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Yesterday, I announced a delay in the release of our new platform for the SAP Community Network (SCN).  A number of people have asked for more details and background on this decision, so this follow-up blog is my attempt to answer as many questions as I have heard or can anticipate.

 

Tech Issues

There are a number of technical platform issues that still exist, that are either critical or very important.  At the tail-end of a project as it approaches the launch date, I would expect to see the severity of issues declining from “show-stopper” to “critical must-have” to “important” to “nit-picky like-to-have”… but with just days to go until launch, we were still seeing too many critical issues or bugs, and sometimes the fix to one problem caused another.  For example:

 

  • Search Indexing – This is not working properly, which means that our search engine within the new SCN cannot index all of the content in the community.  This matters because about half of our community members currently use search rather than browsing and navigating to content, and that use of search will be even more prevalent on a newly organized site where everything is in a new place.  Getting a fix to this might be possible quickly, but the actual indexing of 8.4 million discussion forum posts, 2 million forum threads, about 20,000 blogs and their comments, 2.8 million member profiles, a content library of tens-of-thousands of documents, and much more takes nearly 48 hours simply for the indexing to run.  Without the indexing, the search engine will not function properly, or will take excruciatingly long to find content.  We ran out of time to fix the indexing problem and to run the search indexing itself.

 

  • Load testing – We cannot run load testing without all the pieces in place.  Sure, the system has performed amazingly well in test environments and earlier configurations – fast and stable – but you never know until you can put the full system under stress with all of its content, and we sure don’t want to find out about problems, or be fixing them, after go-live.  Load testing and search indexing cannot happen simultaneously, so that needs more time.

 

  • Delta content migration – We’ve moved 8 years’ worth of blogs, forum discussions, member data, points and categories, and much more into the new system already.  But new content is produced by community members every minute, so there is a delta – or difference – between the old and new system.  We need to move that content over just prior to go-live so the new system has every piece of content that the old one did when we make the switch. This may only take a few hours, but is a critical few we don’t have.

 

  • Blog issues – We highly customized the blog capability for the new SCN in order to reflect the unique needs and expectations of our community.  Points, user profiles, categories, comment capability, share on public social media, etc.  But we are seeing problems with even the blog authors’ ability to move their blogs into the correct topic categories, to edit their blogs, to format them easily, and sometimes even to access their own blogs (they show up in search, but trying to get to them gives a “not found” error).  This is not acceptable since blogging is one of the most important parts of our community.  Our customization needs additional work to fix, test, verify.

 

  • Single Sign-On – Authentification and access controls have a few challenges, and we think we have a fix to single sign-on, but the fix was not verified by Friday morning and we would need to implement and test the fix, but ran out of time.

 

  • Security – A few issues still remain, cross-site scripting is not resolved, and the spell-checker needed to be disabled.  Fixes are do-able, but not between Friday and Monday with enough confidence to let the launch proceed.

 

  • Functionality – The SCN platform is very complex and inter-connected, as you might imagine. We get many new features and much new functionality in the new SCN platform, and we added or customized some of it.  There is no one show-stopper critical problem with usability or user experience or the features we have in place, but there are too many medium-importance or nit-picky issues we want resolved before we go live.  Alone these are nothing more than minor annoyances or items that could be improved after go-live; taken together they are a collective issue we don’t want to expose to our members and create the misperception of sloppiness.

 

NOTE:  I don’t believe any of the above issues are inherent in the underlying platform.  Rather, they are  often caused by the custom code we’ve written to provide new or special functionality, or to link interdependent system components.  Compounding the challenge in fixing these issues is the fact that most of our IT development team, architect, QA team, and IT project manager are in Germany, while a vendor/partner is in San Francisco, and our global team is dispersed around the world, so the time zones and turnaround are logistically difficult.  By the time issues are found and communicated, fixes are developed, handed back for implementation and testing, and then personally tested by team members, we’ve seen 24 or 48 hours pass by. 

 

IMPORTANT: These kinds of issues are to be expected in a build / migration / launch of a system as complex and massive as ours.  Our SAP IT team have been and continue to be true partners who exhibit extraordinary expertise, dedication, and commitment; we can ask for nothing more than to have these professionals at the lead.  Likewise, our external vendors/partners are top-notch, and extremely engaged and supportive.  We simply ran out of time relative to the complexity and scope of the tasks at hand. I have full faith in, and the utmost appreciation for these people, and I know that together we will deliver an extraordinary new SCN soon … we just need a little more time.

 

People Topics

Members of the team noted their willingness to cancel vacations and work through the holidays in order to deliver the new SCN faster. But I know how hard these people have been working over the past year; I’ve seen them and followed their planning and execution discussions.  I know the sacrifices they’ve made to work/life balance, their stress levels, the degree to which they’ve committed themselves, even the sacrifices their spouses and kids have made. 

I am not willing to put this project above or ahead of important needs of our people.  To the contrary, I believe that the team members will perform more effectively and will deliver better over the long-term if they get a much-needed break.  I also want them to go into our launch full of excitement, positive energy, and enthusiasm for what they’ve accomplished rather than exhausted and drained. This should be a collective celebration when it happens.  Our people are more important than a target go-live date. 

 

Timing

Many on the team have plans for Christmas or New Year travel, breaks, family time.  So do other colleagues across SAP who may be second- or third-tier contributors, but whose relatively small contribution might be a show-stopper if they are unavailable at just the right time.  While we’d love to get the new SCN launched by year-end, we face too much risk due to holidays and vacation plans at this time in the year. 

 

Overwhelming Community Member Support

One of the most heartwarming and encouraging aspects of announcing my decision to delay the launch is the outpouring of support from valued members of the SAP Community and from analysts and influencers, colleagues, SAP Mentors, and active contributors I genuinely respect and admire.  Here is just a quick taste of my recent Twitter stream on this topic:  

 

 

Is that not amazing?  Seeing the trend of “tough call, we’re disappointed, but we appreciate the emphasis on quality and support the decision and the team” messages is really extraordinary. I can’t say enough about how much that means to us all.

 

Critics Criticize

Of course, all reactions have not been positive or understanding.  Especially sharp and biting criticism came via a very negative ZDnet blog.  Part of the reason for this very blog from me is an attempt to fill-in the gaps in information in order to satisfy that type of tough critique and others that might go un-written.  I hope my follow-on blog helps somewhat, although I’m not expecting that I can answer every criticism adequately enough to satisfy all of the critics despite the length and scope of this.   There may be some other harsh reactions out there already or brewing, but I haven’t seen them yet.  They’ll come, I’m sure, as will the positive and supportive notes and write-ups.

 

Silver Lining

There’s often good that comes from any challenge or disappointment, and this experience is no exception.  For example, we will use the brief delay in launching the new SCN in order to invite our SAP Mentors, some of our platinum members, moderators, and a few other key stakeholders to participate in a private, pre-release beta of the new community platform.  This is something we had wanted to do but couldn’t fit into the schedule due to timing; now that we have time, we will invite a small group to test features, functionality, ease-of-use, design, overall user experience, and much more.  This is a very exciting opportunity for us.  The rest of the community will benefit by having true experts and the most-active SCN members pre-testing and vetting the system while our team still has time to develop and implement many of their suggestions before we release it, live, to the world.  Ultimately, this short delay will allow us to build a better SCN pre-launch than we could have otherwise.

 

Whose responsibility?

Some will ask: Who’s responsible for this delay?  Who needs to be held accountable?  Who can we point a finger at for this delay?  Easy answer: the buck stops here, with me.  

Therefore, I ask that you please continue to give your full support and appreciation to the hard-working team behind SCN. That includes the folks who work with internal SAP groups to source, publish, and curate content, those who interact with active community members, organize events, build and run the underlying system, promote the community, aid new members, moderate discussion topics, and do a wide range of other actions daily in order that the SAP Community can run, function, evolve, and best serve our members.  The dedication, commitment, and expertise of this team is beyond measure, and they deserve your support as they bring us this last mile down the home stretch, and afterwards as the new SCN is in full production mode. 

 

What’s Important

I’d like to reiterate what was most important in deciding to delay the launch of the new SCN:

 

1)     The quality of the SCN platform – including content, capabilities, performance – is of utmost concern to us, and it just wasn’t good enough to meet SAP’s standards or ready to be deployed in production for our 2+ million members. 

2)     “Do what’s right for our community members and customers” is our main guide (versus getting something out within a certain fiscal year, hitting personal goals/KPIs, or achieving somewhat arbitrary target dates … and despite the pending embarrassment or disappointment).  We’ll take the hit on criticism in the short-term in order to do what’s right for the customer community in the long-term.

 

What to expect ahead

We expect to go live in early 2012 when feedback from our beta testers and our own quality and performance tests indicate that the platform and the community functionality is ready.  I don’t think you’ll have to wait very long but I won’t venture a guess publicly since I don’t want to set wrong expectations we might not meet. 

Until we do go live, you’ll hear updates from me and others when there’s news to report.  Some of the intangible aspects of our community that make it stand-out from others is its transparency, openness, authenticity.  We will share with you frequently and openly and candidly. 

 

Apologies

Again, I apologize that we’ve had to delay our much-anticipated launch. It’s disappointing to you and to us.  Yet, I am even more convinced that we made the right decision, since I’ve heard kudos from many of you,  and I know in my gut that putting quality above an on-time launch will serve us well in the long-run. 

We will continue to work hard on making this a fantastic new platform for you and other SCN members, and we’ll work fast so you won’t have to wait too long.  Thank you, again, for your understanding and support. I and the team really appreciate your trust and confidence.

 

Regards,

Mark Yolton

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26 Comments

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  1. Henrique Pinto
    Hi Mark,

    putting quality over speed has been the core characteristic of SAP for its 39 years, and the very one that differentiate it from its competitors and that our customers and partners have come to expect from us. So, nothing more coherent than to decide what has been decided.

    As for the critics, haters gonna hate. I’m pretty sure they all had a blog ready to be launched with criticism over the new SCN. They just were more bitter because they had to write a new blog from scratch, on a few hours. Gosh, give them a break, will ya? 😉

    Overall, congrats on the tough decision and being a true leader when necessary.

    Cheers,
    Henrique.

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    1. Sascha Wenninger
      +1. That is all.

      Well actually, hats off to you and your great team for making a tough, and I believe correct, decision here.

      At the recent YOW! Australia conference (), Mike Lee (@bmf) of Tapulous and Appsterdam fame talked about how you just can’t refactor first impressions. If your product leaves a bad first impressions, customers will rarely give you a second chance later.

      So well done to the brave decision to get it right first time around and delay the launch. Best of luck with the rest of the journey now. I know the SCN team will work very hard to achieve a successful launch, and the decision to delay has only reinforced that belief!

      Sascha

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      1. Mark Yolton Post author
        I appreciate those insights and your support Sascha.  “You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” and we want the launch of the new SCN to blow the socks off our members.  that’s our goal. Thank you for seeing the long view and expressing your support.

        M.

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    2. Mark Yolton Post author
      Thank you, Henrique, for your ongoing dedication. We will keep a positive attitude and take great comfort in the outpouring of support.  Our community really is a community with real connections and ties to each other, and not just a group of random people with logins; we actively show each other through our actions how much and how deeply we care about each others’ success, celebrate each others’ wins, support each other when times are tough.  It’s what makes the SCN connection so special. 

      M.

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  2. Vinod Kumar
    Mark,

    Appreciate the brave decision and the hard work put in by the your team, after all quality comes first. 

    This blog gives a convincing answer(by pointing out details of technical and other issues) to many of our community members who were surprised by the delay. 

    Regards, Vinod

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Thank you Vinod. We appreciate your patience and your support. The current challenges are certainly surmountable – there is nothing in the “bug list” that’s not fixable – but we simply ran out of runway and time. We will keep going, and although the year-end holidays put another wrinkle of complexity into our schedule it won’t be long. Thank you for your patient support.

      M.

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  3. Julius von dem Bussche
    Despite delays, this is convincing that SCN is heading in the right direction and well managed.

    Well done to SAP for making such a decision and keeping is all informed! It feels like being there in the Project Office with you, surrounded by test servers and pizza boxes 😉

    Cheers, Julius

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Thank you Julius. I wish we could spring for pizzas all around and simply invite supporters like you to help us drive this to completion. We’ll get there, and we’ll thrive with attitudes like yours.

      M.

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  4. John Kleeman
    Mark

    All of us who work in software know the challenges you are facing. SCN must be one of the largest / most complex communities in the world, and providing new functionality whilst also migrating all the data is a significant challenge.

    The new SCN looks very exciting, but we’d all rather you got it right and released when ready than put out a system which causes problem/pain to its users or isn’t ready.

    Long term, what matters is a good platform.

    I think your open, honest, truthful, detailed write-up of the issues is a great credit to the SAP culture – it’s not wrapped up in PR-speak or marketing-filter but straight and honest. Few other large tech companies have the open-ness and honesty of SAP and that’s one of the strengths of SAP.

    John Kleeman
    Questionmark (SAP partner and occasional blogger on SCN)

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Thank you, John. We really appreciate that.  We do think we are different from others in our openness and transparency, but it’s not always obvious, and sometimes we get burned short-term for this approach, but I am always pleased when others notice the intangible and perhaps un-measurable difference, and when long-term it pays off.  I and the SCN team are in it for the long term, so we believe our strategy and approach are sound.  We sure do appreciate your outspoken and public support, and thank you for taking the time to comment on this topic.

      Regards,
      Mark Yolton

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  5. Nigel James
    Mark,
    We are in your corner here. I would rather have a working system late that a system delivered on time. Good call on sending the people home for the holidays too. Stressed people produce less.

    Looking forward to the headline on ZDNET: ‘SAP Introduces New Community System to Resounding Celebration’

    Cheers,
    Nigel

    BTW Looking forward to seeing you again at SAP Inside Track Sydney and Mastering SAP Technologies in March.

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Thank you, Martin. I commented over on your blog, but wanted to again express my appreciation for your analysis and perspective.

      M.

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  6. Fred Verheul
    Hi Mark,

    This blog post contains a very good explanation of the decision to postpone the launch of the new SCN. Of course this one should’ve been out the first time (instead of your other blog post), but hey, better late than never ;-).
    I think (like many others) that you made the right decision (and a brave one), and I’m sure the community will benefit from it.
    I really like the people-argument about giving the teams a break as they very much deserve this after all the hard work.
    As for the beta testing, as it happens I have some spare time till the end of 2011, and although I’m not a platinum member (far from it 😉 ) I would love to assist in any possible way, if that’s of any use to the team.

    Good luck the next few months, and looking forward (again) to the launch!

    Cheers, Fred

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Thank you, Fred.  Yes, perhaps this blog with all the gory details should have been out along with or instead of the first one, but my thinking was: 1) get something simple and straightforward out quickly, and 2) maybe people don’t care about all the reasons/details.  I was certainly wrong about point #2… so, thus, the one-day difference in timing of the two blogs.  Also, thank you for your offer to participate in the beta test; I’m going to look into this as we compile the list.  Thanks for your supportive comments and well wishes.

      M.

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  7. Susan Keohan
    Like everybody else in the SAP Community, I was looking forward to the new SCN.  But as a software developer, I totally agree with the decision to delay the go live.  Sascha Wenniger hit the nail on the head when he said ‘You only get one chance to make a first impression’.
    Looking forward to doing my part (small as it may be) to help the SCN team move forward.  And KUDOs to the man who says ‘Put people and their families first’ (That’s you Mark).
    Best,
    Sue
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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Thank you, Sue, for your support for the decision, of the team, and for your (coming) contributions to beta test the new SCN on behalf of others in our community. 

      M.

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  8. Katalin Laszlo
    Dear Mark,

    thank you for your blog entry. Your 360* understanding of the issues keeping you from the go-live, the fact that how much awaited event the go-live is, yet your ability to recognize the hard work and commitment of your colleagues and putting their interest first of all things truly impressed me and my collegaues.

    Working under stress and very long hours is way too familiar. For several months now we have been on the verge of seeing the go-live at the end of the tunnel, and squeezing our remaining mojo and enthusiasm into every new week.

    Your comforting words – even if they were not aimed at us –  makes me feel good and wish I’d be in your team.

    Katie

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    1. Mark Yolton Post author
      Thank you, Katie. It sounds like you feel our pain, but on your own project… it’s not unusual for delays to happen — and hopefully for the right reasons of doing what’s right for customers, the business, people working hard… We appreciate your thoughtful comments. One thing that makes it easier for me to make a call to delay – and to take some heat of criticism for doing so – is knowing that the team really has given its all, that people have tried their best, so I don’t need to question when they recommend to push the date back… I know they too have the right ‘best interests’ in mind. We will get thru this and launch, as will you; I wish you great success in yours, and I look forward to sharing the new SCN with you early in the new year.

      M.

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  9. Koustav Biswas
    your post answered lot of doubts regarding the delay in launch of new SCN……..its always better to be transparent and explain the reasons to all stakeholders….as you rightly pointed out its better to come good quality product that meet the deadlines with half baked product.

    thanks for the blog

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  10. sri nath
    Hi Mark

    I was expecting that with the new SCN Launch a new link will also be given for the top 3 contributors of SAP Solutions forums.It would be great if any link is also given of all top 3 contributors of all SAP Solutions forums. 

    Srinath

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  11. Papil Patil
    Mark,

    It might have been a very tough decision for you, but its great to learn how SAP prioritize Quality rather than speed.
    All the best to the SCN team for putting their hard work to make it Go-Live…

    Regards,
    Papil

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  12. sri nath
    Hi Mark

    Its nice to see that you have given good explanation and made everyone to understand why it has been postponed.I can understand and i agree for the delay.Lets expect the new look for the new year.

    Regards
    Srinath

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  13. nabheet madan
    I will like to commend you Mark for your courage to provide honest opinion of the situation which rarely people do plus would like to thank you and your whole team for all the awesome work they have done in the past or doing right now. Delays usually happens in projects. Its perfectly okie with us…

    Once again thanking you and your team working dedicatedly for this project.

    Nabheet

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