Monday, 30 May 2011

No change here...

It’s been about a month since my last post – and there’s a simple reason for that. I’ve been really busy on other projects, not related to SAP. I’m not the only either – several other departments have also been catching up on various things that have been delayed.

We started the SAP implementation about 4 years ago. At times it seems astonishing how quickly the time has passed, at other times it seems that we have been working on it for ever. The problem is that during that time, so much effort has gone into the project, that many other jobs have been postponed. In a couple of cases, this has not been a good thing – we needed to get on and get them done so it was decided that we would do exactly that.

For IT, there have been a couple of hardware refresh jobs, replacing workstations, printers and a Xerox machine. We’ve also been testing a couple of tablets that we think might be of value to the sales force. There have been couple of jobs done within some of the offices to make more efficient use of the space available, so we were also getting involved in the cable work. As you can see, this has meant that there hasn’t been a lot of time left to do more than basic work on SAP.

After the last visit to our overseas site, everyone felt that we had gotten thru a lot of the outstanding work and had almost caught up so that we would be back on schedule. When we left, the point was made that they needed to get on with the data preparation so that it could be loaded. We had done some loading of a few basic data items into the Development system, but not all of the data, and literally only a few items in each category. A decision was made that we would load no more into the Dev system and just go straight thru to the QAS system.

I was a bit concerned about this, as I felt that the actual loading wouldn’t really take up that much time, and felt that it would make sense to try to get all of the data sorted and proven. However, I could see that we need to keep on schedule – I’m not happy about cutting corners, but I can probably live with this.

However, when the data arrived, it quickly became clear that it was simply no good. Not one of the data loading batch jobs was able to complete successfully, and most were so poor that we were looking at maybe 10-20% had gone in successfully on each batch. It was so bad that the project leader took another trip over there to talk to them again. When he arrived back, he was really pissed – he went back over the requirements with their people but feels that they still don’t quite yet get it.
I haven’t been asked if I would go over again, but I know that there have been discussions, and I get the feeling that they are expecting me to offer to go there in the next couple of weeks. As it happens, there is work that I was planning to do, but I’m not sure I will have time to do both jobs, the planned work and talking with them about the data preparation and cleansing.

There is no question that it is essential we get the data right. We found this out ourselves when it was our turn. We have made the point to the people at the overseas site, and several people discussed it with them, making the points very clearly. We provided some sample files showing how it should be done, highlighting the main pitfalls – but none of this seems to have made the slightest difference, and they are now well over a month behind where they should be, and falling further behind each day.

No-one has said anything, but I’m now a bit concerned that they will cut back on the testing in the QAS system before we go live. I’m also a bit worried that staff over there won’t get the full amount of training before their cutover. For me, it would make sense to push the go-live out again, and make sure that things are done right. But it seems that there is something going on in the background, and they don’t seem too keen to discuss any further delays.

Well, we’ll probably know a bit more in a couple of weeks’ time.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

What a difference a day makes...

Or even a week…

Our project leader has been over to our overseas site a number of times so far this year, about once every 3 weeks or so - and altho he has said in the board meetings that things were going well, it was clear that there was a bit more hope than confidence in what he was saying.

Privately, he has been suggesting to the project team leaders that there are still far too many issues unresolved, and that despite quite a lot of hard work, we don’t seem to be progressing as fast as we should be. Although he wouldn’t actually say we were behind schedule, it’s pretty clear that the proposed go live date was looking increasingly hard to meet.

I’ve suggested a number of times that we should get the staff from our overseas site to visit with us for a week so that we can help them out with training and testing – by getting them to work with our staff I hoped that they would pick up some of the required knowledge. But altho it was seen to be a good idea, we have had none of their staff visit with us since last August.

It was then suggested about a month ago that we should arrange for our project team to go over there instead. Plans were made, travel and hotels booked and the project leader set out a plan for the week. This was primarily to test their processes to make sure that these would work – I felt that this would be a good start, but was concerned that we would miss a good opportunity to ensure that their staff was adequately trained.

I’d also gotten a bit worried about some of the comments from our project team – one or two had said to me that they were not really sure what they were supposed to be doing over there. So I made a point of spending some time with each one, to discuss how to test the various processes, and I set-up a series of test user accounts for them and made sure that they knew what they had to do.

On the first day at the site, we weren’t able to get much done – we arrived late in the day, and really only just managed to introduce ourselves to people, and get things organised so that we could start work properly the following day. But after that, things really started to take off.

The project team made a point of getting the key staff in with them so that they could see the processes, and in most cases after a couple of demos, these people were carrying out many of the actual tests. That second day, we had actually gone thru every single process and tested at least 3 variants for each. Their staff are now far more confident in the way that they use SAP, and altho they still have more work to do, based upon what they did last week, they should be ready for the go-live.

It should be said that during the tests, we did actually find several key issues – but about half of these I was able to correct almost immediately. As one of their consultants was on site, the rest were passed to him and it has to be said, he made a good start on getting them corrected. However, he also made contact with a couple of the other consultants and they were then available on the third and fourth days.

In fact, by the last day, we had not only gone thru every process many times and confirmed all were working, most of the outstanding issues had also been addressed. This included several that have been on the list for months. It also highlighted a couple of issues with data – I had tried to highlight this previously, and now it is obviously the most urgent major problem remaining so they are looking at dealing with this next.

It should be said that it was hard work - most of the guys were suffering with jet lag, and one had an upset stomach. It's also been a bit warmer there than we normally face this time of year, and some had difficulty sleeping at night. Despite these problems, everyone was really pleased - and I have to say that it is very clear that we have made a major leap forward.

We still have a lot of work to do, but we are almost back on schedule to go live in a couple of moths time. If we can get the data done on time next, then it should be possible to start the next stage of testing in the test system before the end of the month - and if it there are no major problems, we will be back on track.

It helps that there are not that many staff at that site and that they don't have to learn all of the various processes. But there is a lot more confidence now, both on site and in the project team. It has been said that it may be necessary to organise another trip over, and if we do, I'm sure that it will prove to be as valuable an exercise as this one was.