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In the previous articles we have seen how the challenges of actually implementing a software system such as SAP can often override the technical difficulties. There’s no doubt about it – experience counts. Dealing with colleagues, staff, out-sourced employees, bosses and clients can present many different problems, all of which require ‘experience’ to resolve.

It is also evident that we often have more experience than we give ourselves credit for – and the process for discovering this existing experience can also be utilised to maximise the opportunities for gaining further experience.

In My First SAP Job – Part 4 I explained the simple techniques required to kick-start your own professional development. I’m now going to tell you about one of my success stories.

The acid test! 

After 10 months employment at a defence manufacturer, we were approximately half way through an SAP implementation. I had recently been appointed Project Manager for the Materials Management implementation and I had struggled with the difficulties of learning-by-mistake. Having re-discovered a structured approach to on-the-job learning, I became quite enthusiastic. I pushed quite hard for an employee development programme centred around embracing SAP, to improve the performance of a small manufacturing cell without further capital expenditure.

Conviction 

Looking back I became very single-minded about the task in hand – but then again I was totally convinced that the approach was correct, as it was working for me. At the time it felt as if it would have been easier to justify another full-blown SAP implementation, as at least there would be something to show for it! However my own logs had demonstrated my progression, so I had the confidence and conviction to carry it through.

Tangible improvements 

As always the critics (accounts department) sneered when ‘yet another’ trained employee left, but the fruits of the education efforts came quicker than anticipated. Small but tangible improvements in production capacity emerged. Quality improved as the factory staff worked together to record the production routing and Bill Of Materials (BOM) correctly, and process waste was ironed out of the newly optimised workflow. The staff began to make the system support the production – and used this approach to consequently refine the process by working towards ‘right first time’.

It also became apparent that it was much easier to achieve success against the company performance measures, as the ‘real’ issues were being tackled. In the past I have found that most of the frustration in performance review meetings is caused by the realisation that nobody seems to know why the target has not been achieved.

Making it work for me 

One aspect of the approach that I particularly liked was that most of the conclusions and generation of learning plans could be conducted privately, at my own pace. This was also echoed by the factory staff, who retained ‘public’ and ‘private’ versions of their plans. Of course the flexibility of this approach could eventually prove the techniques’ undoing, although my experience has always been to return to the approach, even after a prolonged lapse. But the process of recording my experience in itself created an agenda to be satisfied, leading to a desire to continue with the learning.

The benefits were clearly visible, since my staff engaged with it wholeheartedly. Since then I have used it on every project that I have managed – and it is always in my SAP project management toolbox.

Undoubtedly I have stumbled across a method that I am suited to. As a self-confessed convert, it is easy to sound evangelical, but as a card-carrying sceptic of many alleged management ‘tools’, the logic of on-the-job learning is difficult to ignore.

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