What happened to my SAP Project? Let’s start by firing my Lowest Price Configuration Bid! A Saturday night dinner conversation!!

(BLOGGER’S NOTE> THERE WAS A LONG CONVERSATION ON FACEBOOK ABOUT THIS POST> ICOPIED IT IN FULL AND PUT IT IN COMMENTS!!) THANK YOU!

 

Saturday night and visiting with some family members from the other side of the table. One is quite adamant, when he learns that I worked for SAP, that SAP is “Just an Finance System” and doesn’t  handle change orders or manufacturing logistics.

I feel my ire rising as I explain that Sap has a strong Logistics presence, it easily handles change orders (not their kind of change orders, the Uncle protests. He is talking about the kind of change order where an order changes after the sales order is made and before the goods are shipped). I shake my head. This is a social gathering , but again I can’t resist talking about SAP Change Orders from the variant configurator to Engineering Change Orders, Recipe Editing and so on.

Uncle shakes his head. Is this new in SAP he asks? I answer that these functions including all for the reporting on these function had been in SAP at least 15 years, maybe longer.

He insists Change Order were not available in SAP and they could only use what SAP was created for: Finance.

Boy, did someone blow it! Here is a typical company. Nothing fancy but an old school Electrical component manufacturer and they were sold a bill of goods.

Not only were they poorly trained, but they spent their valuable project dollars on building weak and limp interfaces to a series of systems. Systems, they had intended on replace when they purchased SAP originally. But rather than learning what SAP offered and how it could be set up to meet their needs, they probably contracted with the lowest priced configuration team, did a poor job in training themselves before the Project began (because their own IT staff did not “buy into” replacing the 150 “Good” patched homegrown systems they had tweeked and tweeked and re-tweeked for the last 20 years. They did a below average job of training before the “Go-Live” portion of their project and the building and distribution of Reports were dismal.

If only SAP had reports, the Uncle moaned. If only they could look at data from SAP and all of the legacy systems they had continued to maintain after they went live.

If that was my company and I had heard that company, I would:

  1. Fire my current SAP Configurators. Make sure they are replaced with a proven strong team. Interview each and every member of the team you are bringing in. Your company does not want to be a training site for newly hired configurators!
  2. Train a select group of internals what “thinking outside the box” really means and provide them with written 100% support of any and all management over the heads of the team. Make up a set Progress Meeting dates
  3. Pick a primary Project Team from the best of the best of my Company and send them offsite to determine a strategy, especially of what they had learned about SAP to date.
  4. List the important aspects of what they must accomplish in SAP including reducing the number of systems they were maintaining outside of SAP.
  5.  Train the Project Team in the Applications, Integration and Configuration of SAP. Make interfaces and special programs a “Last Case” scenario, not a follow the path of least resistance. The Project Team cannot be afraid of the decisions they are about to propose.
  6. Before the Re-Project begins, establish a Reporting strategy to control every aspect of configuration. No Configuration step is made without first testing it against the reporting requirements.
  7. Set up a Super User and End User training scenario. Start Training and maybe re-training some people. Every company has some old-timers that refuse to do it the new way! It is a time to be harsh if need be!
  8. GO!

In addition to these steps, I would guarantee that while on the project, the Team Members are “ON THE PROJECT” and not pulled 15 ways. The must be dedicated in each and every phase. If they are pulled away from this important task, then someone in Management is not fully supportive of the investment that the Company is about to make in SAP and the Company’s future!

I was so disappointed to hear that SAP had been set up so shabbily at this little Electronics Manufacturer. He acted as if they were they only Electronics Company that SAP had ever worked with. He had never even heard of ASUG or various SAP User Groups.

I reminded the Uncle that if they built a house and when the house was complete, if it learned or a wall fell in or the foundation cracked that they would not stand around yelling at the bad hammer. The owner of the house would seek retribution from the carpenter not the tool. SAP is a tool and works. It works well in a variety of environments. We just need commitments, our brains, know our business and a little forward thinking before we undertake implementing SAP.

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Training (alas) is not Consulting…

Training (alas) is not Consulting…

Really? This was the Class you took?

Last week I taught a class and the entire (almost) last row, had been using SAP for almost a decade. Their system had been set up and was live. They had purchased a “Pre-configured”, Industry solution and immediately began to throw in modifications, z-programs, user exits, etc. etc.

Was a Pre-configured SAP system what they needed?

I have no idea.

But the fact that they spent bazillions on consultants to change and change and CHANGE the system says NO. Somebody did a good job selling a product.

That will be a topic for another blog.

Besides, the sales person that probably inked that deal and sold the SAP product, could sell any product and might not have had any real interest in SAP as a solution and may be off selling shipments of industrial spot removers or failing mortgage futures by the time this is written or by the time the “Solution” was being installed.

And what about the Consultants? Did they play a part in this opera of Corporate Dissatisfaction? Was it their role to get SAP in and running while make it look like the Clients’ legacy system? Transfer knowledge to the User staff? Train anyone?

That will be a topic for another blog.

Besides, the person or group consulting on that the SAP product, could probably consult on any product, be it CRM, SEM, IBM or any other TLA that you threw at them!

(Get the feeling I am miffed?)

As far as the attendees went, they were attentive, asked good questions, discussed solutions, accepted the presentation and went away knowing little more than some new tips and tricks, instead of a large portion of a set of CORE SAP applications. But they had responsibility as well. They SHOULD have found out if this over-view course of basic basic quick basic SAP functionality was going to give them any clues they needed to find the answer or the directions that would lead them on their quest.

They could have called and asked SAP Curriculum what this course was about, or the Course Instructor or ASUG Members or someone: Will this course present the type of information that we will need at the level and depth that we will require with our advanced knowledge of SAP, to help use SAP to our advantage and make better decisions?

I suspect, they would have been better served by finding an empty hotel room, having pizza and Chinese delivered in and had dozens of whiteboards and coffee set up and then tried to create a plan!

This course and especially what SAP has said is LEVEL 2 course material, will rarely have sufficient data to really take you underground to see how SAP works. There just is not enough time during the span of a week.

Everyone was happy with the class and evaluated it so. But the Instructor knew that this group had some basic issues and sometimes the best solution is to throw everything out the window and start again. When I heard the phrase “Well we are trying to please these (Industry-Type here) old-timers and they just don’t understand how costing works or allocations or secondary elements and they want to see it the “old way”, I knew I had a problem. When I heard, “Oh, we modified this and created this Z transaction and wrote this Z program, I knew I had a problem.

Well I don’t have a problem. They are gone. I have the guilt that there is little I can do to make it better. No, they and their company have the problem and I can only imagine what they will do to fix it!.

Socialization of Data in SAP

Socialization of Data in SAP

    Over the years, I have felt that one of the benefits of SAP and SAP’s User reporting tools like Report Writer, Report Painter, QuikViewer and even ALV enabled screens, was to get User quick access to data. Traditionally, a department would have to request a report, design or “spec” the report request and then wait 1 to 6 months for the report to surface from the IT Department.

    This is not a slam of the IT Department. However, because of the heavy burdens placed on that organization, creating new reports was usually at the bottom of their pile after “Brush Fires”.

    This changed with SAP. No longer would a user be forced to wait, design Report specs that would be modified anyway, and receipt a product long after the business had changed, rendering the report and it’s results useless.

    Something had to change. And with SAP and tools it offered, things did change. Data, transactional data results, timely data results could be assembled, distributed and IMMEDIATELY audited quickly. Users had a greater control over their destiny.

    I have seen organizations ban users from these tools and kept the responsibility in IT. Hmmm. Knowledge is power and access to data is power. Keep the access in IT, keep the power.

    Wrong. An Organization needs immediacy, it needs to respond. It is not the fault that IT can’t fill all requests quickly and completely. They have too much responsibility already. I have seen a MAJOR U.S. University require that all User designed reports first get “approved” by an IT Review Committee. That process could take weeks asd frequently did.

    There are tools in SAP to give Users access to data. Insure that there are many variables available with ALV Line Layouts throughout SAP transaction. Insure that each department has at least a user that understands Report Painter, Report Writer or even QuikViewer. Discourage “downloads” to Excel. There are few controls on how the data is manipulated once downloaded to the spreadsheet and they are nearly impossible to audit.

    I have seen an organization train multiple user in Report Painter and then a more advanced group converts the Report Painter into Report Writer. Report Painter almost becomes a Report Request tool. A Report “Spec” generator.

    Take a quick look at these tools. These are not meant to replace OLAP tools like BW or BobJ or Crystal. These are transactional Reporting tools meant to increase the visibility of data.

    Later I will discuss the SAP transaction code MCS7 and the importance of establishing naming conventions when it comes to reporting.

Must you write your own code to get SAP to work?

For a couple of decades, attendees have said in class:

“Hey, our system doesn’t work like this!”,

just as I am performing a demo of some SAP functionality in class.

By asking a few standard questions, we can usually determine that the User is experiencing some form of User exit, “Z” program, screen mode or special interface to a legacy system that is inevitably included in their interface with SAP. (Most don’t even know that SAP supplies multiple “Blank” fields that a configurator and just name, define and 90% of the work is done, saving everyone trillions of wasted Project funds!”

Why the exit? Why the code. Many times it turns out that if the Consultant had a better understanding of how the SAP configuration worked, that any special code would not have been necessary. In many cases, it is just easier to write code, then to try and learn all of the SAP functionality. That would require SAP training and a better understanding of the system. I usually respond ironically Before someone says SAP can’t do this or can’t do that, make them prove it!

I am never really sure how someone would retain their integrity by trying to prove something them really didn’t know anyway, but at least I am trying to get people to better understand the environment they are supposed to know. Many Configuration partners (bless their souls) have wonderful ABAP and code writing skills, but little to no business acumen.

They just don’t know how a business works. So using the Project specs, they write out some code to solve a problem that could have probably been handled in configuration.

One of my best examples was when I was in class using the SAP Report to Report interface (standard functionality) in my report and linking a Sales Order view transaction code to a standard sales report. This was to allow the user to review what the Customer had purchased and then “drill-down” to the Sales document reported in summary. Standard functionality. Took my five minutes to write the report in front of class. A student loudly protested that I was using previously created exits to display these transaction and I was making it look to easy!. They should not expect to find this functionality on their home SAP systems.

I gently disagreed and reconstructed the report and drill-down with everyones attention. The student left the room and we could hear her call her office and ask what was going on. Sheepishly in a few minutes, she returned to the room and told the classroom that her configuration partners had 3 people working for 2 months to “develop” this standard functionality.

She apologized.

But it really was not her fault. She was there to learn and she did. The Partner should have been better informed, better trained!

I have ALWAYS recommended that Project Teams question every user exit, code, Z program, whatever, BEFORE they accept that this is the only answer.

There are many places to ask your question including members of your ASUG group (you are not the only one who has this procedure, no matter how different you think you are!), your assigned Platinum Consultant, Help.SAP.com and on and on.

Remember this is code you will own and maintain for years to come. Make sure you need it! Chances are that you are really paying big bucks to help train that 3rd party consultant and they just don’t know the big picture until the end of your project.

I am an Instructor. No doubt! But I know that the money spent to properly train your Project Team and the End Users, will be dollars well spent today and in the future. And for heaven’s sake, don’t look for the lowball estimate! Get references, talk to the Instructor, and review the material! Make sure you know what you are buying.