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More SAP Project Leadership Tips for Managing Conflict

November 28th, 2011 by
Managing SAP Project Momentum, Stress, and Conflict

Managing SAP Project Conflict

If you are determined to gain and then maintain SAP project momentum you will see stress.  Part of the requirement for momentum includes asking people to reach for stretch goals which can challenge (and deepen) their capabilities but also causes tension and even conflict.

One author says conflict is “a situation of competition in which the parties are aware of the incompatibility of potential future positions and in which each party wishes to occupy a position which is incompatible with the wishes of the other.” [FN1] 

In plain English, conflict happens when there are competing expectations and priorities.  Put another way, I want what I want and you want what you want and the level of our conflict depends on just how much each of us wants “it”.

Without hands on, active SAP project management it is likely that stress and conflict will destroy your SAP project momentum.  Active SAP project management is not about micromanaging people or their activities but rather finding the right balance around task execution and delivery while working through the stress that will arise.  As a project manager part of your key responsibility is to work through conflict to maintain momentum.  At its most basic project SAP project management is like babysitting adults who at times act like squabbling children (and I’ve been guilty of childish squabbling as well at times!).

Key Phases of SAP Project Stress Which Can Create Conflict

In relation to physical and life stress Canadian Physician Hans Selye (1907 – 1982) proposed 3 stages of stress in his 1956 book “The Stress of Life”: 

  • Alarm
  • Resistance
  • Exhaustion

On an SAP project the alarm or panic stage occurs when you attempt to create a rapid project delivery pace.  The resistance stage occurs when the alarm does not slow down or stop the momentum that is gaining. Exhaustion or “checking out” can occur when the stresses and pressures of an overly aggressive timeline continue beyond what the project participants are able or willing to deliver.  A good SAP project manager must carefully evaluate and then manage the source(s) of alarm and resistance.

The key to good SAP project management is to maintain a sense of urgency that is strong enough to keep momentum high but no so urgent or so stressful that it causes people to burn out or check out.

There is a healthy level of tension which is needed to keep momentum going but knowing where that line is requires a project manager to be directly engaged with the project participants.  Even though it is critical to gain and then maintain momentum at times you also have to know when to ease up to allow the stress level to moderate. 

It is equally important for a project manager to know whether the alarm and resistance are from unskilled project participants who are trying to hide their lack of experience, or from unrealistic demands, or from the project as a whole. 

At First Most People Try to Deal With SAP Project Stress in a Productive Manner

Regardless of the reason for the stress, and ultimately what the conflict is, most people do attempt to mitigate the initial source of the stress.  The research shows they may:

  1. apply extra effort to compensate for the greater demands,
  2. they may attempt to overcome the stress by fixating on the task(s) which create the stress, or,
  3. they may become anxious, worry, and then avoid the tasks.

If a project manager is skilled and recognizes these signs they can quickly intervene and help to alleviate the source of the stress.  Although it is critical for momentum to keep a forward looking perspective throughout the project there are times it is more productive to pause, reflect, and allow stress levels to lower.  When you see tension and stress building to an unhealthy level it may be time for a special recognition of how much progress has been gained to help people regain a sense of perspective and give them a chance to “take a breath.”

A good SAP project manager must carefully evaluate and then manage the source(s) of alarm and resistance.

Knowing when to back off the gas and recognize accomplishments and when to press the gas and push ahead is the most difficult skill for any project manager to develop.  It is like a professional race car driver who must know when to step on the gas, when to let off, when to apply the brakes, and when to step back on the throttle.  A project manager who is able to perform that balancing act demonstrates their experience and their people skills.  This requires direct engagement with the project participants on a day to day basis. 

This type of engagement by the SAP project manager needs to be in the project participants’ work environments, not just in planned meetings where people may not be as candid or forthright.  That direct engagement requires the project manager to serve as an active umpire, counselor, decision-maker, expediter, and all around gopher to help coordinate many of the integration activities. 

A Good SAP project manager GENUINELY UNDERSTANDS that their success depends on every other project participant’s success and will directly engage in activities which help promote the success of project participants.  Sometimes this means giving some project participants the opportunity to be successful on a different project  :)

As a final thought, an SAP project manager who needs a separate “integration manager” should be more carefully considered.  It may be necessary but do you really need a Microsoft Project administrator or a meeting monitor or do you need a manager for your project?  Needing an “integraton manager” may be a way to avoid the day to day involvement that is critical for SAP project success.

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[FN1]  Capozzoli TK. Conflict resolution-a key ingredient in successful teams. Supervision (60:11), 1999, pp 14-16

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5 Leadership Tips for Successful SAP Project Management

November 14th, 2011 by
SAP Project Leadership

SAP Project Leadership

SAP Project Management drives me crazy!  As I’ve often said, I don’t generally fault customers or clients who hire outside help for SAP project management.  If they believed they had the answers they wouldn’t bother with contractors for guidance.

Too often I see SAP project management treated as more project administration without much leadership.  Just about anyone can be a checklist administrator.  What is lacking from many SAP projects is the project management leadership to move things along.  

After managing a few SAP projects myself and the many projects I have participated in over the years I’ve learned an effective formula for SAP project success–, it takes a project manager who can actually lead the project.  What do I mean by leadership?  I mean someone who actually pitches in, rolls up their sleeves, gets busy, and gets their hands dirty.  They must be directly engaged with the project participants, they need to spend more time with their “ear to the ground” rather than serving as passive administrators. 

The key dimensions of SAP project leadership involves enough direct involvement in project coordination to:

  1. Create a sense of urgency to build momentum.
  2. To maintain that sense of urgency and maintain momentum.
  3. To eliminate obstacles, roadblocks, and impediments which slow (or even stop) SAP project momentum.
  4. To manage conflict (which WILL happen if sufficient momentum is gained).
  5. To set, manage, and maintain expectations with both the project participants and the broader areas affected by the SAP project outcomes.

1.  Creating a Sense of Urgency

I’m still amazed at how often SAP project managers or program managers avoid using project plans with WBS structures, tasks, activities, and the assorted milestones, etc.  The only sense of urgency they create is reactive firefighting.  Everything will always be last minute, single-threaded, chaotic, disjointed, panicked, and difficult to follow.  Without a structured project plan any dates are just aspirations at best and timelines will continuously be missed.  This avoidance may be from a lack of ability, fear, or an attempt to evade accountability, whatever the reason it happens too often.  Maybe you should be asking yourself what deliverables, tasks, and execution activities your contracted leadership should be providing.

The Effective SAP Project Plan and Project Structure

The most appropriate method to create a sense of urgency is to have a fairly tight timeline but with very clearly defined milestones, tasks, deliverables, templates, and instructions on how to support project execution.  Those deliverables must help to measure project progress and they must be carefully managed.  Communicating and then supporting the message that as an SAP project manager your goal is to ensure the success of the project participants (then living it out) will bring badly needed leadership.

Without a project plan and proper templates any sense of urgency that is created is really reactive firefighting.

For each project phase or upcoming milestone an SAP project manager must have well defined presentations of what is coming, the timeline,  templates, instructions, and the resources to accomplish each set of tasks.

Nearly every contract SAP project manager somehow manages to put together steering committee presentations so why do they have such a hard time putting together critical project supports?  What are they really presenting to the steering committee if they aren’t providing meaningful project guidance?

If SAP Project Decisions Need to be Made Get Them Made Immediately!

Over the years I’ve been blessed to have several pretty decent mentors.  Back when I was an early manager in industry, long before consulting, I got a major schooling from our GM (and a senior VP).  We had a problem come up and the GM wasn’t around to consult so I did nothing.  I was the operations manager responsible for all shop floor production areas–, over a dozen leads and over 200 employees at the time.  My lack of decision-making brought large portions of the production floor to a halt. 

A “manager” who doesn’t make decisions isn’t managing or leading anything.

When the GM/VP got back he immediately set about to get things going and made a number of snap decisions and provided immediate direction.  After things got going again he called me into his office and we had a short discussion about my career.He was polite but firm and provided me a very valuable lesson. 

The GM expected me to make the decision I believed was correct even if it turned out wrong.  He said that 8 or 9 times out of 10 it would probably be right and that 1 or 2 that might be wrong or maybe not the best decision it was easier to correct than doing nothing.  He promptly let me know if I made a bad decision he would hold me accountable but it would not be as bad as making no decision at all.  He would hold me accountable for my decisions to help me learn to make better decisions but if I couldn’t make a management decision to keep things going he didn’t need me because I wasn’t managing anything.

That was a profound insight.  As an SAP project manager if you won’t make the tough decisions to get things going and keep them going then what are you managing?

Decisions must be made as quickly as humanly possible.  Delaying key decisions, or delaying any decision making, creates the appearance of indecisiveness, reduces confidence in your ability to lead, creates constant “swirl” around key issues, and slows the project.  It also creates an atmosphere where others avoid decision-making and become embroiled in analysis paralysis (or “swirl”) because that is the culture you as the project manager are creating.

Next week, more on building and maintaining momentum and the sense of urgency.

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SAP Project Manager – SAP Program Manager, Lessons from the Trenches

July 25th, 2011 by
SAP Project Insight

SAP Project Insight

This is a continuation of the previous post which addressed early requirements for good SAP project management (see Effective Results from SAP Project Managers – SAP Program Managers).

SAP Project Management Responsibility

A manager’s primary responsibility, above all else, is to ensure the success of those they are responsible for managing.  Overall success of any initiative is directly tied to the success of those responsible for delivery of that initiative.  This is especially true in fast paced, moderate to large scale SAP projects.  If your reports succeed then you as a manager automatically succeed.

An SAP project manager or SAP program manager must focus aggressively on removing obstacles, encouraging success, and fighting against those things that would impede momentum.

Once again, I will re-emphasize:

I don’t blame client project managers because if they had all of the resources, skills, and experience, they would not need outside help.  These posts are focused on contracted help who are supposed to ensure your success.

What can SAP Project Managers or SAP Program Managers Do to Help Ensure Success?

One of the first requirements of a contract SAP project manager is to build momentum.  Once momentum is built that contract SAP project manager or program manager must do everything possible to sustain that momentum.  Some of the things which help to build, sustain, and then manage momentum include:

  • An articulated obsession with building and maintaining momentum.
  • Activities, tasks, responsibilities, and value added tools are defined ahead of time and not made up in real time.
    • People must understand what is expected of them – project requirements in the form of deliverables, tasks, and timelines are communicated early in the project and reinforced *before* transition points throughout the project.
    • These “expectations” must be laid out early in the project, throughout the entire project lifecycle (beginning to end) and have proper transitions built into the planning.
  • Tracking mechanisms must be simple, easy to understand, and easy to manage.  Overly complex or involved tracking mechanisms destroy momentum and “cloud” visibility into progress.
  • During blueprint emphasis is focused on design that will enable execution, if it doesn’t enable execution (or Realization) it is a waste of time (see  How “As-Is” Process Mapping Can Damage Your SAP Project).
    • Project emphasis must be on execution – execution builds momentum.
    • There is an emphasis on coordinating activities rather than administrative overhead–, some administrative overhead is necessary but only to the extent that it directly supports execution).
    • Project management is actively and directly engaged in coordinating execution activities beyond checking off spreadsheets.
  • After blueprint emphasis moves to execution over design.  Areas where design continues to be evident must be aggressively managed so that design only supports directly executable activities that are in scope.
  • Risks to success are identified and mitigated throughout the project.
    • Issues, risks, decisions, or other obstacles to project success are regularly captured and worked to resolution.
    • Periodic QA reviews at appropriate milestones or intervals.
    • Obstacles to activity or execution are aggressively managed (with few exceptions there is no “we can’t do ‘x’ until ‘y’ is perfect)

Do You Have a “Slick Politician” or a Real SAP Project / Program Manager?

There are unfortunately too many politicians in the project manager ranks and too few “straight shooters.”  Project manager politicians are destructive to morale, on-time delivery, and are dangerous to budgets.  However there is a measure of diplomacy that is required so how do you know when you have a political SAP project manager or SAP program manager rather than a skilled and talented one?

A manager’s primary responsibility, above all else, is to ensure the success of those they are responsible for managing.

Think about that a minute.  If a manager’s primary responsibility is to ensure the success of those they are responsible for then what would be a sign they are not a good contract project manager?

If your reports succeed then you as a manager automatically succeed.

The worst kind of project manager is the one who will “throw others under the bus” to deflect from their own shortcomings.  They demoralize and discourage project team cohesiveness while crushing momentum.  They create an environment where people do not want to do anything at all for fear of becoming the next scapegoat.  When things go well they are the first in line to take credit for what went well (even when they weren’t involved).  They lack integrity and character.  They spend more time and effort trying to cover their own back side than on trying to ensure the project is delivered successfully.  If you see these signs in your contract project manager you should seriously consider firing them.




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