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Author's profile photo Erik Ebert

Why use an agile method for cloud based implementation

You can implement cloud based solutions using any method you want – but why not use fact-based recommendations? If you are working with solutions like for example SAP SuccessFactors, I recommend an approach based on the agile methodology. Agile is a time-boxed, iterative approach to software delivery that builds software solutions incrementally from the start of the project, instead of trying to deliver it all at once near the end. So it refers to an iterative, incremental method of managing the design and build activities of engineering, information technology and other business areas that aim to provide new product or service development in a highly flexible and interactive manner.

SAP did not invent the agile principles, but has adopted these as a guiding principle for all solution implementations. The Agile approach seeks alternatives to sequential project methodologies and helps teams respond to unpredictability through incremental, iterative work cadences and empirical feedback. Agile software development refers to a group of software development methodologies based on iterative development, where requirements and solutions evolve through collaboration between self-organizing cross-functional teams.

Embrace Cloud Technologies. Understand the Agile Manifesto.

I recall information system implementation projects back in the 1990’s client/server world where rightsizing and downsizing were the buzzwords of the day. Custom-built IT solutions were based on thick requirement specs; the project teams required a wide combination of skills ranging from IT infrastructure, database admins over usability and graphical designers, business consultants, technical and commercial project managers. In these projects, the consultants took the requirements spec, went off to build the software, and came back after X months; presented the final solution to the client – only to see their disappointed faces and receive complaints about everything the solution could not do. Some of these claims were fair, some were due to the fact that true realisation comes when you see & experience. This was certainly a different time and the path to value was slower and required many more skills than today.

Today IT projects come a long way with smaller teams. Smaller teams means less coordination and more responsibilities for each. The team members in cloud projects are more uniform and the ideal consultant has business skills, communicative skills, technical skills and system knowledge skills. The project is typically led by an experienced project manager that knows the client business, the human capital management core processes and also masters certain aspects of the software solution. So, the total skillset needed is very different from earlier times. Coupled with standards-based solutions, smaller teams can deliver value much faster. This is what SAP Activate for SuccessFactors is all about.

SAP Activate for SuccessFactors

SuccessFactors is a true software as a service solution (SaaS) offering a rapid path to value generation for subscribing customers. No year-long heavy system implementations. Implementation can sometimes be complex, but effort is counted in hours or man-days, never months or years.

Implementing SuccessFactors has always been centred on an iterative implementation approach. In the early days it was EMPOWER, then came BizXpert and then (after the SAP acquisition) SAP Launch which has over the past 18 months been superseded by SAP Activate, the common implementation methodology for all SAP solutions.

SAP is a vibrant company full of clever, creative people; some call it “organised chaos”. Without having worked there, I do know that SAP continuously explores new approaches to accelerate software deployment projects with improved approaches and bring these improvements into the implementation methodology. The SAP Activate methodology is SAP’s official methodology for implementation of SAP solutions across industries and customer environments. Built on agile principles, experience from thousands of SAP projects and project management knowledge, the methodology provides pre-built implementation content, accelerators, tools, and best practices that help consultants to deliver consistent and successful results across industries and customer environments. As the name indicates, it is largely a matter of activating functionalities rather than building them from ground up.

The four phases of SAP Activate provide support throughout the project life cycle. Underlying these phases is a series of value delivery and quality checks to make sure that the solution, as implemented, delivers the expected value. The diagram below illustrates the phases of SAP Activate Methodology.

The SAP Activate methodology builds on the following principles:

  • Start with guiding principles, standards and best practices; leverage key system design principles and recommendations
  • Rapidly build the cloud solution to accelerate validation activities and initiate realisation
  • Guide customer through the standard functionality in show-and-tell sessions; identify and validate delta requirements and gaps; design solution that minimizes modifications to standard and enables faster innovation
  • Use iterative build of capabilities, prototyping and frequent validation of the results with business users to ease adoption and release solutions to business faster
  • Manage project and perform normal risk and quality management with structured quality management plan and pre-defined quality gates from the start
  • Do not treat change management as an end-state but realise that continuous enhancements will be the new way of operations

In recent months SAP has been brewing on adding quality tollgates to the methodology, in which implementation projects would be subject to a small methodology review / audit by SAP. The findings of these reviews / audits would be made available to the client as well as the partner. It will be interesting to see what this develops into and what effect on quality it will have in the end.

For SuccessFactors this is really important. Although SAP offers best practise recommendations to many processes, it is a very flexible solution that can be configured (not customised) to suit different business requirements. In order to make a well-informed decision about a complex alternative, the decision maker needs to understand pros and cons of each alternative. End to end, preferably.  That said, a large part of the solution is standard and available from the offset; for example all administrative tools, administrative routines, general navigational principles, user directory and org charts are delivered out of the box and thus require less configuration decisions and much less testing activities (focus on training).

Coupled with recommendations and best practices on how to utilise the system the best way, companies come a long way already from the project kick-off. Furthermore standard templates and configurations exist for key functionalities (Employee Central and all Talent Modules), including globalisation and localisation for a high number of countries (I won’t add the exact numbers here – it keeps increasing every quarter).

The implementation runs most effective by breaking the project into smaller bits of user functionality and delivering them in short cycles called iterations. This means that you should not attempt to build the entire software solution in the first iteration (where your knowledge and understanding is very limited), but should start with key processes guided by the partner. In subsequent cycles you can then focus on more details, special cases, country specific variations and so on. One example I often use is for Employee Central. In the first iteration you need to focus on the organisational structures and general data model (these lead to better understanding of integration and data migration requirements). In the second iteration, you will work more on workflows and business rules. And in the third iteration, on authorisations (Role Based Permissions) and reporting requirements. And so on. Of course, you need some basic authorisations in the first iteration – they are just not the key focus. Understanding and adopting these principles are one of the keys to success.

Also strongly recommended is not to implement the entire suite in one project but break it into more manageable work streams. The couple of modules depends on customer requirements and prioritisation, and as SAP says, you can start anywhere and go everywhere. That is certainly true for SuccessFactors.

Concluding remarks

The combination of SAP and Effective Practices, guided configuration and methodology allows you to build smart and run simple. SAP Activate gives you the freedom to run fast (with a proven reference solution), beautifully (with a consistent user interface across all end user facing screens), lean (with a lower total cost of ownership and continuous innovation with quarterly releases), far (built-in extensibility with SAP Cloud Platform to fit your special needs), and flexibly (do it yourself or with a preferred partner such as GP Strategies). Now – who does not want that?

If you have any comments or questions please leave a comment.

Best regards

Erik Ebert

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Great article for the SuccessFactors! I really like it. I hope your tips will help me with the assistance with dissertation. Thank you so much for your research! 

      Author's profile photo Niladri Bihari Nayak
      Niladri Bihari Nayak

      Wonderful write-up Erik for providing the holistic view of SAP Activate Methodology and its benefits.

      Thanks a lot for sharing !!



      Author's profile photo Russell Knight
      Russell Knight

      Thanks very much - we have just commenced with the implementation of SAP SuccessFactors Employee central module and this article contains the best explanation of the methodology that I have seen thus far.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Agile software development is one of the success development with set instructions to develop software. Above narration clear helps the readers why why sap activate the effective system. It is better to describe in this way than broad way. 

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      The challenge, as a Project Manager, is to keep up with the changes. Case in point, a whole new refresh of the methodology was launched yesterday -

      There is also the decision to use Rapid Deployment Solution vs traditional Activate approach, or even a hybrid approach. Even if you choose to implement a module like Employee Central using the traditional approach but want to use RDS for a subsequent module, e.g. Performance, you need to implement the Best Practice RDS instance upfront, even for EC.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Much appreciated especially – we have quite recently initiated with the execution of SAP SuccessFactors Employee focal module and this article contains the best clarification of the technique that I have seen so far.


      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      Awesome article for the SuccessFactors! I extremely like it. I helped me when I was working on my project at university.


      Author's profile photo faulani akbar
      faulani akbar

      Thanks for the information, Very useful

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      I want to to thank you for this wonderful read!! I definitely loved every bit of it. I have got you bookmarked to check out new things you post…

      Author's profile photo jualqnc jellygamat
      jualqnc jellygamat

      Thanks very much – we have just commenced with the implementation of SAP SuccessFactors Employee central module and this article contains the best explanation of the methodology that I have seen thus far …

      Author's profile photo link build
      link build


      Awesome article for the SuccessFactors! I extremely like it.


      Author's profile photo Guruprasad Dasarathan
      Guruprasad Dasarathan

      That's a good summary and I can relate it well with the flow of events in our project where we completed by starting somewhere which is key to us and completing important work streams. A suggestion to SAP: Like they added quality tollgates to audit the progress, they should also come up with ways to address hybrid implementations (those customers with on-premise SAP). Keeping integration workshops during initial IT1, IT2 iterations leads to more rework and SAP can re-think about timing it when customers have better clarity as they progress towards IT3.