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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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7 Tips for Effective Client Management of SAP Consultants

December 5th, 2011 by
Manage SAP Consultants

Manage SAP Consultants

Over the years the most successful SAP projects I have participated in had strong client side leaders. They had some knowledge and understanding of how to deliver large, complex, or difficult projects. Not just SAP projects but large complex undertakings. Their ability to deliver projects came from their ability to manage, direct, and engage with project participants. They took the initiative to directly manage their own projects.

Many of these leaders had something else in common, they understood you can become overly reliant on consultants to deliver a project –, it creates an artificial sense of security.

One project and leader in particular stands out from my past because of the attitude about SAP project delivery. That project’s senior leader used a phrase about consultants I found a little insulting but have since learned to appreciate. He had a “rented skills” attitude about consultants and frequently referred to us in that way. Along with that attitude he and the senior leadership of the company chose very strong leaders from within the company ranks to manage each module or key area of the project. And by strong leaders I mean REALLY strong leaders. During the course of the project a number of consultants were replaced when they did not perform up to the company’s expectations. That project was probably one of the best delivered projects I have ever seen:

  • It had one of the largest SAP scope and functionality footprints.
  • That project’s first phase replaced nearly 60 homegrown legacy systems.
  • It was delivered ON TIME and WITHIN BUDGET.
  • It met every business requirement.
  • It was delivered across international company codes and business units (including foreign trade).
  • And for similar sized companies, with similar scope, similar time frames, etc., it was delivered for probably 10 – 20% of similar projects.

That project was very different because the level of automation and how smooth the go-live went, and even the post-production support issues were far fewer than any other implementation I had participated in.

I participated in this implementation’s post production support as the SD lead and to help with reporting for about 6 months after we went live. They had slightly more support issues than many companies have with “stable” SAP implementations. This senior leader went on to become CTO and nearly all of the company’s leaders involved in that SAP project went on to senior level leadership positions.

How Clients Can Effectively Manage SAP Consultants to Deliver Results

The background I just provided illustrates one of the most important factors necessary for successful SAP project delivery. The Ivey Journal published by Harvard Press about “Leading Consultants to Exceed Expectations” (PDF file) went into detail on this issue. The key is in aggressive client management of SAP projects for companies that want meaningful results and value.

For me this involves a few critical components:

  1. Develop a project or team set of values and expectations for project delivery. The expectations should be focused on action and execution.
  2. Provide a training course to client participants on the latest SAP ASAP methodology. It can be made available through Solution Manager or as a stand-alone HTML download from the SAP Service Marketplace.
  3. Define clear boundaries, tasks, and roles for all project participants. No one should have to try to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
  4. Every client project participant should be trained in how to manage and work with consultants. Use RACI charts to help manage consultants.
  5. Every client project participant should be spelling out the specific tasks, assignments, and expected completion of deliverable for each project participant.
  6. Each person on the project, whether contractor or employee, should have clearly defined deliverables, tasks, and criteria for success.
  7. The client project participants should capture and regularly discuss lessons learned on dealing with consultants, including challenges and soliciting ideas on managing them.

Client and consulting leaders should accept responsibility for the delivery and execution of those they are responsible for. Be on guard for excuses, deflection, and blame-shifting. At times these are common consulting tactics to hide a skill, talent, or capability gap.

One key thing to consider is that any decent SAP consultant who has managed to deliver SAP project results can be difficult to manage at times. Because of their type “A” personality tendencies they need input and awareness of anything within their domain of influence. To manage high performing consultants the use of a RACI chart cannot be underestimated. Because of these tendencies project managers must activity work to solicit their input and feedback, and well as keeping them in the loop on what is happening in the project. If you fail to do this you are setting yourself up for trouble and unnecessary conflict. This is why a RACI chart is a useful tool on an SAP project.

For an overview of the key SAP project success factors, including allocating responsibility, please see this table which provides an overview of success factors:

Critical Vendor Management Success Factors for SAP Project Success

For a detailed explanation of each of these success criteria you may wish to review the series which analyzed them from the consulting selection point of view:




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ERP II & ERP III – SAP Business IT Revolution

October 31st, 2011 by
Business Systems

Business Systems

The day after I released my last post (SAP IT Governance – Achieve Business IT Engagement) techrepublic.com published a review of the CIO future direction. While I do not agree with all of the Gartner conclusions they published I certainly agree with the “new CIO manifesto” (TechRepublic: Get drastic: 15 IT best practices to kill). Reading through the comments left on the TechRepublic post was enlightening, most of the comments focused on the details of one or two points of disagreement while missing the focus of the entire message.

Denial of the purpose of any IT initiative, especially SAP business solutions, will only lead to significant levels of outsourcing. IT areas and functions that become more like “commodities,” or, as one commentator calls these functions “taxes” on the enterprise are quick to be outsourced. While these “taxes” are necessary infrastructure components (such as e-mail, phone, wide area networks, and even PCs or laptops), other areas are starting to be seen as commodities subject to significant cuts.

SAP Consultants Must Get Serious About Customer Focused Value (or find another career)

Unless more functional SAP application consultants get serious about understanding business and helping stop the fakes then enterprise applications will become a commodity as well. This isn’t just idle speculation. Those of us who have been around SAP for 10 years or more (and some of us approaching 20 years or more) remember the days when ABAP skills were sky high–, now they are a commodity which is frequently outsourced to India, Malaysia, or China. The same commodity status is true of SAP Basis–, it is outsourced overseas or to hosting providers. Without real value SAP (or Oracle, MS Dynamics, etc.) are soon to follow.

The Coming SAP Business Technology Revolution

The TechRepublic post hit on a key theme which is the focus of this site–, helping business realize (and recognize) value from their SAP projects. Under the subtitle “New CIO manifesto” TechRepublic notes:

“information [may be] more important than information technology” and the majority of IT spend will be used to “measurably improve… financial conditions of an enterprise” by supporting “revenue generating rather than expense related business processes.”

This manifesto is more aligned to sales, marketing, and innovation. These areas of the enterprise are in line with CEO priorities (see e.g. What is the Proper Relationship for the CIO, CEO, and CFO?). The TechRepublic post then goes on to note that:

“IT has to stop thinking of itself as a business utility and start seeing itself as a business catalyst. In order to do that, it’s going to have to think in business terms and economic impact for everything it does…”

What Can Skilled SAP Consultants Do to Prevent Becoming Commodities?

FIRST do what you can to educate clients around consultant screening (for details see Protecting Yourself from SAP Consulting Fraud). For example, if you find out a client is looking for consultants ask them if they have received that candidate’s references from their last three projects and whether they directly asked for confirmation of experience from those references?

As clients continue to see marginal or substandard results from so many of these frauds they will consider you the same and rate pressure will quickly move you to commodity status. Worse still, you may be on a project where you have to do so much clean up and correction behind an incompetent consultant just to get your own area working that you do not have the time to deliver on real value that will set you apart.

SECOND make sure you focus your consulting efforts on delivering value to your clients. When I say value I mean in terms of business benefit and return on what you are being paid for. Don’t just do some configuration because that is what you are being told, or because that is what is in scope. Do it in such a way that it helps the client long term. For example, just because SAP supports a particular type of functionality the ongoing maintenance after go live may not be in the client’s best interests. Carefully consider the short and long term effects on your customer of what you do. If you take this approach you may lose out on a little extra billable time in the short term, BUT you will stand out to them as someone who looks out for their interests. When it comes time to upgrade or add on additional functionality a call from you could land you a direct client without the middle man staffing firm. You can avoid competing with so many of the frauds the staffing companies try to place which may destroy a client project and damage the value you can add.

The choice is yours. You can start working to be more client and customer focused to generate value or you can watch the marketplace move you to commodity status. In the end no matter how good you are as the marketplace erodes your value in it does as well. It’s time to start acting like a consultant, a paid advisor to give your client the best possible direction you can and in doing so you also help to protect your own future as well. For more insight on delivering SAP enterprise value focus on the components of ERP II or ERP III (see ERP vs. ERP II vs. ERP III Future Enterprise Applications).




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