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Global Communication Best Practices in SAP Deployments

Background

            Late June 2010, a little more than a month after starting my first job after graduating college, I flew to France to support my first SAP deployment. I joined Owens Corning mid-May 2010 and was quickly on-boarded as a FI/CO resource. Throughout the course of the project, I worked for 2 weeks in Southern France, 2 weeks in Northern Italy, a week near Madrid, Spain, and I supported go live again in the Ligurian area of Italy. It was a fantastic experience, one that taught me an immense amount about deploying SAP and the complexities of the global business environment.

My SAP experience up to this point was classroom based. I graduated from Grand Valley State University’s Management Information System program which emphasized real world application of SAP skills. That practical application is what I attribute to my ability to quickly come up on the learning curve. However, I believe communication skills are just as important as technical skills. I was fortunate enough to go on a trip to France between graduation and starting work. That cultural appreciation combined with five years of French studies also proved to be valuable when communicating during my first deployment.

            Instead of focusing on the technical and ‘hard’ skills associated with my experience on this deployment, I think the most valuable lessons learned for me were interpersonal skills. I found that global deployments require a much closer attention to communication style and less should be inferred. 

Best Practices

1.  Build a personal relationship with your overseas team members. This will strengthen your team and enhance communication. This can be as simple as wishing someone a Happy Birthday or sending pictures of your children or exciting weekend trip. One of my favorite moments during this deployment was meeting one of our FI/CO consultants from India for the first time and celebrating the birth of his daughter by bringing him gifts. That moment changed our team’s relationship with him from offshore/onshore to a personal relationship. 

2.  Be very explicit in communication. This is important when discussing assignments and during training. I found it helpful to review action items at the end of calls and follow up all conference calls with anemail summary and action item list. When it came to an action like executing a transaction, for example: supporting executing year end product costing, I would set up meetings to ensure the task was completed on time and accurately.

3.  Use screen sharing capability. Screen sharing should supplement conference calls to increase understanding. I used screen sharing to show action items, presentations with the content being addressed, and to train when executing transactions. This is especially important during off-site training and support. During SAP upgrades, users will need significant exposure to screens and navigation during training.

4.  Use translation tools. Don’t allow communication barriers to defeat you .Use translation tools like Google translate to make sense of non-English emails. You can also get clarity on a poorly translated English email by translating to the foreign language and translate back to English.

5.  Learn to appreciate and adopt the cultural differences. Sure we know some of the stereotypes associated with countries, but there are so many slight differences that arise when working in a foreign country. For example, my French team members shook every person’s hand when entering a room. Even during meetings or conference calls. My Spanish team members took long lunch breaks usually from 2-4 pm but also worked until 9 or 10 pm. My Italian team members spoke loudly and frequently spoke amongst each other in Italian. While these were small cultural differences, they were significant to accept during the deployment.

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