Thursday, 11 February 2010

Looking over the parapet

When I first started as a junior manager, one of the more senior people made a comment to me - when you are working, every so often you need to lift your head up over the parapet to see what's going on. It's very easy to get tied up in the daily work and the various issues involved in that and forget to take a look at the bigger picture. So I thought that I would take a break from writing about the daily problems that we face on our SAP project and a take a more helicopter view. (Of course there is a chance that I could get my head shot off!)

Prior to 2006, each of the separate business units was operating its own systems - and there were a lot of those. Of course, this lead to problems - systems didn't integrate well (if at all), data was not transferable, they were awkward to manage and maintain and required considerable administration. Although the staff didn't see this, the were also costly to operate - in most cases, we had people employed just to manipulate data, without adding any value to the work that they did or benefit to the company.

The senior managers knew that this was an issue - some of the departmental heads also realized this (although most didn't and probably couldn't have cared less anyway). It was fairly clear that the situation had to change and that there was a prime case for an ERP system. The main arguments were straight forward - one time data entry instead of multiples, consolidated data processing, cost savings from reduced labor costs, and more agile response to market trends and customer demands. It was also thought that better and more informed decisions would be available throughout the business, streamling the decison making process. Eventually, the choice was made to go with SAP.

Over the past few years, I've read a number of books, white papers and various other materials - many say the same thing, that implementing SAP is a Business Change project not an IT project. I would totally agree, but would add that this is true for a lot of what we would normally refer to as an "IT Project". For example, we installed a new telephone system, an IT project, right? Wrong! - a business project as it changed the way that a lot of people worked. We've also installed a new WAN link and that must be an IT Project. No - again, it changes the way that things are done throughout the business so it is most definitely a business change project. In so many cases, there is an "IT project" but that is a smaller part of a larger business change project.

When the consultants organized the very first meeting, they gave a PowerPoint presentation which I still have. They made this very point about the SAP project being a Business Change project and there it is on slide 17, bullet point 3. Unfortunately, they didn't emphasize this and a lot of people still saw it as an "IT Project".

The problem is that so many people automatically assume that they are not involved in an "IT project" as it will be too technical, and immediately switch off. I suspect that happened to a number of the members of our project team. That did change eventually, and I think that most of the project team now accepts that it is not just IT. However, that is not the case for all managers and certainly not all staff. Far too many still see the project as purely an "IT Project" and treat it as such, and I think that this is an area where we have not done very well.

There is no question that we have tried to get everyone involved in the project - we've allocated resources, supplied relevant information, and provided the means for everyone to play with the Sandbox system so that they can learn about it. People are encourage to use the training materials to learn and make constructive criticism. Considerable efforts were made to ensure that everyone was involved - but depsite this, there are still senior managers, key users and other staff memebers that really don't know what they are supposed to be doing. No matter what we say, they still see it as an "IT project" and therefore nothing to do with them.

So what to do? I wish that I could answer that. Clearly it has to come from thetop, and the CEO needs to make sure that all senior managers are on board. It could be argued that we could have done a better job of communicating with staff. I won't accept that we haven't tried, but I woulkd have to acknowledge that we haven't gotten thru to everyone. I think that this will have an impact - without everyone at least trying, it will take longer to get everything working as it should do.

Unfortunately, I suspect that this will have an impact on our future use of SAP and will mean that we won't get some of the payback that we should - or at least, not as soon as we should do. But then, we are dealing with real people and this is a common issue for many projects and not just endemic to our company or SAP. People are creatures of habit and hate change - and there are those that will be atagonistic to any proposed transformation, no matter what the benefits. But then - that's life!

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