Business Solutions with SAP

Achieve Business Benefit Through SAP Prototype Demonstrations

July 16th, 2012 by
Imagine what is possible by showing what is achievable

Functionality Prototype and Demonstration

SAP Conference Room Proof of Concept Pilots

Proof of Concepts with frequent early prototyping drive project costs down.  It is like the old saying that “an ounce of prevention can avoid a pound of cure.”  Proof of concept pilots during the project is one of the rarely mentioned SAP critical success factors. 

Early in my SAP career I used to get a little frustrated by the disruption these prototype sessions, conference room pilots, or whatever you want to call them would cause.  My thought was I had a job to do and didn’t have time for this.  No one ever stopped to help me understand WHY these pilots and prototypes are important.

Before I get into the substance of this let me first be very clear about what I am referring to–, a prototype, pilot, or demonstration is ACTUAL system functionality set up in the application to demonstrate transactional business processing.  I have heard of some system integrators who call PowerPoint process flows these types of “pilots” and that is completely ridiculous.  That is just regurgitating SAP Blueprint process flows and is NOT a prototype, pilot, or system demonstration at all.

Stop the SAP Consulting Merry Go Round – Real Life Experiences

Nothing is more frustrating than trying to work through a complex issue and going around and around with meetings, discussions, process flows, etc.  At one client we had a very complex third party process which involved one foreign company code doing sales deliveries for a domestic company code, but the domestic company would bill the customer and collect the cash, the foreign company would do inter-company billing, etc.  There was not only third party processing involved, there was also foreign trade, batch, and serial number tracking required (YUCK!).

After getting a large and very expensive group of consultants together with key client resources we hammered the first pass out.  Then we did it again a few days later, and then again a few days later.  After about 4 or 5 weeks of this madness it turns out the consultants were the problem more than the client.  Several of the consultants essentially said this couldn’t be done.

To stop the complete waste of time I left the last meeting and spent 3 days setting up a prototype the consultants said couldn’t be done.  Now, in their defense it is complicated and it DOES involve setup in SD, MM, PP, FI, and EDI.  Very FEW consultants have ever done this type of integrated setup.  I scheduled a DEMONSTRATION with all of the key stakeholders and project leadership to put this issue to rest.  The SAP standard functionality covered approximately 90% of the overall requirement and we were now discussing small tweaks or changes that were required rather than trying to over engineer a customized process mess!

Reduce SAP Implementation Cost, Improve SAP Quality, and Manage SAP Scope More Effectively

Using Conference Room Pilots, or Functionality Playbacks is effective for difficult to understand processes system demonstrations.  This technique can significantly reduce meeting times and increase customer satisfaction.

Stanford professors Carleton and Cokayne spent seven years studying the user of physical prototypes in “foresight engineering” which is the ongoing development of products or services that are three or more product cycles in the future.  They studied the use of prototypes for “capturing and communicating a team’s opportunities inside the organization, connecting the company’s vision and strategy with… day-to-day [engineering design work], and helping teams to connect vision to research to engineering design.”  Carleton, T., and Cockayne, W., (2009) The Power of Prototypes in Foresight Engineering.  International Conference on Engineering Design, ICED’09/493, Stanford University, August 24-27 2009, page 1.

The use of prototypes has been found to “make ideas tangible, iterate quickly at a low cost, and develop a shared language” (ibid.).  These demonstrations are part of the change management process and can help to bring the broader organization along in the process. In the second half of the post on ERP, SAP, or IT Project Management and Prototyping for Success more detail is provided for the following items:

  • System demonstrations focus on delivering what is important while allowing for early adjustments.
  • Complex or difficult functionality demonstrations help reduce the overall amount of meeting time.
  • System demonstrations identify gaps and problems earlier reducing the number of testing defects and rework time.
  • Early demonstrations help ensure scope is properly accounted for and last minute process surprises are reduced.
  • Some performance problems are exposed.
  • Possible schedule and work completion issues may be exposed while they might still be manageable.

By doing a LOT of prototypes early in a project you also quickly separate the good IT resources from those who are not so talented or even those who are complete fakes.

Conclusion on Using SAP Prototypes, Functionality Demonstrations or Conference Room Pilots for Project Success

Just as the real world example I noted above shows, by using prototypes or demonstrations to understand where the real business requirement gaps are you may be able to avoid a major investment in custom development work.  And by avoiding that development you reduce ongoing maintenance headaches.

As for dealing with scheduling and work completion I have been on many projects where some of the consultants or team leads would simply lie about their status and completion.  By having a clearly defined pilot and playback schedule throughout the project for certain key functionality you help to ensure that what is committed is actually delivered.  Too many times the real status does not show up until testing starts, or worse still, items get taken out of scope because of misleading status.  By then it is too late.

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SAP Consultants for High Speed SAP Projects

August 1st, 2011 by
SAP consultant results

SAP consultant results


No matter what size company or organization you have the type of consulting experience you choose will have a huge impact on the results of your SAP solution.  For high speed projects consultants with several small or mid-sized SAP project experiences tend to be more well rounded.  They have skill at delivering the more difficult SAP solutions with standard functionality and at a faster pace than their counterparts with significant amounts of large project experience.


Why are SAP Consultants with Many Small and Midsized Projects Uniquely Qualified?

The small and midsize business segment of SAP implementations use smaller teams, smaller budgets, and tighter timelines.  Contrary to popular belief a small or mid-sized company’s SAP implementation often has the same process requirements, similar industry needs, common competitive pressures, and all of the other issues that go with doing business.  In other words, their business software application requirements are exactly the same as their larger counterparts.  However, they must deliver similar or better results than their larger counterparts with fewer resources.  Consultants who deliver solutions in this space must know their area of responsibility well because they are often one deep, without others to fall back on.  They have to cover the integration touch points and other project activities together with their own module.  This type of effort is usually performed by other groups and numerous other consultants on larger projects.

Consultants who have worked in the small and mid-sized space don’t have the luxury of the big consulting firms, on their mega projects, where they can specialize in one little component of a module at a time. They don’t have the luxury of massive numbers of people coordinating small, discrete components of an overall effort.  Small and midsized SAP implementations often don’t have the resources or budget for large change management and training staffing, separate data conversion groups, separate testing staff, or other key areas of the project.

The consultants with many years of small and mid-sized business exposure are able to do in a few hours, or possibly a few days, what takes consultants with less exposure weeks to figure out. Even if it is a bit of a stretch, they have enough background, enough exposure, and enough experience to be able to start immediately with 80% or more of the solution. From there it is just detailed testing of different settings to be sure you have just the right combination and the process or transaction behaves exactly like you planned.

Small and midsized business consultants are less likely to need lots of custom coded solutions because they can figure how to do it with standard functionality, or how to “re-purpose” other functionality for your company’s particular need.

An SAP Project Examples of Complex Standard Functionality that Helped Avoid Blown Budgets and Timelines

I’ll provide one example here of many SAP experiences I’ve had where this experience made a huge difference in the SAP project result.  The SAP experience helped save the timeline, stopped the continual circular meetings, and finally moved the process along.

SAP Cross-Company Supply

I was on a very large project that had cross-company supply issues that no one had been able to resolve for about two months when I joined. There were weekly meetings, and weekly arguments, and no one could agree on the solution.  There was third party cross-company supply where one company would take the order, transfer the requirements to a separate company who would actually carry out the delivery and bill the other company who then billed the end customer and collected the payment.  This was also being done in different countries, with different currencies, cross-company pricing markup, and foreign trade.  After a few weeks of this dragging on after I arrived on the project as the SD team lead  I knew something had to be done.  All of the “Big x” consultants claimed this could not be done without mountains of custom code and that standard SAP would not work.  These consultants did not have a lack of years in SAP, or large projects doing SAP, it was a lack of experience having to deliver results on a compressed timeline with standard functionality.

The SAP Blueprint was over and we were still in design on a key set of processes.  After several discussions where it was mentioned this was standard functionality and strong disagreements together with claims that only custom coding would work I had enough.  I took a couple days to set up and prototype the entire solution.  The standard SAP functionality did over 90% of everything that was needed for every process and transaction they needed. After the prototype was set up, and without telling the other consultants who insisted it wouldn’t work (and claimed they wouldn’t support it if it did), I set up a meeting with all of the key stakeholders and the client project manager to demo the new functionality.  It was a huge success and the ridiculous arguments and endless discussions to flow out processes for unneeded custom ABAP solutions finally stopped. The solution was nearly complete with almost all standard functionality. [FN1]

Big SAP Project Experience Effects on Compressed Timeline and Budgets

When you want to do a compressed timeline project with resources (consultants, managers, coordinators, etc.) who come from big SAP projects you end up with unnecessary struggles.  Their “experience” has conditioned them to believe these types of projects cannot be done, they rely on too many middle layers of coordination / management, they struggle with the intense need for integration coordination, and undermine attempts to gain momentum because they are not used to the pace.  These large projects often provide the “luxury” of deferring discrete components of an area to others.  They provide big budgets, lots of time, each delivery area broken down into little tiny “chunks” and then handed off to others.  Some (though certainly not all) of these consultants and managers from larger projects are so uncomfortable with the pace and demands that they spend more time making excuses for lack of results and look for others to blame. The idea of delivery “ownership” over an entire area is a foreign concept to them.  Some of these consultants from larger implementations, with slower paces and many layers of coordination are lost without someone managing each tiny aspect of what they do.


[FN1] In fairness to the other consultants who thought this could only be done through ABAP custom coding, it does require a major amount of setup in SD, MM, FI, and EDI to work correctly. While it is all standard functionality, consultants with experience on very large projects have limited exposure to even their own module of expertise. As a result it is unlikely that the full breadth of this and other functionality has been seen outside of the small and midsized business space. In the small and midsized business space the consulting teams are smaller, and out of necessity are more knowledgeable within their module area, and because of the integration requirements with other modules they tend to gain greater application exposure to standard functionality options.

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How “As-Is” Process Mapping Can Damage Your SAP Project

January 3rd, 2011 by
Business Process Engineering or Software Engineering

SAP ERP business software implementation

Not only can the “As-Is” process mapping damage your project, it also adds significant amounts of unnecessary cost.

After over 20 SAP projects since 1994 I’ve participated in the “As-Is” and “To-Be” processing mapping exercises many times.  Along the way I learned a few key lessons.  First, the old “As-Is” process mapping approach was (and is) critical for software engineering projects.  As-Is process mapping efforts have very limited application to an SAP implementation, or for that matter any true Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) business software project.

If you’re buying a COTS application like SAP, Oracle, JDE, or any other major ERP business software package you generally go into it with the idea that you are replacing custom-built applications with “standard” off-the-shelf package solutions.  This generally requires an expectation that you will change your busines to match application functions and processes.  To keep the application as close to standard as possible you will do business process engineering rather than software engineering (see SAP Implementation Focus, Software Engineering or Business Process Engineering? ).  As that post points out, there are times when software engineering is justified, but those are exceptions.  Software development or software engineering with a COTS software package may be justified when there is a clear business justification, not just a “convenience” issue to resolve.

“As-Is” process mapping was critical for software engineering but it offers little value to an SAP implementation

If you have made a firm commitment to the business process engineering then the “As-Is” process mapping exercise not only wastes time but it keeps your business stuck in the old ways of doing things and creates a high likelihood of demands for custom development.  Correct SAP blueprinting methods will automatically review the “As-Is” processes but only briefly enough to ensure that the future state covers all of the requirements.

Effectively Mapping Business Processes to the SAP Future State (To-Be)

The correct SAP ASAP approach, which is focused on business process engineering rather than software engineering, relies heavily on a good process scope.  From that process scope you conduct your requirements workshops to map the old processes to the new SAP “best practices” and determine any gaps.  If the process gaps are business-critical they may justify some amount of custom development to meet an actual business need.  At the same time doing full-blown “As-Is” process mapping can create serious problems.

Being committed to business process engineering rather than software engineering makes the “As-Is” efforts throw away work.

By focusing on the “To-Be” process state a good SAP consultant will walk through the “As-Is” processes to ensure they have captured all of the future state requirements. In other words, during the blueprint process I may map out the current process on a white board but ONLY to ensure I have sufficiently captured all of the required blueprint details for the future process.  Unless there is something very unusual or business critical I only map the future state (To-Be) processes with all of the existing business details.

By mapping processes in your SAP scope to the existing business processes you are only looking for process gaps and process differences that may need to be addressed through change management.  You are NOT wasting your time and effort, or expensive consulting resources on mapping “As-Is” processes.  You are reducing the amount of time your consultants and your own employees are immersed in something you want to change.

The ASAP Approach that Saves Money, Time, and Reduces SAP Total Cost of Ownership

Because of the huge expense in custom coding and in ongoing support and maintenance of custom coded solutions your SAP Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) can be dramatically increased by getting immersed in the “As-Is” paradigm (see Lower SAP Application Support Costs – TCO – by Reducing Custom Solutions ).  Think about it, if your project focuses on the current state rather than the future state you are keeping your employees and project leadership immersed in current ways of doing things.  That mindset leads to project team members who believe they must get everything custom coded to match exactly what is done today.  Very little business process engineering is done and more money is expended for an army of coders to engage in a software engineering project rather than a business process project.

There are times when custom-coded software solutions are necessary but they must serve a clear business purpose beyond a convenience or desire to do things the “old way.”

Being committed to business process engineering rather than software engineering makes the “As-Is” process mapping efforts throw away work.  By reducing the time and effort on “As-Is” processes and focusing on the future state you reduce project costs and TCO by avoiding a huge investment in what will eventually become garbage.

Conclusion on the Dangers of “As-Is” SAP Process Mapping

By spending too much time and energy on the “As-Is” state your employees stay focused and attached to all of the old ways of doing things.  Because of this focus they will naturally see more need for custom software engineering rather than business process engineering (i.e. change management). So in the end not only do you pay for the wasted time doing unnecessary “As-Is” documentation but you also get the “bonus costs” of software engineering. Your total cost of ownership for a COTS application goes through the roof.

By focusing the project on the “To-Be” state right from the beginning you won’t eliminate all custom coding but you will reduce it.  In this way you reduce meetings and meeting time, reduce the amount of time and effort in blueprinting, and you focus on value-added efforts.  By insisting on a forward looking focus on the future state and using a “To-Be”  review as an analysis to ensure the project scope is complete enough you will reduce the amount of time employees are enmeshed on the “old ways” of doing thing.  This type of expectation setting is critical to a successful business process engineering project enabled by SAP business software applications.

Once again I will clarify, there are times when custom-coded software solutions are necessary but they must serve a clear business purpose beyond a convenience or desire to do things the “old way.”  So there are some times when the current way of doing business might justify the “As-Is” approach.

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