Sunday, 28 June 2009

The seconds tick away…

I’ve indicated that the company has a number of sites in this country as well as several more overseas. The original plan was that we would implement the SAP program and once it was proven to be working, it would then be rolled out to the other sites. There was a slight change to this in that we bought out a company in another country and for a while, it was required that they would be part of the project; that was cancelled, so we are back to just the original sites.

It should be highlighted that each site sells different products – yes there is a commonality, but the difference is sufficient that they use diverse processes. Now in the past, this has caused an issue – it’s been difficult to get any agreement on standardization - this is why we wanted a single ERP system.

When the project was set-up, the consultants suggested that we create a project team made up of managers to represent the key areas within the business. It was decided that our director of operations would head the team and act as project manager from our side; he would liaise with the project manager supplied from the consultants.

So far, so good - however, I queried one thing; most of the project team were from the one site, and there was only one representative for the other 3 sites. The explanation for this was that as we would all use the same processes, the one person plus a single consultant was required due to a specific area which they dealt with and that the other sites didn’t. I understand the idea of this, but I felt that this was not right.

Although we need to try to get some consistency, the nature of the differences in the way that each site works is fundamental and many of the business processes are then affected by this. I was concerned that we would see the system set-up to work one way only and that the other sites would then struggle to use a system that could not handle their particular needs.

After the blueprint phase, I was even more convinced that the one person would not be able to deal with all of the issues on his own. As we moved through the next steps, it became obvious that he was struggling to keep up. About 16 / 17 months ago, it was decided that he needed help and he has had 4 more people helping him, 2 on a temporary basis and 2 permanently. Despite this, I still felt uneasy – they were still concentrating only on certain key steps and ignoring other modules on the basis that the project team would cover those items.

Now over the past 8 / 9 months, the guys and gals from the project team have worked extremely hard to train people from the other sites. During this phase, there have been a number of questions raised by the people being trained about the way that they are to work in future. Some of these questions are not really relevant – we have been able to simplify some processes and things that they used to do are no longer necessary. But unfortunately that’s not so in each case and there are a number of key items that are absolutely required that still have yet to be set-up properly.

And now it gets worse. Our project manager went to one of the other sites 2 days ago to meet with the managers from those other sites. He showed them a PowerPoint Presentation and then ran through a demo of SAP using some data that they would recognize so that they could see that it worked. He told yesterday that the presentation went well and that these managers are now really happy with it and they all feel very positive. The presentation lasted a total of less than two hours.

I queried if these managers had actually used the software themselves – the answer was no. He sort of said that they wouldn’t be the ones to use it, so it wasn’t important that they knew the software, but that they should understand what it could do.

I have to disagree – the people concerned are the site director, who needs to be able to get sales data, the production manager, who needs to know how to schedule and manage the production, the sales support manager who will have a major task in ensuring that products are produced, packed and shipped on time, and one of the senior managers that is involved in ensuring key accounts are dealt with correctly. I know that of these guys, 2 have never logged on to SAP, the others have logged on, but neither has used it in the last 6 months.

Although he has said he is confident that they are happy with things now, that is not what I am hearing from other conversations. I really am concerned that these senior managers are now completely out of the loop – and worse, because they don’t understand, when the staff have problems, these managers will not know what to do or how to find a resolution.

At this stage, we are committed to a go-live date – the CEO has said that we will not delay any further under any circumstances. If it is not ready, it is not ready but we will just have to make do with it in the condition that it is in. (I actually believe that there is now some political pressure from somewhere being applied to force the project forward whatever the cost.) Whatever the truth, I do see that sometimes it is necessary to force the situation, but I am troubled that there are too many pitfalls and things may get ugly. Time to clean up that old fall-out shelter!

1 comment:

  1. Your post reminds me several episodes of our long story with software. I think that people tend to forget that software has 3 dimensions, represented by 3 actors in the company: people/users, technology/IT, and business/top management. What you describe is a typical interaction between IT and top management. Top management do not use software, they don't know the processes and they tend to reduce the requirements to their own reporting needs. IT vendors tend to consider all inputs from top management as evangelic words coming directly from archangels.

    I've seen the following pattern many times, and I saw it fail poorly. Act 1: IT wants to sell the product to top management. Promises makes top management enthusiastic. People are excluded because both top management and IT think that users are fundamentally reluctant to change and that it is a good managerial attitude to elaborate a solution without users, if not against them (it's not a caricature, I see it everyday).

    Act 2: then comes the time for deployment. Who does make the acceptance and initial use of the product? Yes, the users. So, the sales assistant in the little office offshore starts to use the product. But she can't because the product is neither compatible with the company processes or other software products. The user reports the error to the direct mgr, who reports several cases to local mgt who reports the shitty things to the regional mgr.

    Act 3 - problems are now escalating to top management and IT vendor understands that yes the customer is the one who pays, but no it's not a good idea to listen only to the one who pays. At this step, the board has 3 choices: 1) persist in the no attitude and do as if problems do not exist (in my experience, this is the more common approach, disguised under the term "scope reduction"), 2) blame the "stupid" IT vendor for lack of profesionalism or 3) accept the error and change the direction of the development by being more committed to reflect what's happening in the field. This later attitude requires courage and humility, 2 attributes that are more rare than good SAP consultants.