Prasanna’s Best Practice prescription for SuccessFactors Implementation Consultants
Note from the Author: For over 15 years, I have been interacting with clients and colleagues in the HCM ERP space, having led from the front and successfully implemented several significant large-scale SAP HCM & SuccessFactors deployments I get asked all the time; what would be your advise… how do we guide our consultants etc, I am sharing my insights here after having managed hundreds of consultants over the years both as an Implementer and Customer, in the hope that it will help any consultant adapt and grow into a “Great Successful Consultant”. – Prasanna Patil
Why should I be using this prescription?
Have you ever wondered what makes a great SAP/SuccessFactors consultant? Take a step back and ask yourself, why SAP Partners and its clients need SuccessFactors Implementation Consultants.
What is the purpose of SF consultants? Now that you are probably thought about why you do what you do and fall into one of two narrow categories depending on where you come from and why you have become an SF consultant 1) great successful consultant 2) indifferent unwary consultant. It is not difficult to distinguish both and I am sure you want to be identified as former especially when the offering available is so large and also want to stand apart in front of the rest.
The purpose of this literature is to help you position yourself as a Great Consultant in front of partners & client. The intention is not to provide mechanical or holistic steps of best practices like a gospel but to encourage you to be rational and crafty. Due to the nature of fast-paced SuccessFactors implementations, no one wants to spend time on trivial difficulties which arise due to unwary consultants. And yes I have deliberately called this a “prescription” and not a “guide”.
Treat this as pursuing a passion or gaining a new skill!
Partner’s bird’s-eye view
A great consultant should always practice empathic intelligence and continuous learning only then he will connect well with other team members for mutual help and collaboration.
- Adhering to the SOW: this is the starting point and first step for a consultant in any implementation. Thoroughly read through the SOW and always keep it handy during all client interactions as it’s a guiding principle of scoped execution based on a commercial agreement you cannot deviate from. SOW clearly lists scope, out of scope, deliverables, reasonability etc to strictly obey. To accomplish your tasks necessitates not just in-depth knowledge and expertise in SuccessFactors but bonding and executing per agreed requirements elicitation, scoped application design, accepted implementation realization range to ensure that requirements in SOW are met and deliverable complies with the Client’s business needs and commercial agreement. At times it’s important to say politely “No” to clients when out of scope item is requested. By doing so you protect yourself, everybody needs to be compensated fairly and appropriate time needs to be allocated for what you do.
- Client readiness analysis & implementation approach: can you provide answers to the following questions; countries of Clients operation, Clients legacy HR systems, Clients implementation vision, Clients nature of HR operation and team structure etc it’s vital to invest more time early on getting to know your client better. You should do some meaningful research via preliminary interviews and populate document readiness questionnaires, and learn more about their HR business processes and what is important to them personally this is the foundation for being considered a great consultant. Now that you know the type of customer you’re dealing with apply this knowledge on the type of deployment pack suitably identified and fine tune and strategize your approach. As an example, it’s not wise to take the heavy customized solutions approach with the small-moderate sized. Don’t assume customer knows what’s right for them always evaluate, provided verifiable counseling and direction.
- Utilizing all project tools appropriately: all Partners and Clients provide their consultants with a set of powerful tools (Messenger, Trackers, SharePoint, Outlook…) embrace each of them and you will become better at your job. Be it, responding to your team members quickly via messengers or uploading completed documentation on SharePoint or taking prioritized action on items assigned on Action Log, all are rudimentary. Follow everyday unwritten rules of emails such as responding only to latest in the chain of emails, promptly answer letting the individual know when you can’t respond right away, never hijack an email on one topic to discuss another topic.
- Regular methodical update of Scope, Risk & Action log: its primary responsibility of consultant to keep Scope, Risk & Action logs as-live as possible. The most common mistake made by consultants is thinking they don’t have time to organize or update key project logs, but if you really knew how much time that disorganization costs you and others, you will reconsider. Moving piles occasionally doesn’t help either, in intricate deployments when several individuals are waiting for your action to get their piece going, logs must be updated on daily basis and discussed with the team either on need basis or during weekly meetings. Prompt identification of issues, preventive identification of risks for potential problem sources; engage team and leadership in escalations or generating alternative solutions, in all cases take immediate steps to attend to items in a timely manner and ensure the solution has not introduced other problems.
- Time Management: debatable the most importing point, you need this skill in every part of life & no matter how you slice it consultants need to know how to accomplish more in given time focusing on skills such as planning, setting immediate yet realistic goals and prioritizing for a better performance. Three things consultant must do 1) Create daily task list with priority 2) Estimate & track time for all tasks 3) Create personal schedule keep calendars always updated with professional and personal appointments, inform Project Manager/Project Coordinator any deviation from the regular schedule in advance. It’s also important to respect others time be cognizant of email flooding, random telephone calls, unnecessary long meetings, asking for information before doing research, frequent informal messenger communication etc
- Project Planning: the prepare phase (ACTIVATE methodology) is critical to the success of the project as it establishes the execution vision. Effective project planning takes into consideration all aspects of planning including consultant engagement, as well as the actual plan itself. The most cited factor for project failure is consultant not providing data points or not providing clear estimates to Project Manager during project planning. It’s important to assimilate that a project plan is not a variable but a firm reality checker that cannot keep changing based on timeline slippage due to consultants not keeping up to agreed milestones. It’s the responsibility of consultant to identify any gaps or potential risks in planning before the plan is finalized and socialized.
- Implementation Methodology: every consultant must not just get off by heart but integrate with SAP’s modular, flexible and scalable implementation methodology ‘ACTIVATE’ which provides prescriptive and comprehensive guided steps for a) governance framework b) execution phases b) roles and responsibilities d) utilize relevant best practices, guided configuration and methodology. This guides Consultant to explore, prepare & realize deliverables. Iterative workshop approach allows consultants to routinely check for gaps or incomplete information, to validate the completeness and accuracy of the requirements to ensure timely clarification with all stakeholders.
- Effective Communication & Team Work: unambiguous communication determines the success or failure of the project especially involving large, client and implementation teams. Consultants must engage in active listening and always have lucid interactions while staying on topic. All Partner internal communications must be transparent without any prejudice; each member should be able to understand you. Clearly articulate during any technical discussion or solution proposal, also keeping in mind to make team members feel confident that their opinions will be heard, only ask relevant questions and repeat the group decision to verify clarity on next steps and responsibility. Goes without saying when working in a team there is a lot more scope for creativity in comparison to working independently. Habitually keep Project Manager and the team apprised of progress made and any anomalies others need to be aware of.
Client’s bird’s-eye view
A great consultant should not always say ”Yes” or offer what he/she doesn’t have, any client will notice this first. The ability to admit honestly what you can and cannot do with the powerful fusion of conviction and modesty is the base of trust between a client and a great consultant.
- Maintain professionalism & punctuality: needless to say, always stay calm and composed during any form of customer interactions. The absence of professionalism is always even more noticeable than the presence of crown technical expertise. If a challenging situation arises, use internal channels to get them addressed. Get to know your client team individuals and be patient in building a new relationship, good rapport helps you execute successfully. For any customer meetings join few mins before customer joins and check all logistics in advance, no customer wants to hear your headset is not working or you cannot find the document you plan to discuss.
- Know your client’s industry & current state: it’s pivotal to understand clients’ industry, mode of operation, pain points, current state as early as possible it will help you speak the same language as the client, understand their thought process, fill gaps and to avoid major rework. Example: Customer acquiring wrong data center which does not meet their data privacy policies or customer providing requirements that are not scalable. Recommending opportunities to improve their business which is in line with a long lasting SuccessFactors solution along with focusing on meeting their key objectives should always be on your mind.
- Set clear expectations: Never Over-commit and under-deliver. You don’t want to be tagged as unreliable, it’s your responsibility to gauge your work and set realistic expectation on deliverables. Take notes and create your own action item list, set hard and fair deadlines on each task and try to prioritize and pluck the critical & low hanging fruits first. Allocate time for orientation, system demo and proof of concept sessions with the client in mind.
- Set responsibility and accountability: be straightforward on all roles and responsibilities with customer team members; explain in great details what is required from them set firm deadlines on each deliverable. Best to log everything as an action item on trackers this will avoid uncomfortable situations later. Some customers tend to get everything done by the consultant under the pretext of help; help should not be doing their work but only holding their hand and guiding them. You may go an extra mile based on special circumstance but ensure you have the bandwidth and only hope client remember the times you came through for them, and not expect them to return the favor when you need their support.
- Prompt and clear communication: acknowledge any queries from the client at your earliest convenience even if you are in the process of researching try to provide a cushioned estimate of when you would get back. Clients always want to know if you’re on it if you’re actively working on their query. Responses must be unambiguous, in a way parties involved can understand, consider a phone call over the exchange of long emails for solutions or clarification type discussions, and always evaluate the best method to get clear fast responses. Also, update to-do list, due date, and reasonability after each communication while documenting decisions separately and explicitly.
- Avoid surprises: always communicate sincerely and raise the appropriate type of flags when you see any potential risk or encounter issues. This reassures your diligence and competence. No customer likes nasty surprises, they expect everything to run smoothly. Openly discuss risks and issue some clients may resist and get anxious but with coherent explanation ultimately will appreciate your honest care.
- Outline agenda & next steps. Be it a workshop, solution review, configuration walkthrough or any minor meeting provide clear documented purpose, the goal at the beginning and at the end always recap the conversation with actionable next steps. It’s always a good idea to record the meeting with client permission for later reference and invariably send out meeting notes with to-do list with due dates to confirm client is on the same page with next steps preventing a lot of potential confusion down the road.
- Analyze, evolve and impact: No two clients are the same as a great consultant you must be flexible to blend in with the client’s operational style. You have to patiently listen to what the client wants and understand how they vision certain objectives before you can guide them to successfully apply your recommendations. You must be able to clearly articulate solution proposal with proof of concepts and leave a footprint to identify the benefits and how you made a difference. Needless to say, stay current with the technology – SF release schedules and product updates and update the client promptly.
Note: Addition reading is recommended ACTIVATE Implementation methodology