Saturday, 7 February 2009

SAPping me slowly..

Let's go back a couple of years - we had had the initial launch meetings, and tried to get people fired up for this new project. There was then a long period of about 3 months that was their "blueprint" phase. As I said before, this was supposed to analyse our processes and then allow them to identify what we needed to do to replicate them within SAP.

Of course they also said that they would get us to ask the question "is this really the best way to do XYZ?" Now I have no problem with this - there is no question, the purpose of this project is to make us more efficient and so save / make more money making everyones job more secure. The inference is that they will offer a better way to do the various processes.

The "blueprint" phase involved a lot of meetings - a whole heap in fact. What generally happened was they would identify a specific area (as defined within SAP) and then do a line drawing with action boxes for the tasks in that process. I've undertaken a similar process in the past myself - it's known as "critical path analysis" and I tend to use "finite state machine" drawings to describe the process. If it is done properly, it allows anyone to follow the plan and to successfully complete a process, even if they don't know it or understand it.

However, I didn't consider the plans put up by the consultants to be particularly good. I felt that they left out key sections and the way that they handled the process variants was not especially clever - there was room for misunderstandings. However, I accept that different folks have different ways of doing things - I don't believe for one minute that my way is the only way.

At the end of the "blueprint phase", we were supposed to sit down without the consultants, take the revised plans that they supplied, go through them and confirm that these, more or less accurately described the different processes as we wanted. We would then sign these off, and they would then configure the system to meet our needs.

There were a few problems at that point - the consultants wanted us to complete the "verification phase" in a little over 2 weeks. In fact, it took almost a week just to plow thru the sales part on its own. After 6 weeks, we had raised a lengthy list of queries regarding the various stages of the processes we covered, but still signed off on their plans even though we hadn't covered all of them. I was really concerned that there was almost nothing in the plan about aspects of the finances and administration.

In some cases, they had actually made quite fundamental errors. I wasn't too surprised at this as from brief conversations, it was obvious that most of their people had worked in totally different environments to ours. However, this did leave a bad feeling and I know that I wasn't the only one - although at that stage, I was probably the only one to actually say anything.

What did bother me was that having spent all of that time and effort, they then almost never referred back to the plans again. I'm not sure if they have even kept copies (I have). A couple of months ago, there was a question about something not being done and the consultant was adamant that this had never been discussed. I then produced a copy of his company's document showing the line drawing with the specific item as step 4 - one very red faced guy.

I will say that I think that part of the process was more for them than it was for us - but I don't see what they actually got from it. Certainly, most of their staff don't know what's in the plans. Subsequently, some of their people have made really serious errors in the way that they have configured the systems, and it is obvious that they have not referred to any document produced by us.

OK - I've indicated that I hate to waste money. 18 weeks at an average of 4 days per week, 2 consultants per day = 144 man days. At $1400 per day.... well you can see that it is a ton of money. That of course doesn't allow for our people there, sometimes between 5 and 10 staff. So you'd think that this would be pretty important, but I'm not sure that they see it that way. It's almost as if this is the process of implementation that they have been told they have to do, and they follow it to the letter. But I still say that it hasn't achieved what it was supposed to and that inevitably makes the success of the project less likely.

OK enough for now - stay safe out there people. The weather is turning bad and it's time to hunker down and ride it out.

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