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The role of Education in understanding SAP Execution

The role of Education in understanding SAP Execution

Once the planning is done, which I have defined as:

1.  Understanding and designing business processes

2.  Understanding both the existing cultural needs of the organization as well as how the culture will handle the design and implementation of changes

3.  Designing an IT strategy that will allow for effective long term development and support of the SAP asset

4.  And a plan for continuous workforce education is developed,

the hard work starts.  All of this has to be implemented, and operated to derive business improvement. 

Multiple Disciplinary Knowledge

Even after all of the early work has been done, the number of different skills across functions and disciplines that are required to manage this process properly is little understood and rarely managed effectively.  The skill sets that are required are some traditional and some more advanced.  A couple of examples of what I am talking about are the role of Project Management certification, certification in MRP principles, Accounting Internal Controls standards, and others.  Beyond what these certification programs can contribute, however, the ability to relate this to other functions and develop a design to meet the needs of all of the stakeholders is necessary.  It is difficult to implement an MRP II design without extensive knowledge of all of the functions and tools available in that discipline, like the Manufacturing Capacity Plan and Master Production Schedule.  One of the strengths of SAP is that the product uses these established disciplines rather than trying to compete with them.  This, however, doesn’t eliminate the need to have professional certifications in the disciplines, in addition to SAP education.  It is difficult to design an Invoice Verification system if you don’t understand the design and function of Internal Controls to meet Sarbanes Oxley standards (SAP GRC Access Controls).  And many more. 

My point is that training/understanding/certification in SAP disciplines is critical to the ability to properly implement a project, but it doesn’t stop there – there are many more skills needed, including people with the ability to manage a cross functional design process with all of the required skills represented.  This facilitation process is the product of years of exposure to and learning a variety of disciplines.  Three decades ago, I led the design of a couple of specialty chemical plants (~$300M in today’s dollars) and my role, not being a degree’d engineer, was to facilitate the technical designs between many engineering disciplines.  The same is true today in developing business process designs in SAP. A couple more examples of this are:

1.  To implement in SAP today, expertise in the use of Solution Manager is critical, however, just the use of SolMan without extensive knowledge of general project management disciplines (PMP) doesn’t help to address many of the key issues that will occur in the implementation process.

2.  Knowledge of MRP (CPIM) or SCM (CSCP) skill sets without understanding of Internal Controls makes it difficult to design a procurement process that meets the audit standards that are required.

And these are just a couple of examples.  One cannot expect the program leader to be expert in all of the required disciplines, but one can expect that the leader and team leaders are at least able to understand the team members who are expert and to facilitate the development of a design that meets the needs of both/all. 

Disciplines for Success in execution

So, let’s start at the beginning and discuss the multi-functional disciplines necessary to manage this process, with the understanding that we will be measured by our Return on Investment (ROI).  The subjects I will discuss over the next few articles are:

1.  Establishment of a governance process, first for implementation and then evolving into a pemanent business/IT function.

2.  Scope Definition

3.  Development of ROI calculations and commitments at all levels of the organization.

4.  Design of Project Controls.

5.  Planning for and managing Organizational Change, both project and a continuous process.

Each of these is a complete discipline all by itself, but when implementing a complex SAP design, everthing is in play and needs to be included.  I know at this point, some readers are likely saying: ” Yeah, alright, but from a practical perspective, one person cannot be expert in everything.”  I agree with that, but I also know that within your overall program design, every discipline not properly represented represents more risk of failure and, at the very least, is sure to reduce your ability to achieve your business goals.  So, what is the answer?  In the immediate term, we need to involve people who understand the principles, the methods and the measurement systems for each of them.  This, of course, requires a more complex governance process than has typically been deployed on any but the most extensive programs.  In fact, smaller projects or smaller companies may require a rigorous process as much as or more than a larger more experienced group.  One of the most difficult implementations I personally managed was a company where the corporate office only had 11 functional employees and all were assigned to work on the project team.  Obviously we didn’t need a training program before go-live, but the design issues were very difficult due to the creativeness of each functional leader.  It does require a leadership team that has at least functional knowledge of all of the areas that will be required. 

Longer Term Educational Programs 

Finally, it requires a broader and longer commitment to education across a wider section of the workforce – both project and “steady state”.  While projects relegated to being just IT projects fail to get the business involvement necessary for success, projects that are not organized and executed to respect the pervasive nature of the effect on the organization also end up with limited success.  This presents a compelling case for educating all functions within the workforce, not just IT or even just project team members.  In subsequent articles I will talk about the wide array of skills and sensitivities that will be needed to achieve the ROI that is possible.  You will note that in every instance, the skills needed will point to educational programs necessary to support SAP as a career-long experience.  These will include:

1.  Learning, up to or including, certifications in functional areas

2.  Certification in business process integration (TERP 10)

3.  Under and post-graduate university programs (similar to Central Michigan University’s MBA and SAP Graduate Certificate Programs) and a couple of others globally.  This also includes the courses taught at many of the University Alliance Program’s member schools.

5.  Opportunities for seminars, or other professional certifications (PMP, CPIM, CIRM, CPA, etc.). 

All of this leads to the need for an organization to plan for long term education of the managerial workforce to achieve continuous business improvements.

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