Friday, 13 February 2009

Slowly, slowly...

We had been working on the SAP project for 6 months; we had completed the "blueprint" phase and had more or less agreed with the consultants' description of our business processes. The development system was in place and working ready for us to use. We had set-up a special training room with a number of PCs, a video projector, a whiteboard and some other essential materials to help get people up to speed. The project team were straining at the leash - they wanted to get on and start to learn how it all works.

Now if you've read any of the rest of the blog, you'll know that I've not been too impressed by the consultants that we had on the project or their methods. However, I will say that at this point, we did start to feel that perhaps we had turned a corner.

Their project manager had spent some time with me discussing user accounts and user roles - from my point of view, a really important topic. The company wanted to make sure that all staff can do the job that they need to do, but we also wanted to make sure that no-one has more access than they need. I had set-up accounts for the project team, and created some basic user roles based for the most part on the primary jobs in the business. The sapgui software was installed on the PCs that would be used - just the training ones to begin with, but the whole estate was done within 3 weeks.

The individual consultants were allocated areas of responsibility and they then started to discuss these areas with the different project team members. The meetings focussed on showing people the software in operation, and how to do certain tasks within each of these areas. The project team members were asked to create training material that they would then use to train those staff under their jurisdiction. Some templates using different methods were created and it was eventually decided that everyone would use the PowerPoint presentation templates - we also set-up an area on the SharePoint server for people to store these for reference.

Within a few days, the project team were starting to sound quite positive - they were now able to logon and experiment in their own time at their own speed. Some of them had started to enter data and were able to now ask questions of the consultants on the processes and get a response that they were beginning to be able to understand in terms of how the software worked.

Over the next few weeks, these sessions continued. There were some frustrations - the data that was being input was mostly incomplete and many of the processes in the software couldn't be completed because of this. Several times, people would start work, find they couldn't continue because of missing data, wait for it to be added then start again, only to find that something else was missing. In a lot of cases, there were configuration problems; either not done or incorrect.

Despite this, some good progress was made. A lot of the team members were finding that they were missing authorisation to do various jobs - they would report this and I would quickly add the required items. I will say that the actual process for this is quite long winded, although once you are used to it, it can be done reasonably easily. There was some confusion among the team members - they are not used to the discipline required to report the problems accurately, and on several occasions, I had to go back to them to remind them that the process had to be followed as had been explained.

The sales staff hit a few issues - they have their own way of working and were not particularly open to changing this and they didn't like the CRM system. But the production staff were up and running very quickly, and shortly after that, the purchasing, inventory and shipping people were starting to feel confident. The finance people didn't get their training at this stage - they had been given some training material, but the consultant spent a lot of time just making configuration changes, so they didn't get too much exposure to the system at this time.

But overall, it was felt that we were making good progress - individual areas of the business were starting to see some real progress and this was generating some very positive attitudes. As a result, although the go-live date was rather ambitious, people did feel that it was achievable.

A couple of initial training sessions for end users were scheduled - these were to be run by the project team, not the consultants which is the SAP way of doing things. The first sessions were run and they did run into some difficulties - lessons were learnt, a few changes were made and the sessions were re-run. Some of the training material was found to be a bit unsatisfactory and these were then modified appropriately.

We also started the data preparation ready for loading. I will write more on this later, but at this stage, it was mostly about understanding the process, and the IT staff quickly became fairly comfortable using it.

So there we were - finally out of the starting blocks, and flying down the track. Yes it had taken us a while to get to this point, but were finally moving towards the finish - what could go wrong?
Well later parts of this blog might answer that.

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