provides a number of tools and resources to evaluate its solutions for your enterprise’s business processes (see Using SAP Solution Composer for SAP Scope – Process Alignment).

Commentators who are broadly against “best practices” have failed to recognize that there are different types of business processes.  One type are what I call “commodity processes” or the things you must do to run business, that everyone does, but adds little or no value to reducing cost, increasing revenue, or improving margins.  The other type are “value added” processes where the process itself (not ancillary manual steps) directly aid in reducing cost, increasing revenue, or improving margins.  Some business processes justify custom development when a standard solution will not do certain business critical processes (see e.g. Lower SAP Application Support Costs – TCO – by Reducing Custom Solutions).

Value added processes must directly contribute to market share or address a specific pressure from a competitor or they are commodity practices which are good candidate for “best practices.”  By reducing costs or increasing revenue and margins you are directly affecting your competitive posture in the marketplace.

What Are Value Added Processes in the SAP Organization?

Let me clarify one thing here, a “value added” process can be any process in a company.  In one company or environment a process may be a commodity process, however in another company, or industry, that same process may be a value added process.  The test for a “value added” process is whether or not it adds to your business marketplace competitive advantage.  That generally means it has to reduce cost or increase revenue in more than a minimal way.  As an illustration ask yourself, if you significantly increase your margins on a slow moving, outdated, low volume product or service is it worth a huge amount of time and effort?  Was the investment worth it?

Management’s primary responsibilities are to increase revenue, reduce cost, and improve margins

A value added business process will generally have some type of reporting requirement attached to it.  Some way to measure its performance because the process is critical to the organization’s mission.  If you have developed KPI’s, goals, metrics, or reports for a particular portion of your business processing you can be sure it is a good candidate for special attention as a “value added” process (see Why Indexed KPIs are Critical for Business Performance and Success and Using Key Performance Indicators for Building a Strategy Focused Organization).

What are Commodity Processes in the SAP Organization?

In most companies “commodity” processes would include purchasing, warehousing, inventory, distribution, or other routine processes.  Commodity processes and those business functions that do not have a direct impact on your competitive position.  If you are a third-party logistics provider then your competitive processes would include warehousing and distribution.  It is the core of your business and what you do.  However in other businesses those would be commodity processes.  If you are a consumer products company then sales and marketing processes would be value added where purchasing and inventory would be more commodity processes.

Worse still, in recent years IT has been seen as a “commodity” resource to be outsourced.  As IT and technology functions have become more and more focused on cutting costs and shaving pennies from a few process areas they are finding smaller and smaller returns at more and more cost.  As new technology is rolled out and it stabilizes the business and senior management see IT as more and more of an expensive cost center with functions that can be performed elsewhere at a lower cost.  IT organizations everywhere must begin to aggressively focus on business integration and value realization or become prey to outsourcing themselves (see IT Outsourcing, Off Shore Support, Cost Cutting and IT Department Changes).

SAP Software Best Business Practice Processes

While I have long advocated for business process engineering rather than software engineering there are times when custom development is justified.  The key to understanding when you might choose one approach or the other is related to whether a process (or sub-process) is a “commodity” process or a “value added” process.

Considering cost, revenue, and margins separated from marketplace competitiveness is misplaced.  Unless there is some significant competitive advantage or directly aligned business driver then only standard functionality should be used.

When you consider your SAP software investment it would provide the greatest business benefit to pay special attention to value added processes. Do not waste time or development effort on commodity processes.  Spend the time, effort, and money on change management for commodity processes because after the initial change cost ongoing Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) for these SAP processes will be the least expensive (see Where do you Start with SAP Return on Investment or SAP ROI?).  Regression testing, patches, fixes, new functionality, and all of the other things you do with SAP business applications will be easier and less expensive for the commodity processes.




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