Business Solutions with SAP

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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Toward an SAP Center of Excellence or SAP Competency Center – PART 3

July 28th, 2010 by

SAP Production Support 3Part 3 of 3

Stages and Components of the SAP Center of Excellence

To wrap up this series we will take a brief look at the post go-live or the production support environment.  One academic study I reviewed on ERP project success factors defined the three production stages of Acceptance, Routinization, and Infusion (see The Top 5 ERP Success Factors by Project Stage from 22 Critical Success Factors).

These three terms fit the requirements for SAP production system stages as you move toward an SAP Center of Excellence so I’ll use them for reference rather than inventing new terms just to be different.  However, I have defined them in my own way below which may, or may not be 100% consistent with the academic literature.

The ultimate goal of an SAP Center of Excellence is Business Transformation.

SAP Center of Excellence Model for Business Transformation

I’m less concerned about terms and phrases here than I am about the focus and objectives of the effort.  So if you want to call your department an SAP Center of Excellence, or an SAP Business Transformation Center, or an SAP Business Support organization, or whatever please feel free. 

Your SAP staff must be proactively engaged with the business community.

Here is a high level SAP Center of Excellence Model for Business Transformation after you are live in your SAP environment:

Acceptance – go-live and productive business use of the system (heavy change management).

  • Training
  • Process Documentation
  • Help Desk
  • Internal Collaboration (structured Instant Messaging, Forums, and other structured as well as unstructured information capture)

Routinization – the overall acceptance and sustained productive use of the system (system stabilization).

  • Knowledge capture (Wiki and Forums)
  • Troubleshooting methods and Company Best practices
  • Process overviews, refinement, and business / system adjustment
  • External Collaboration (Forums, Customer Channel feedback, marketplace intelligence, vendor collaboration, collaborative product or service development, etc.)

Infusion – long term acceptance and use of the system as well as additional functionality additions (re-focusing on business and SAP to business alignment, i.e. strategic direction).

  • Rotating IT staff assignment into business organization (throughout the process chain)
  • At least once a month work in the department business process area of responsibility
  • FAQ Development (Wiki and Forums)
  • Enhanced or new system functionality
  • System and Process Change Risk Management

SAP Competency Center or SAP Center of Excellence Conclusion

Enterprise applications like SAP are more important than ever in today’s globally competitive and economically sensitive era.  It is simply not enough for IT departments to serve in a more passive support role.  In today’s global economy your SAP and IT support staff can not wait for the business requirements to come rolling in.  For the health and welfare of your business and your SAP or IT organization it is more important than ever to ensure that your SAP staff is proactively engaged with the business community.  That engagement must take the form of an active partnership in looking for new and better ways to use technology for competitive advantage and process improvements.

As for the future, this type of alignment between all of the IT functions, under the banner of the CIO is beginning to take place [FN1].  While SAP Competency Center management and development can focus on the operational excellence business proposition (better, faster, cheaper, more automation) the SAP Center of Excellence framework is more closely aligned to the innovation and customer focus value propositions.


[FN1]  A four part series on the current and future technology leadership landscape, this includes the direction of technology and the pressures CIOs face now and in the future.

Part 1:  What is the Proper Relationship for the CIO, CEO, and CFO?

What the changing business and IT landscape means to the CIO, IT Director, IT Manager, or other key technology decision makers.

Part 2:  CIO, CFO, and CEO Alignment – Why ROI is Lacking from Today’s System Landscape

This post provides an overview of the current system landscape and the focus on business processes and contrasts that with the emerging trend of the customer focus value proposition.  This piece also looked at the future business landscape and how the technology focus and direction will be permanently changed no matter what happens with the economy and global competition.

Part 3:  Changing the Direction of SAP, ERP, and IT Applications to Focus on the Customer and Innovation

A brief review of the supply side and the demand side of business shows that unless you have lots of customers (demand) to fill a bigger and bigger pipeline (supply) then an operational excellence business model collapses.  While it is hidden during good economic climates, any disruption in those economic conditions which fails to fill the capacity pipeline points out the glaring insufficiency of the “operational focus” to technology.

Part 4:  Future Technology Landscape Alignment for the CIO, IT Director, or Key IT Decision Maker

The final part of the series looks at the emerging technology landscape and what the future holds.  It lays out an emerging technology landscape model which has some re-alignment and some components already in use by some of the world’s most successful companies.  A new alignment of technology with the customer facing processes, and the use of social or collaboration tools across the enterprise with a clear business objective is explored.  The driver for the future change will be because the business does not see the revenue generation prospects of technology–, they fail to see the possibilities of promoting customer retention, customer acquisition, innovation, and marketplace analytics.  The new technology model looks to change that dynamic.


Toward an SAP Center of Excellence or SAP Competency Center – PART 1

Explaining the differences between an SAP Competency Center or sometimes referred to as an SAP Center of Expertise and an SAP Center of Excellence.  As Peter Drucker wrote either Do Things Right or Do the Right Things.

Toward an SAP Center of Excellence or SAP Competency Center – PART 2

A more complete and thorough explanation of the differences between the SAP Competency Center (or Expertise Center) and the SAP Center of Excellence (or the Business Transformation Center).  An understanding the operating differences and how the Competency Center is focused on reactive processing of things like help desk tickets, problem resolution, data correction, and knowledge transfer.

Toward an SAP Center of Excellence or SAP Competency Center – PART 3

Business model application of steps, techniques, and methods to produce an SAP Center of Expertise or an SAP Business Transformation Center.  The major business transformation steps on moving from an SAP Competency Center to an SAP Center of Excellence.

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Reduce SAP Project Stress Part 3

May 10th, 2010 by

Project StressIT Project Hostile E-Mails to Wide Distribution Lists

Previously I’ve offered insight and suggestions on the topic of reducing SAP project stress in a 2 part series:

Reduce SAP Project Stress: Part 1
Reduce SAP, ERP, or Technology Project Stress: Part 2

But recently on LinkedIn, in the Project Management Group someone raised an interesting question that I have had to deal with on a few projects.  They asked:

“How do you respond to a senior project member who wrongly accuses you and have your bosses and team copied on email?”

Because I have been doing SAP projects since 1994, in highly charged corporate environments (including corporate politics) I have experienced this situation a few times.

Someone will pop off about something and they do not know what they are talking about.  They may be completely clueless or they may be wrong, but the message is inappropriate and it has now gone out to a number of individuals.  There are effective ways to respond to this situation.

1. DO NOT RESPOND IMMEDIATELY unless there is some absolute imperative that you must. Your best bet is to appear professional, let things cool, and get your own emotions in check so that you do not escalate this into a full blown war.

My personal experience has been that about 50% of the time this has happened to me, as long as I do not react in a rash manner, they are quickly resolved. By not responding immediately I have experienced the following corrections where I came out looking like a hero:

– On a few occasions some senior leaders on the client side (or the consulting side depending on who initiated the flame) have responded back to the e-mail initiator and corrected them. 

– On a few occasions the individual was known as a hot tempered instigator.  As a result of not getting the immediate response they wanted I had 2 people became irrational, try to escalate the situation, and exposed that they were completely nuts.  One of those two was fired shortly afterward.

2. WRITE the response e-mail immediately but DO NOT SEND IT! It gives you a chance to vent some of your frustrations and clarify some of your thoughts. Save the message, come back to it later (generally a day later), review it and re-write it in a much more dispassionate manner.

3. DEPERSONALIZE your response if you do send it. Avoid the use of any personal pronouns. Deal with the issue and not the person. If they continue to attack you and you continue to point back to the issue they look like a completely unprofessional idiot in front of everyone else.

4. ALWAYS be professional and try to empathize with the initiator even if you know they are vindictive or have some ulterior motive. In other words, you might say something like “I understand why this might be thought, but please consider…” Their response will speak volumes.

5. Your response to everyone should make it clear that you would like to schedule a meeting to review the issue face to face. The message should make it clear that there is no reason to take up everyone’s time and this can be resolved with the key stakeholders.

Your professional response speaks volumes. As a project manager you will gain everyone’s respect. Everyone who knows about it will realize that in dealing with you that even if they screw up or get a little over the line that you will deal with them in a professional manner as well. It helps to reduce project stress and defuse potentially ugly situations.

Some Past SAP Project Experiences with Improper E-Mails with Wide Distributions

While at Hitachi Consulting I was a mentor for one consultant who experienced a similar situation and gave all of the counsel listed here.  They followed these suggestions and let the situation die down.  The next day the client individual who had responded so improperly openly apologized and things were much smoother from then on.

I have seen this “provocative” type behavior from several consultants who were complete frauds!  They work to hide their own incompetence by sabotaging your ability to manage a project, or by creating unnecessary conflicts with other co-workers.  Because the SAP world is full of frauds it is one of the ways they create diversions from looking hard at their work product and experience.

I have seen this type of provocative behavior from client employees who were worried about layoffs and saw the attacks as a way to look important.  I have seen this type of behavior from client employees who lied about their own talents / skills / experience to get onto the SAP project.  Once they found out they were in over their heads they created havoc to distract from their lack of contribution.

The reasons really do not matter as much as how you, as a project leader or a project participant deal with the situation.  Handling stressful or highly charged situations is not easy but in this line of work you will have to deal with it.

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