Training, What do you mean Training?

Training? How Much is Enough?


On Top of That, How Should You Do It?

Copyright © by Steve Schneider

I'll never forget the first 2 things I was told in my long, long journey learning SAP's version of configuration. Looking back on it, I'm still not sure which was funnier.

Set the way back machine for 1997

The first comment was from a "helpful" person in my IT department. He had recently returned from VC training, so I asked him what I should do to get prepared. His response??

"Just read the help files, then go to SAP VC Training (LO260, LO261)".

OK, I read the help files and generated (I still have them somewhere) 200+ questions in doing so. Alright, I'll see just how many I can get answered in the wonderful, glorious VC training, way down in sunny Atlanta...When I got there, the second thing I heard from the instructor (right after "I have to leave early Friday morning") was this;

"You need to understand, Variant Configuration is the metaphysical extension of the programmers mind."

I'm still not quite sure which statement was the biggest bunch of baloney...

Needless to say, the training I got from this particular VC "instructor" was not real good. He spent the majority of the class bemoaning why he had to "teach" instead of program. Of course, "teaching" meant reading the page, verbatim, with no other explanation..When he wasn't doing that, he was trying to get the women in class to date him..Sheesh. SAP actually wondered why we asked for (and got) our money back..But, I digress.

Fast forward (in the way back machine) to 2000

Here we are, after a very long struggle building product models via trial and error and a couple of really cryptic CWG meetings. I think that I'm finally understanding all the stuff. At least, I got the model designed that finally got implemented. Of course, it's not the model I proposed, but what I had to settle for. See, a whole lot of people that "knew better" wouldn't allow things like;

  • Constraint based modeling
  • A Universal BOM
  • Multi level KMATs

and a lot of other "stuff" that I knew would be beneficial..Oh well..

So, whats the point of making you listen to my sob story?? Pretty simple really.

VC should really be trained, in a structured manner. It should not be force fed or learned the hard way

So, go visit SAP training you say? If you haven't figured it out yet, SAP doesn't teach everything you need to know. Last class I went to was in 2004, on PP\MM. Lots better than the old LO-VC stuff, but nowhere near what is really required. After all, just how much can you really teach in 5 days?

Oh, you say there really isn't that much to know?? Hmmm, I counted up the various things I wanted to teach people in VC related to PP\MM ONLY and came up with 392 separate items. Some of those items are actually multiple things, like the 20+ different scenarios for ECM related changes. By the way, that's JUST the date related scenarios, not the ones that utilize Parameter Effectivity.

Now, throw in the stuff required for sales. That's about 200+ more items and processes. That's a lot of stuff. Not to mention teaching people how to resolve issues in this world. If you haven't done it, the beauty of integration forces a whole new meaning on statements like "This crap ain't working and you better figure it out RIGHT now" from a plant manager. Especially when he makes that statement to your Vice President..Guess which way it rolls?? By the way, it doesn't matter that the person that coded it (and caused the problem) is off somewhere else (Bermuda maybe), YOU figure it out...

What the Heck is a structured training?

In a nutshell, it's something you can break down into a logical flow, set expectations for, have measures for, and track results. All of this in an objective manner that can, in turn, be used on a persons developmental plan. After all, every employee should have some idea of how to get where they need to go, right? That doesn't mean that they will get there, but at least they (and their manager) will know what they need to do to get better. Best part of all, it's consistent and repeatable.

That's the good news..Ready for the bad news???

It's damn expensive to create this type of program

Here's the reality check for you..You know those 200+ items for sales? Well, we started down the structured training road, then backed off. We do have the materials, even some measures. What we failed to do was follow through on completing the measures, then tie it all up into a reporting tool. Time, ya know...

It can't take that much time you say? Oh yes it can..I've designed 2 of these types of programs. 1 of them even got fully implemented and used for 4 years (and 8 people). That was in our Legacy system (even farther back in the way back machine). The second was for the 392+ items in the PP/MM arena.

When my management didn't like the 1400 hour estimate to create the program for PP\MM (the 392+ items), we put it out for bid. Yup, we actually had 2 companies that responded, took a hard look at the requirements and my estimate. They came back with estimates of 2500 and 2800 hours...At $130.00 per hour...Guess what didn't happen?

This can't really be that big of a deal can it?

Ask yourself...How productive is it to have a person that can only do things by rote? How long does it take to get a person "up to speed?" Can you really afford the errors that a "semi trained" person makes?

All I can tell you is this..If your company isn't that complex, you might get away with not setting up a decent training program. If you have a complex model, and you choose not to have a structured training methodology, you're in a long slide down a very slippery slope. And there's some really sharp rocks at the bottom..It's just a matter of time before you get hurt. When you do get hurt, it won't be a scratch, it'll be a broken bone...If you're lucky...

OK, guess what?

It's CWG reader participation time!!

I know, you've been waiting for this moment in time with baited breath (Robert, step away from the fish!)..You're right, it's time for YOU to write something...

Send me an email. Vocalize your story (ya know, call me). Tantalize me with tales of your training trials and tribulations. Whine to me..I've got lots of cheese. Complain that I'm long winded and verbose. Start a dialog with a wonderous story. Do something!!

You see, we'll continue this discussion with YOUR experiences. Or, if you prefer, we'll simply end it here..Your choice. The curtain sitting in front of a structured training methodology will not be drawn back farther without your desire and participation.

Do you really need to care?

In a future column, maybe we'll explain why you might want to..That's all about the flattening that is happening, right in front of our eyes..

I leave you with a quote designed to get you thinking. This is from that famous lyricst, Jon Anderson;

"Learning is power, making me free"

OK, if you can tell me the band, CD, and song that quote is from, maybe, just maybe, I'll buy you a beer at a future CWG meeting..

Comments to: Steve Schneider, VC Editor
Oh yeah, I almost forgot the vocalization key;