Sunday, 16 May 2010

People get ready (part 1)

When we first started work on our SAP project nearly 3 years ago, I made a point of searching the Internet for material that might be of help in making our project a success. One of the sites that I found was Jon Reed's ( where I found a link to the SAP Blue Book by Michael Doane and others. (Michael has very kindly linked to my blog so I'm returning the favor - I bought a copy and have to say that I found it very useful - although, I must admit that I've gone back to read it again and note that there are several points that make much more sense now that I've been involved in an SAP installation.

One of the items raised in the Blue Book concerned the idea of seeing how ready a business is to implement an ERP solution like SAP. It identified areas where senior management should ask questions, that could highlight points of conflict, potential pitfalls and those things that will stop a project from being successful.

Now I've been able to see a number of other businesses in the last few months that are in different stages of an SAP implementation (partly why I've not been writing much). Having done only the one SAP project, I'm not trying to suggest that I'm some kind of expert, but I can use what we have been through, plus the information from various sources (including the Blue Book) to indicate a couple of the key items that caused us issues and perhaps others as well.

In our case, we had a really good idea of what we needed from an ERP system - and for the most part, senior management had communicated that to the management team. Most of the staff also had a pretty good understanding of what we hoped for. I will say tho' that we might have done a better job of assessing some KPIs to measure against, and that would be useful to see how far we have come and to measure the benefits more accurately.

Since the beginning of the year, I've been talking to some people at a company that started work on their SAP implementation almost a full year and half before us. Not only have they not gone live, they have now dumped their consultants and are suing them - they have given up on SAP and are looking at other products. I wanted to try to see what had gone so badly wrong, and I have to say that I can see that they were never ready to take on this huge a project.

Whilst we had identified the key needs of the business and understood why we needed an ERP system, I can't say the same of this other company. In fact, it seemed that they were looking at an ERP system because they had been told it was needed by a consultant, but didn't really see why. Certainly, the senior management team had not discussed it with the rest of the managers and none of the staff.

Worse, when it came to the project itself, they thought that it was a case of "install the software, get the manuals, learn the system, make lots of money". They had no previous experience of a large implementatoin, and thought that it was only another "IT project". None of the senior managers wanted to get involved - no-one discussed business processes, and when the consultants were on site, no-one was really ever available to work with them. Lots of excuses - "we have to keep the business running" etc. I'm sure that if you are reading this blog, you will have heard similar stories.

The reality is that well over 2 years into the project, they still thought that the software would be changed to allow them to continue running their business processes the same way that they always had. I was suprised that the were still trying to get it working when I spoke to them - their IT staff told me that they had only ever got the development system running and although the consultants had talked about the test and production systems, their senior managment thought that this was a "waste of time" and wouldn't pay for the additional equipment.

I have to be honest, I was amazed - we are using all of the SAP system apart from HR, Quality Control and Asset Management and it was live in just over 2 years- they had barely got the Sales working and some of the Finance after almost 3 years. It seemed to me that no-one in their company had even the slightest interest in making the system work - astonishing when you think of how much they had paid.

Now I have been pretty dismissive of the quality of the consultants that we had working with us - one area in particular was the transfer of knowledge. I felt that they just didn't seem to want us to understand how things were done (partly I think because their company wants us to buy their support package). However, I have to say that what was happening at his other company seemed even worse. Talking to their IT people, they had only the most basic understanding of how the SAP system runs. They had paid for it to be hosted, and thought that meant they would not then be required to do any work - boy were they surprised when they found out just what was not being done, and what was still expected of them!

Having spent a couple of days on site at this other place, and having had the chance to talk things thru with their key people, I can see just how much more our project team achieved, and how things could have been so much worse for us. Considering all the things that I have written about in the past, it seems unbelievable that we could be considered a success story, but it certainly seems that way.