Sunday, 10 July 2011

Eye of the beholder

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit the manufacturing plant of another company. These people started to work on SAP a couple of years before us, and I had been told that they had been successful – so I was interested in talking to them in a bit more depth.

I had the chance to talk to the IT manager on site – a nice enough guy, although he seemed a little distant. As we talked, he made the point that they had gone live after just 8 months and they had experienced no problems. I won’t say that he was being arrogant, but there was a definite sense that he was as far as he was concerned, their project had gone very well indeed, and he was more than a bit proud of that. When I told him of our project and how long it took, he made me feel a bit bad.

However, I also had the chance to their production guys, and they had a slightly different story to tell. A few days after go-live, the system had gone down, and it took a couple of days before it was working again. They didn’t know why, all they knew was that it caused a few problems for them. That was bad enough, but it appears the same thing happened on several occasions over the next 4-6 months. Added to that, it appears that they still have an on-going issue relating to some of the data that they are accessing – they couldn’t tell me why.

After that, I spoke to a couple of their finance people. They remembered the first few months as being a complete nightmare caused by a series of issues with billing documents, financial reports and figures just not adding up. It appears that most of these are sorted, but they still recall those problems and again, they are still finding issues on a regular basis.

Later when I checked, it seems that there is quite a difference between the size of the projects, even tho’ the companies are about the same size. They have a lot fewer products than us, and there was a lot less to do on data migration. In addition, they don’t use a couple of them modules that we are using – and these items were seen as being responsible for a good proportion of our delays. Possibly our project might not have taken so long if we had been in the same situation as them.

When I thought about it later, it seemed to me that this is a case that the individual people were really only concerned about what had happened within their own areas of the business, and the project had been judged by that. As far as IT was concerned, the project went well because it came in on time and budget – the other issues were irrelevant. But for the other departments, they could only see the issues that had caused them major problems. Even years later, they don’t see their SAP project as being that successful.

I was once told by a CEO that he liked me because I looked at the bigger picture, and in his experience, most people in IT just didn’t do that. I can appreciate that the IT manager in this case was pleased with the project and felt that his team had performed well – but I could also see that the other departments were not as happy and for valid reasons. OK, they did get things sorted, but it was clear that it could have been a lot worse for them. When I compare that to our project, I don’t feel quite as bad.

I think that with an ERP system, it is important that people look at it from an over view rather than just within their own specific areas. If I think back, it seems to me that when things weren’t going well, it was because it was a single person or a couple of people working on their own without involving others. When things went well, it was because we were working as a team.

I know that the SI have been telling people that our project was a success – and if you look at it from a particular perspective, they are probably right. SAP is working for us, and in some respects, it has achieved some of the primary requirements. From the company point of view, that’s not the whole story – the project has been very expensive and taken a lot longer than we had been told it would. In some areas there has been no benefit or processes are much more difficult – in other areas, we have seen improvement or there is an indication that we may see this in the future.

Essentially, it seems that the quality or success of an SAP project is very much in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I would rather judge on well it achieves the requirements stated at the beginning of the project – but then, that’s just my opinion.

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