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Fireworks, Ponies and Helicopters

As fireworks exploded over the harbor and the garish 20-foot neon sign visible from every balcony on our side of the hotel blinked its congratulations to the newly-married couple, I marveled at the sheer outrageousness and frivolity of it all.

This was a few months back. My wife and I had embarked upon an impromptu overnight getaway – without the kids – to a large resort/spa nearby. We did not know at the time that there would be a wedding there.

At the check-in counter the young clerk whispered confidentially, “Rumor has it the bride’s father spent a million dollars on this wedding.”

En route to my room I saw the guest chairs being set up on the grass. White, simple, tasteful.

Then I saw the pony.

Bedecked in flowers, hooked to a carriage, it looked out of place. But not as much as what was to follow.

Shortly after we settled on our hotel balcony to unwind and soak in the midday sun, the strains of the small cluster of musicians reached our ears and we enjoyed a clear view of the ceremony unfolding below.

The pony, it turns out, was there to pull the carriage containing the infant flower girl. Its handler guided it quietly down the aisle.

Then I heard the rotors.

Looking up, I saw a helicopter approach, temporarily drowning out the music.

It passed by close to the ceremony then disappeared from view.

Then reappeared, heading the other way.

It did this back-and-forth several times, each time filling the air with noise.

We soon realized that it was taking pictures of the event. “You know,” my wife mused – during a brief respite when the helicopter had vanished and we could hear each other once again without shouting – “I could take pictures of it from up here and they would be just as good.”

Of course, it was not about how good the pictures would turn out.

At some point, between the subsequent boat party and the private fireworks show later that evening, I realized that it was all about the show.

Common sense dictates that business ventures veer in the opposite direction. Each company dollar must be spent in anticipation of some sort of return, either in the short or long term.

Unfortunately, at some level waste creeps in. One area in which I have seen this occur sadly is in SAP form development. And the problems are not always technical ones.

Some examples:

A company with which I am familiar had purchasing forms that went through several revisions, primarily because the requirements kept changing based on input from key vendors. After several months and countless revisions these forms still are not in Production.

Another company had varying standards for their partner-facing forms, depending on the department and SAP module. A few months before go-live, the Corporate Communications Department became actively involved, at which time most forms required substantial rework to bring them into alignment and compliance.

A third company, which I met at the recent SAP TechEd ’05 conference in Boston, told me of their frustrating experience developing a SAPscript check form. Apparently, at the last minute they learned that the bank’s acceptable check format had changed, including overall dimensions, and they had to delay implementation until the issue was resolved.

At an Adobe Enterprise Developer event last week, a fourth company shared with me its frustration over various last-minute boilerplate changes dictated by their legal department.

In each of the above cases, delays and headaches resulted from input by parties not directly involved in the forms development process, yet definitely stakeholders in the final result. Most likely, from each of their perspectives, the requested changes were both reasonable and critical, and thus non-negotiable.

And yet negotiation is exactly what was needed here.

One of the first steps in a successful form development project is to identify all relevant parties whose approval is needed. As the above examples illustrate, they can either be within or outside the organization.

A follow-on step is to contact each of them and agree upon the following ground rules as to their input:

1) An established single point of contact — with clear authority to represent the entire party’s interest.

2) A set timeline — including a cut-off date after which any further input will be rejected (but subject to consideration for a subsequent phase after go-live).

3) A list of acceptable formats — which can vary based on the nature of the input to be provided (for instance, in the case of legal changes, only a time and date-stamped electronic document with red-lined changes from the prior version can be submitted; this ensures the quality of the final product while also avoiding rework).

Obviously, there are times when exceptions need to be granted. However, by setting clear and decisive ground rules early, we convey the importance of the project and of the critical roles that each participant will play.

When it comes to your business, don’t let your party’s rotors drown out the rest of the festivities.

There are much more important things to spend money on.

This is part 8 of a series of Weblogs on SAP output forms.

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