I have never attended an SAP interview in my life where I was not asked about ASAP. I have also never worked with any employer that didn’t use ASAP in some form – usually with some value added changes on top, and with a new name. Funny enough – I have also never been in a project where I and several others have wondered whether ASAP (or its variant) was the best we could have done. In the current economy, where we are all trying to innovate – I think it is high time we take a serious look at whether we can do better.
What is the biggest draw back of a linear, water fall type methodology? The most common answer is “Lack of flexibility”. This is true – requirements change all the time. However, good project management includes a good change management process. And I have seen it work with great success – except that occassionally it stresses out every one involved in the process. The prime reason is that end dates in a project plan gets set in stone, and we try to do “nine women have to deliver a baby in one month”, and somehow make it work. When we don’t – we end up getting a bad rap. When we do, we get all stressed out. Damned if you do, Damned if you don’t, huh?
Having had hundreds or even thousands of projects go through ASAP process and its pitfalls- why didn’t we change this? That means there are good things associated with ASAP and its variants. What are those?
A few that comes to top of my mind
1. Easier to estimate – PERT,CPM etc can be readily applied, critical paths found, bugets and variances calculated etc
2. Easier to visualize end to end project ,especially as project proceeds thrugh its life cycle
3. Easier to work with geographically spread teams – Several companies have succesfully established their models based on an onsite team defining specs and remote team working on realization, in a waterfall approach.
So, what are our alternatives to ASAP? Some kind of agile methods – most recently scrum, have been tried out succesfully in SAP implementations. So is it time to replace ASAP with more agile methods? I would say “No..Not yet”. So did I just waste your time reading so far? hopefully not 🙂
Why am I saying no, then? Well, for a couple of reasons.
1. Agile methods have limitations too – for example, it is hard to do something like scrum, when your team is spread across three continents. As time progreeses, we might find better ways to do this. From a personal perspective – I tried scrum twice in a project that I was running from the US, with part of my team in India. First time – I had team members in USA and India. Second time – I asked one of my team leads to do it in India, without any USA team member involved. It worked both times – but the first attempt was very stressful, and I did not have stomach to go through the exact same model twice. The second attempt was a good success, but scope was smaller, and I had an experience scrum master leading it.
2. With restrictions in travel becoming the order of the day, it becomes more and more difficult to get people together multiple times. Most clients cannot dedicate business people full time to the project anymore. However, I have had good success in getting some part of blueprinting done involving remote teams with judicious use of technology – but again, these idas need to develop and mature much more.
3.The necessity to plan, budget and monitor doesn’t go away, and the tools that help us do that have been built with a waterfall approach in mind. Again, I am not saying that they cannot be adapted – just that adapting them needs time and money, and clients and consultants are both trying to minimize spends.
If SOA/BPM caught the fancy in a bigger fashion, ASAP might have evolved faster. There are SOA specific methodologies out there – the one I am familiar with is called SOMA (Service Oriented Modelling and Architecture). You can google or go to IBM’s website to get more information. Unfortunately, SOA did not catch on big time so far in SAP ecosystem, and hence there was no pressing need for ASAP to change or evolve. I firmly believe that once the hype dies down – SOA/BPM will catch on, and then the necessity to change ASAP will again stare us on the face.
Nevertheless, I suspect that clients will keep increasing their demands for faster implementations and hence we might not have much time to start adapting ASAP. I would expect that scrum and similar things will start making a stronger presence in realization and initial testing phases where the team is more localized. Eventually, the tools and methods will change to account for iterative and agile methods for parts of the project. I don’t expect the overarching waterfall model to change in big SAP projects – but as I explained above, we might soon see some phases of ASAP to change for good.
This is just my view – I would love to hear yours.