Skip to Content
Personal Insights
Author's profile photo Norbert Brumbergs

“I feel the need, the need for speed” (How to speed up your SAP S/4HANA Digital Transformation)

Overview

This quote has been revived in the last few weeks with the release of Top Gun: Maverick.  It reminded me that I needed to write about speed in the world of SAP S/4HANA Digital Transformations. The idea of fast SAP implementations has been applied with very limited success until recently.  For many years an SAP implementation would take 18 to 36 months just for the core solution.  Consequently, the cost was way too much, and adoption was low as requirements changed from the time they were documented until the time the business did their user acceptance test sometimes 2 or more years later.  Today, we can do it much faster.  After reading a dozen articles on the topic, the consensus is they still can take 9 to 24 months with an average of around 18 months.  Very much depends on the scope and the complexity of the current environment especially the number of interfaces or connection points to other systems.  In my experience, speed is attainable.  So, let’s have a conversation around the five “W’s” and discuss key elements to achieve speed during your SAP digital transformation.

 

Who

Who needs to be involved in the program?  Well, it starts with a strong executive sponsor. Someone who will stay visibly close to the program, have a well-defined business case, and firm boundaries on what changes from the standard product will be worth additional time and cost.  This leader will constantly remind the team of the purpose of the initiative and challenge the team to make sure the solution stays standard unless proper justification is present.  On a large program I ran for the biggest DIY retailer in Europe, the COO was extremely visible.  He not only kicked off the project and drove alignment among the entire executive team, he also attended biweekly meetings to review every suggested change in scope.  The business lead for the functional area needed to justify the additional cost and impact on project timeline.  If they could not convince him, it was either rejected, put on a deferred list, or sent back to the team to better define the business benefit.  His everyday leadership ensured the team understood where the value of the program was to be derived, kept the team focused, and eliminated the frivolous changes that so often derail the timeline of large projects.

As an extension of your program sponsor, you will need to make sure you have executive alignment as most transformation programs will span multiple lines of business and/or business functions.  One project I was on for a very large retailer pushed the day-to-day leadership of the team to a layer of executives that would meet every other week to ensure alignment across the organization and buy-in on the project objectives, schedule adherence, people needs and project budget.  Several times this group of executives stopped large enhancement efforts to re-implement old practices that were considered undesirable at the senior level, but favorites on the front lines. Without this alignment a single rogue department can sub optimize the overall solution and add months to the timeline.

The team needs to be made up of future leaders of the organization that thoroughly understand your business and will be dedicated 100% to the program.  These need to be the forward-thinking people that tend to be innovative, questioning, and driven to accomplish the program as quickly as possible.  You will miss these people in your daily operations.  As a result of their full-time participation, they will know the new solution so well that they can make it sing for your business.  They will lead you to the future and understand where continuous innovation can help the business the most.  One of the biggest mistakes I have seen is putting dispensable people on the project.  It slows progress, leads to rehashed out of date processes, minimizes business value, and ultimately drives up the cost of the solution. This leadership quote reminds me of how to build a transformation team that will be successful. The closer you get to Mr. Reagan’s advice, the less hands-on the executive sponsor needs to be.

 

What

What is going to be in the solution?  Selecting the right scope for the first project is critical.  You want it to be something that can be done relatively quickly, provides value, and establishes a foundation for any additional projects.  Usually, you will create a roadmap of projects that get you to the desired end state which should be a platform that does the basic blocking and tackling, improves some aspect of your operations and provides a platform for innovation and continuous improvement.  Gartner recently wrote that “Finance first” is a good strategy.  In my experience, “Finance first” has been the go-to approach for the last 40 years of ERP implementation and is a tried-and-true direction.

Where possible, limit the impact on your legacy solution so that you do not get bogged down changing SAP to fit outdated processes and solutions.  I have seen simple projects take years as the project team focuses on over engineering the temporary aspects of the solution during a self-fulfilling prophecy of a long “co-existence” period.

This direction supports overall transformation speed as your first project can be done quickly providing an early success to build upon.

When

When is the right time?  Now!  Mr. Clinton put it succinctly in his quote.

 There never is a good time to disrupt your business.  Many companies get stuck over analyzing the unpredictable.  The timing of these projects is never perfect.  However, the longer you wait, the cost will increase, the time without the benefits of the new system will never be recovered, and you lose any potential advantage as your competitors leverage the new technology.

We are now way beyond the point where you will be on the bleeding edge and in fact, you probably no longer classify as a fast follower.  The technology is relatively stable and the focus is on innovation.

The key is to have a roadmap with smaller projects that can independently be pulled in earlier, pushed back later or re-scoped as business conditions and technology changes. Time waits for no one.  The sooner you get started, the sooner you begin receiving benefits.

Where

Where do you run such a project?  Well, COVID just rattled the convention of having a big room where everyone on the project including business, IT and any technology services firms all worked closely together.  While we have gotten better at operating remotely, there is no substitute for the collaboration and speed of communication that comes with a team cohabitated in one place.  The travel time for out-of-town participants is a factor, but so is the synergy that happens when people are in the same room and can hash out a problem on a whiteboard while absorbing the underlying communication of body language, eye contact and tone of voice that often are lost even on video calls.

Team morale and interactions can be enhanced through after work activities only possible when everyone is in the same place.  The personal relationships that develop after hours enhance the sharing of ideas and problem solving during the day.

I believe you need a hybrid travel plan to get the best out of both cohabitation and remote work.  You must recognize the project activities that require the synergy of face-to-face collaboration and understanding and those that can be nearly as effective when done with distributed participants.  Ideally, you will kick off the project together so that the storming and norming stages of team development are experienced and overcome as quickly as possible.

Why

Why do you need speed in your transformation? This segment can go on forever, but since I want to stick with the topic of speed, I will be brief with just a few key points:

  • Value Realization. Each project should bring value to your company. Applexus has a great approach to map the expected benefits to the capability expected to provide that benefit ensuring your business case is realized.  With that in place, the faster you complete the project, the sooner you can begin reaping the value provided.  After the initial foundation is in place, my favorite projects were those that could achieve a dollar benefit equal or better than the cost of the project.  One company I worked for called these “self-funding projects”.  This is only achievable where a combination of speed and value realization are foundational to a project.
  • Cost. The old adage of “time is money” hits full force on a transformation project. The longer it takes, the more it will cost.  There is significant overhead to keep a project on track.  Working with an attitude of speed will save you money.
  • Burnout. Project burnout is real.  In my experience, after six to nine months, most consultants get an itch to do something different.  This can cause turnover and/or attitude issues resulting in slowdowns. The same timeline applies to your business team that begins to get impatient unless the interim results are tangible and they see the light at the end of the tunnel.
  • Vision Focus. Very few people truly understand the impact of a new solution on your business operations.  Methodologies like SAP Activate attempt to mitigate this problem through early demos of the solution, continuous business involvement as the solution is built, and lots of testing. However, your team will learn more about the solution in the first month after go-live than if they did 6 more months of testing.  I am not saying testing is unimportant.  I am saying that your team needs to have a very focused vision on what is important and what drives the business case.  As they test, they need to understand the capabilities that create immediate risk to the business and those that do not have a material impact unless left to fester with issues too long.  When the key risks are mitigated, stop testing, go live, and brace yourself with processes and people ready to triage and fix the most impactful problems quickly.
  • Change is the only Constant. Technology is constantly changing with new innovations every day.  The world is constantly hitting us with the unexpected (e.g. COVID).  Business conditions are constantly changing.  Doing a project quickly limits the amount of Change that can impact your project that is in progress allowing the team to get it done. Don’t let the fact that things will change stop you from proceeding with your transformation.  Address the fact things will change by executing projects as quickly as possible.

How

The above paragraphs provided some of the key things you need to do.  What else should you do as part of how you achieve speed in your digital transformation?  First, you need to establish the right mindset.  All the topics above will help, starting with the program sponsor.  The mindset needs to be team oriented, agile, focused on speed and have a “cloud mindset”.  Those on my projects have heard me say the little phrases below countless times.  I’ll spare you “Challenge the why” as I have the well-known “Roast Story” on an upcoming video on Applexus.com

“Perfection is the enemy of the good” – Wikipedia claims the phrase is commonly attributed to Voltaire, who quoted an Italian proverb.  But boy does it apply today.  People spend so much time driving out a perfectly articulated requirement or subsequent design that once realized usually needs to be tweaked anyway.  As the project goes on and the solution gets more in focus, people have better information and understanding of the evolving solution. Consequently, they make better decisions.  Let’s get into building your solution as fast as possible and defer the smaller “perfectionist” type decisions until later during build.  Yes, the big decisions that have large impacts on the solution need to be made early but defer the rest.

“Follow up, make it happen” – In general, people like having excuses why their tasks are not complete since they were in high school such as “the dog ate my homework”.  On most projects you will often here someone say they were late on their task because they were “waiting on” someone else. Most of the time, the target of the excuse, does not even know anyone is waiting for them to do something.  In many cases, they could get it done in a few moments of spare time if asked.  I always put the burden on the person who is depending on something else to make sure they are continually following up.  At a minimum, they need to notify the project manager to document and help facilitate getting the dependency/obstacle removed.

“Fail Fast – a bad decision fast is better than a late decision” – This is a fundamental principle in Agile based methodologies.  It needs to be a key part of the team mindset.  The advantages that it brings include:

  • Issues are identified and addressed quickly.
  • A culture of transparency gets established where people are encouraged to try, and the team is there to help overcome any bad decisions.
  • Reduces wasted effort, time, and cost that result in indecision (See the Bezos quote above).

“The person who says it cannot be done should not interrupt the person doing it.”  This ancient Chinese proverb applies directly to transformation programs.  Naysayers and passive resisters will slow down and may even subvert the program just to prove they are right.  Establish the positive attitude and people will continually find ways to overcome obstacles to keep the project moving as fast as possible.  Find those negative people early and drop them from the team if they cannot get on board.

“Manage the attitude – fast and fun” – Finally, at the bottom of all of this is the attitude of the team.  If the program has the appropriate level of intensity, action, interest, and challenge, it will be fun for all the participants.  Most people that have been on a fast-paced project that accomplished the set out goals will remember the project as the best one in their career.

There you have it.  The five” W’s” and the “H” of the need for speed in SAP S/4HANA Digital Transformations.  This is a holistic approach that creates synergies and results in program speed. Invest up front in the people, the attitude and the approach and you and your organization can accomplish great things that will build a platform for innovation in a timely fashion at a reasonable and more predictable cost.  At Applexus, we have services that can help get you ready for your digital transformation and we can help you establish a culture of speed. Please reach out to me and let’s discuss.

Assigned Tags

      2 Comments
      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
      Author's profile photo Narasimha Prasad Bhat
      Narasimha Prasad Bhat

      Great write up

      Author's profile photo Norbert Brumbergs
      Norbert Brumbergs
      Blog Post Author

      Thanks! I hope it resonated with you.