The transparency and openness epitomized by the open-source community can help in making SAP projects more people oriented and user focused. The objective of an SAP project is not just to configure and develop the software, but rather also to enthuse stakeholders and users, enabling them to derive real value from the application. Solutions with disenfranchised users is a recipe for poor adoption, and disengagement between business and IT departments. Consequently, the role of a SAP project is not just to enable the software to facilitate processes, but also to build a community of users willing to make the solution work e.g. through helping/training others, reporting defects, taking pride in the system, suggesting improvements and efficiencies etc.
Good communication is vital to ensuring successful project delivery. Stakeholder commitment and enthusiasm cannot exist in a vacuum and consequently, the more they can participate they more engaged they’ll become. As most SAP projects require some form of process or technology change, it’s necessary to collaborate with a wide community of stakeholders throughout different implementation phases. Providing visibility of the progress of a project, can create greater trust and participation amongst the eventual user community. The platforms outlined below, enable such openness, participation and interaction.
MediaWiki is a widely used web-based wiki software application. It is the software that powers Wikipedia and is used by many organizations around the world. A wiki can be used in many different ways throughout a project. It can be used as a platform to record meeting minutes, risks and issues, project deliverables, timescales, team members etc. During the Blueprinting phases it can be used to Using wikis to Gather Requirements, while during the Realization and Go-live phases it can be used for training and documentation. The versatile nature of Mediawiki and the wide range of enhancements available, allows the platform to be used in many ways to facilitate different form of interaction.
Bugzilla is a Web-based general-purpose bug tracking system. It is designed to help teams manage software development and enable teams to get organized and communicate effectively. The tool is used on many open-source projects allowing users to easily create bugs and track their entire lifecycle.
Mozilla use the tool extensively on various projects to record issues and enhancement requests. It provides full traceability and accountability as to the history and status of bugs.
WordPress is one of the most widely used open-source blog publishing platforms. It is highly customizable and contains a user friendly and aesthetically pleasing front end.
Blogs are a useful way of recording the narrative of a project. Team-leads could write a weekly blog outlining the progress of their solutions. This kind of personal viewpoint is much more effective in conveying a holistic viewpoint of a solution. It allows team-leads to give a personal perspective on the project, and enables them to solicit feedback from different stakeholders. Weekly blog posts provide for much greater visibility of obstacles and issues. They also provide a platform for direct communication between development teams and the business/end-user community.
phpBB is the most widely used open-source forum platform. It has a set of highly customisation features and a simple and clear user interface. It can be used to create or support a community, both during an SAP implementation and after its Go-live.
Forums provide a platform for communities to develop around topics, and provide an excellent opportunity to analyze the thoughts and viewpoints of SAP end-users. They allow people to ask questions and solicit opinions on different topics. People are wired for altruism and reciprocity, and forums allow them a platform to contribute and help others. For example, during the training phase end-users could submit questions on the forums which could be answered by either members of the training team, the development team or other business users. These responses are then easily searchable and can link to wiki pages or training demos/videos.
CamStudio is a free and open-source application to record screen and audio activity. It can be used to create demonstration videos of different tasks (e.g. how to create a shopping cart, or how to manipulate a BI report). The application is easy to use and can create Streaming Flash videos (SWFs) which can then be embedded into training pages on a wiki.
While there are other more extensive solutions available for SAP training and application simulations e.g. SAP Productivity Pak, CamStudio provides the ability to quickly and easily create demonstration videos. Easily consumable videos are usually very popular, particularly amongst new users to SAP.
Lessons from Open source
The platforms highlighted above are much more efficient than communication channels such as email. Platforms like blogs, forms and wikis make information more visible and interactive. One of the principle lessons project teams can learn from open-source development communities is their emphasis on asynchronous methods of communication e.g. e-mail, bug trackers, wikis, forums, over synchronous ones e.g. chat, meetings, telephone. Some of the benefits gained from such asynchronous development – outlined at CIO.com include:
Transparency. Project decisions and the discussions that led to them are publicly available. This can be through the use of a wiki to record meeting minutes/workshop design decisions.
Meritocracy. Everyone knows who is doing what, and the progress of different tasks. This can be enabled through the use of a:
a) wiki to highlight the areas of responsibility each team member is accountable for
b) bug tracker to track who is responsible for particular bugs,
c) blogs to to allow project members/stakeholders to voice their opinions throughout the project lifecycle
Empowerment. Everyone has a voice. Anyone can post questions relating to the project on the forums, contribute to the wiki or raise a bug in the bug tracker.
History. The entire project history and status is visible to stakeholders. A cohesive narrative of the project is created linking design decisions to deliverables and training/support documentation.
Fewer time zone issues. Since the history is captured in wikis and mailing lists, people can catch up and join in conversations when it suits them. Missing a meeting or teleconference should not mean missing the ability to participate in the discussion.
Language and culture issues. Given the disparate nature of project teams, and to avoid ambiguity it’s important that tasks and decisions are coherently documented and displayed with the appropriate context e.g. meeting decisions are linked to appropriate feature requests or bugs in a bug tracker.
The software enables the behaviors
There are many commercially available project management solutions that contain many of features outlined above e.g. wikis, blogs, issue trackers etc. With open-source, however, the value is in the collaboration, rather than it’s open-source nature. The platforms above manifest a particular concept of how information and knowledge can be created and shared.
Sharing knowledge is a social activity and the primary method is conversation. Whether it’s wikis, blogs, forums or bug trackers these platforms provide a transparent and historical account of conversations. Ensuring these narratives are publicly available, and open for participation is the goal. Whether the tools used are commercial or open-source, is not primarily the point. The critical objective is to enable the behaviors epitomized by the platforms above. Openness and participation created a better and more dynamic internet, thus it can enable a better and more effective SAP implementation, with a committed and involved community.