What to Expect in a VC Project

I got a couple of requests to write up something similiar to the presentation Steve Silvey and I gave at the Marco Island conference in October 2008. After thinking about it for awhile, I thought what the heck, why not? Granted, there won't be much in the way of readership here in CWG land, but you just never know where it will end up..

So, come with me on a journey, not through Oz, but through a typical VC project. There won't be any technical type stuff here, but I'm really going to focus on understanding the business. Why? Because in the end, the technical coding can be done in any low cost country. What you really need to be focusing on is understanding, and even more importantly, selling the business.

 As usual, this is copyrighted by Steve Schneider .

But feel free to fill up my inbox!!

As you are sitting at your desk, poring over the days email, a colleague rushes up and breathlessly tells you “Guess what? We just bought SAP!”

                The question that immediately comes to your mind is naturally, “What does this mean to me?” Not much of anything until you get that fateful call from your manager. He tells you something like “We are going to put in the Variant Configuration module of SAP, and you are going to run the project!”

                Sounds great right?? However, what if the only exposure you’ve ever had to SAP is seeing those interesting logo’s on sponsor advertising at the Formula One races or the local football match? “Variant Configuration”? What in the world does that mean??

                The reality is many projects start out in exactly this manner. If you are lucky, you are involved in one of the good projects, where you were involved in the selection team that chose the software. In that case, you already know what Variant Configuration (also known as VC or LO-VC) is. If not, you will know it by the time you get done with this project! Either way, you have some interesting times ahead. In this article, I will try to show you some of the typical challenges you will encounter as well as give you some practical advice on overcoming them.

The Marketing Pitch

At some point, very early on, one or many of your executives made one of those startling pronouncements they are so famous for. It went something like this;

“Hmmm, we keep hearing about all of these really cool things being done with the Internet. I wonder what we could do with it?”

As that pronouncement went down the Management ladder, someone (usually in IT, but not always) makes a comment like “SAP can solve that for us!” At that point, all kinds of promises may be made, both by internal people and by external contacts. Give SAP credit, they don’t usually say things that broad and sweeping. In fact, one of the things I like about SAP is that they usually warn you with statements like “be prepared to change your business process to take full advantage of the software”.

At any rate, be prepared for your management team to have some real high expectations of the business results they will get for the money they invest in the software. That’s OK; they should expect a good return on investment. After all, that’s the whole goal of spending money on technology. Your job is to deliver.

Can you deliver something that you don’t understand? Typically not. So, your first job is to ensure that you have the expectations of the management team aligned. Sounds easy right?? This is one of the harder jobs you will encounter as you move forward. Depending on your role in the organization, you can;

·         Influence during the selection process

·         Influence after the selling process but before the actual purchase

·         Influence after the purchase

In each case, you will do some of the same things along the way. Remember the goal;

·         Gain alignment on the expectations delivered!

Recovering from the Marketing Pitch

                First, you need to understand what management is trying to achieve. In order to do this, you have some interviews to do. My suggestion is that you start as high as you currently influence within your organization. What you are looking for are the strategies that the manager is being held to by THEIR manager. After all, everyone gets a performance review of some kind. What is the goal in a performance review? To make sure that your manager’s expectations are being met! So;

·         Get the managers strategies, goals, tactics, and measurable deliverables in writing!

You want to try and boil these down to a one page summary of the top three to five things they are being held accountable for. Make sure you get the metrics that they use! Without those metrics, it will be hard to quantify decisions you make later on.

Take this show “on the road” to as many different business managers as you can that are impacted by Variant Configuration. Who are they? Just about every functional area in your company that has anything to do with Sales, Logistics, Transportation, or Finance gets impacted at some time. About the only area you can ignore is Human Resources!

Once you have the one sheet summary from each manager, the next task is to;

·         Find the common themes among the various functional areas

These are your leverage points. The things you really want to focus on. These commonalities are the items that your business really finds critical. There will be multiple items that do not align. This is critical information that you want to keep over the life of the project. You will come back to it later!!

Who Cares About Business Processes Anyway?

                A question that always comes up is “Should I use my existing business processes or something future based?”  A lot of debate gets thrown about in the consulting community over this question. You need to ask one very basic question;

·         Do you want to achieve the exact same results with SAP that you achieved with whatever software it is replacing?

If the answer to that question is “YES” then simply draw out your existing business processes and put them in. On the other hand, if you think that investing however much money you spent on SAP should get something better back as a return, then you start by understanding your current processes, figuring out how to make them better, THEN putting in a solution that fits the better processes.

This means you need some kind of business modeling tool. There are many out there to choose from. Many people use traditional process mapping, others use a variation called “Value Stream” mapping.  Whatever method you use, make sure that you involve the business people that own each process as well as any business people that are affected by a process. By involving the business people at each step, you will gain greater alignment and also help them to understand some of the challenges your business faces.

In each case, you typically START with the existing process, then look for places and ways to improve. Once you have the processes drawn out, go over them with a fine tooth comb, pulling out all the redundancies you can. Look for places where you believe technology will create major advances in the next 3 to 5 years. If you see a technology advance, detail one of your IT members to find out everything possible about it. Why do you need to do that?

Think of the explosive Internet growth over the past 10 years. In 1999, business was still thinking about how the Internet might change how business was done. By 2003, major fundamental shifts in business interactions had taken place. Business models changed dramatically and the needs of the business typically did not keep up.  What is there in your business that may benefit by some future thinking in this area??

Instances? What are those??

At some point, you need to think about how many different physical instances of SAP you want to run your business on. This covers a couple of different areas, which include;

·         Release Progression

·         Global Strategy

If you will plan on using the new “Business By Design” solution SAP offers, this discussion is probably not of much interest to you. I still suggest you think about it. As you release product, or find new regulatory requirements, you may not have the luxury of doing everything in your production environment.

Naturally, you will have an instance of SAP that runs production. What else do you need??Depending on the size of your Company, and who is hosting your software, maybe not much, or maybe a lot.

A release progression speaks to the number of different systems you will have to “figure things out” before putting them into your production environment. Many companies follow some sort of progression as that drawn in Figure 1 below;

Figure 1



Sandbox                                          Development                        Assurance                        Production                                                                        

       At the beginning of any new development, the work is done in the Sandbox. This is the “dirtiest” of all the systems as everyone is trying new things. The data may not be current and the programs are subject to change without notice. I know of many companies that do not utilize a sandbox, instead simply using a development system.

The primary difference between a Sandbox and Development system is that there is some form of control in Development. The Release process is beginning to come into play, with significant objects being communicated to all affected parties. The data may still be dirty, and the programs are being changed, but typically everyone involved knows and gets regular communications over what is changing. Think of this system as the place where Unit Testing occurs. There will not be much Integration Testing, although it may be wise to do Integration Testing on larger changes

Assurance is a fairly stable system. It should be a recent copy of the production environment with any changes moved from the Development system in place. Data should be “almost” as clean as production, along with recent transactional data. This is where all teams perform Integration Testing to ensure the solution moving into Production is correct.

Of course, you have Production. This is your operational system. You take your Sales Orders here and process all of your MRP, Finance, etc. transactions in this system. Your Business Intelligence system is fed from Production. No one should be changing programs in this system! Data changes may or may not be made in this system, depending on the regulatory requirements of your industry and the ability to move the data you develop.


·         A footnote here for data movement. SAP has multiple standard methods to move data between systems. The typical problem with all of these methods is that they do NOT move Task List information properly if at all.

Regional or Global?

Then there is the whole “Are we a Regional, Multi-National, or Global?” conversation.  This one can be a really big deal, so make sure you get involved in it. In essence, this determines how many interfaces you will end up with, as well as how redundant your data will be. If your business operates autonomously in each geographic region with no type of cross region business activity, you would think this makes no difference. However, in all cases, the world is quickly becoming flatter. There is less and less distinction from a customer standpoint over how or where a product is made. If it’s on the Internet, I should be able to get it. So, what might this picture look like?



Regional or Multi National                                                                   Global

As you can see from Figure 2, in either a Regional or Multi National approach, each individual business entity has its own set of SAP instances. Remember, each instance has its own Development, Assurance, and Production clients. So, if you ever do need to share information of any kind about your business, you have a couple of options;

·         Buy the MDM (Master Data Management) solution from SAP. They will like you a lot and be very happy that you continue to spend money with them

o   Something to remember here is that, as of this writing, the MDM system does not handle configurable products well. Things such as the classification information is lost in the transfer from the operational system to MDM.

·         Write your own custom interfaces between each Region or Nation’s system. Typically, when you do this you are placing the data into a third party repository. In any event, you will have a lot of interfaces to manage

So the immediate conclusion is to have one global system. This sounds really easy, but can be very difficult to manage. A reality is your business culture may not be ready for this leap. It requires a much higher level of cooperation and integration at the business process level. Be very careful in trying to set this landscape up. It can easily get you into the political battles you may not want to fight!

Modify the Software? We won’t do that Will We?

In almost every case (especially if you put your Legacy business processes in) you will end up modifying the software in some way. It’s going to happen no matter how future thinking you are. SAP has designed a piece of software that is targeted at a wide audience. That means they can’t satisfy everyone’s exact functionality desires. And you will probably be one of those unsatisfied people in some way shape or form. It’s OK; the world won’t end because you have to modify things. Just keep some important points in mind;

1.       Keep the number of modifications to a minimum. Only do the things that really give you a competitive edge over the others in your industry. Don’t modify something because someone tells you “that’s the way it’s always been”.

2.       Have a dedicated release process. This ensures that any changes flow through your Development and Assurance systems with a series of testing procedures. Only after passing those procedures and meeting the business expectations do they get allowed to propagate into your production environment.

3.       Govern what you modify. Have a rigorous process of checks and balances that ensure a modification cannot get into your system without review. Track the name of each modified object in a manner that works well for your business. This will also make your life easier at upgrade time. If you have a Data Governance organization, this fits in really well. It’s all about ensuring that the design of the system stays consistent and stable.

Now, you certainly do not have to do the 3 step program outlined above.      In fact, many companies don’t. The reality is, if you plan on upgrading to a newer release of SAP at any time in the future and have made any modifications to the system, you can plan on additional time, resources, and money added into your project plan. The key is to minimize how many extra hours, people, and money you spend on the project. In the end, you need to understand;

·         What you have modified

·         Where the modifications reside

·         How to test the modifications (Unit, Integration, and Regression)

·         What the business impacts of those modifications are

How you accomplish this is up to you. I strongly suggest you give it a lot of thought before you make your first modification!

Compromise? Why bother?

It’s kind of funny. As soon as the exec’s signed the check to buy SAP, they assumed that life would be grand. You need to bring reality to the situation. Guess what? You will be forced to compromise. Get used to it. Putting in SAP is going to be a series of compromises. The key here is making sure you understand when to compromise and when to stand your ground.

The largest thing to remember is that something sets your company apart from the competition. It may be your salespeople, your product, your process, or something else. Someone in your company believes you have a competitive edge. If your business is successful, you probably do have one. Do you know what it is? Your mission is to make the compromises that protect your competitive edge, yet allow you to “easily” take advantage of new, better, really neat (read license winning for SAP) features as SAP develops them.

This is not an easy task. It means you have to get “plugged into” both your business strategies and the SAP strategies. How do you do that? Build your sphere of influence. It’s important that you develop and use your social networking skills to increase the circle of those you influence. Why? Because this circle of people will introduce you to others, who will in turn (assuming you do a good job of influencing them) introduce you to still more people. Eventually, you will find the people that are in tune with the real strategies going on in your company.

Do not discount internal politics in this endeavor. As much as you like to think politics are not part of the game, it is. You cannot afford to forget this fact of business. Part of this journey involves conflict. You will almost certainly irritate someone along the way. If that person has better political connections than you do, then your mission is over. So, add negotiation and conflict management into your skill set. Find people and places that can help you improve your social skills. They are a critical piece of making a good compromise. After all, you can’t compromise unless you understand both sides of an argument can you?

This takes care of the internal side, but what about the SAP side? How do you know where SAP is going? You need to understand that before you can make recommendations about compromise right?

There are multiple organizations out there that SAP is promoting and active in. Find them. Many are listed right on the SAP website at www.sap.com . Join a user group and start talking to people about what you do with the software and why. The key to this part of the pie is to remember;

·         You get back what you put in

In many user groups, the vast majority of the population is passive. They don’t contribute. Therefore, they feel that the group is not contributing to their success. Wrong!!! The real problem is that the individual is not contributing to their success!! The user group cannot help you unless and until you begin to provide content. Face it; can you get a question answered if you never ask it?

For VC, the one stop shop user group (as of this writing) is The SAP Configuration Workgroup. This group focuses on configuration tasks within SAP. Find them on the web at www.configuration-workgroup.com .

The last piece is to ensure that any compromise you make meets or exceeds the business expectations. If you don’t pay attention to what the business REALLY wants (which is sometimes different than what it SAYS it wants) you have no chance. How do you do this?

Start with your executive strategies and process maps. Remember them? You did them at the beginning of the project and had the business involved. Drag the business back into the conversation surrounding the process. Wave the strategies at them. Use your new found or newly developed social skills.  You are constantly working on your social skills right?? Remember, in the long run, these skills are more important than your technical skills. You don’t accomplish much of anything without people helping you!!

The business won’t like it, but continue to focus on the issue areas and NOT the personalities involved. Keep your mind on the process and the end results that you are trying to achieve. Sometimes, you have to take smaller steps to get from where you are now to where you want to be. It’s kind of like eating an elephant. Try to cram the whole thing in your mouth at one time and you won’t do it. Take it bite by bite, and before you know it the job is done.


We don’t Need any Help do we??

                Think about it. Does your business have all the knowledge and skill regarding any piece of software you own? If you are a software producer, then maybe you know about the software you produce, but do you know everything about SAP? Probably not. There are a lot of folks out in the big, wide world that do. Or at least, they claim to know about it.

                You will hire consultants at some point in time. Again, it’s a matter of how much time, people, and money you want to spend. If you take the time to get your people the training, they still won’t have the practical experience. So find someone that does. It’s a lot cheaper in the long run. But be very, very careful…

                You see, there are firms out there that will tell you they really understand VC. The reality is there are different levels of understanding. Can you afford to get someone who is learning at your expense?  It is your job to sort the wheat from the chaff. The goal is to find a consulting firm that you can reach a true partnership with. This firm will treat your business as if it is their own. They will want you to succeed. They will tell you things you don’t want to hear. They will become a part of your team, not just for the short duration of the project, but for years to come.

There are a couple of tactics you can take to ensure that any potential consultants become your partners. There are the standard interview questions as well as some targeted towards VC skills. I would ask a series of questions that go along the lines of;

·         How did you achieve your skill set in VC?

·         How long have you been implementing VC projects?

·         How many VC projects have you taken end to end?

·         Who are your successful VC clients, and can I talk to them?

·         What professional organizations do they belong to?

o   If they are not in the SAP Configuration Workgroup, that is a potential red flag but should not, by itself, preclude you from hiring them.

·         Most importantly, have a set of business issues that require VC solutions. Present at least one to the consultant and ask for solutions. Don’t tell them how many solutions…Why?

o   The best consultants will know that you cannot provide them with enough detail in an interview to really “solve” the problem. However, they will know enough to give you at least 3 potential solutions or concepts they would take to resolve it.

Think long and hard before you make your decision.  In many cases, the solutions these partners provide will be with you for years to come. Make sure you get a good one!!


We didn’t ask for Government Intervention did we?

                Hopefully, you didn’t go to your elected officials in government and get them involved in your SAP project. You do, however, need to have SOME form of governing body in place before you go too much farther. In the information age, data is a strategic asset. The sad thing is; most companies don’t yet realize this fact.

                Look around you. Examine the data you work with every day. If some of that data got into your competitors hands, would it be beneficial to your business? Probably not. What if you chose not to care about the meanings in your data, or the redundancy of your data? Would your customers understand the data you present to them in order to specify your product? Do they see the same things no matter where in the world they go? Do your people even have the same understanding of the data? Usually, if the data has multiple representations or meanings, it does nothing but add expense, not value to your business. Think about how hard it may be to get fast, accurate business reporting. Isn’t that what decisions are based on? Without accurate, understandable data, those reports are worthless and will lead you to making potentially wrong decisions.

Do not ignore the value of data standards and then the process of Data Governance. If you do so, you place your business at risk!

                I suggest that you ask your executives some questions. Things like;

·         Do they understand the value of the data within their organization?

·         Can they talk about the issues they face in the same way anywhere throughout the organization?

·         Are they happy with the quality of reporting they get?

·         Can they introduce change in their product mix as quickly as they desire?

If you get anything other than firm exclamations about a common understanding of the strategic value of data, you have a selling job to do. Does this sound familiar?? You thought you were a project manager not a salesperson didn’t you?? A common misconception.

Getting Started with Standards

                Before you can sell, you need to understand what it is you will be selling. That means you probably have some research to do. I would suggest that you start your journey at a website called www.dmreview.com . This website is the most comprehensive discussion of data management practices that I have yet found. Spend some time looking at the articles and documents within this site and you will find plenty of links to other research portals. Do not forget the importance of looking across the enterprise when you do this. You can begin your focus on just “VC stuff” but the real sell of data standards and governance encompasses a lot more than just product data.

                Before you begin your sales pitch, go back to those strategies you gathered. Take a harder look at them. Boil them down to individual data elements, and then look at those data elements under a microscope. Typically you will find that there is inconsistency in the data that causes a strategy to be impossible to execute. In other cases, the reporting against the strategy does not give the owner of that strategy the information they need to make decisions. This is your lever!!

                Once you have found the root cause of the issue, it will usually be easy to identify the anomalies within the data that could be corrected. Expand your scope. Make sure you take a look for the same kind of anomalies in other situations. I’m sure you will find it. Once you have, you can now demonstrate how “standardizing” the data will allow the issue to be resolved. That’s good, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.

                You fix the problem then go back to your desk. What’s to prevent the data from becoming inconsistent again, causing the exact same issue? Until you introduce Governance, nothing.

                Governance is nothing more than a continuous process of measuring, changing, and enforcing your standards. It is critical that you build a process that is flexible enough to allow change. After all, your business is going to change. Why shouldn’t your processes?

                In some cases, a brand new organization within the business is created to manage the Governance process. In others, the process is managed by people who now have more time available because they are not resolving problems all the time. Either way, think through who you want involved. Make sure they are passionate about keeping the data under control. Ensure you have a couple of good salespeople in the mix. Over time, your executives will always question the value of “wasting time on this data stuff”. You will have to convince them multiple times over the course of years.


But Mom, I don’t WANT to change!!!

                You made it through all the easy stuff, now comes the hard part…Managing the change that will occur in your business.

                This is the single most overlooked part of any SAP project that I have seen over the years. We continue to forget that people don’t LIKE change. They are comfortable in their lives. It feels good to do the same things over and over. People know what to do and how to do it. In comes SAP and what they thought they knew just flew out the window. They have to learn a new set of skills.

                In the United States, a common saying is “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks”. I beg to differ. Even a person that has multiple years in a function can be taught how and why they need to change. It’s just not easy and it takes a lot longer than anyone wants to believe.

                You will encounter resistance to change at all levels in the business. From the manufacturing worker all the way up to your Board of Directors. Why are people resistant and what can you do about it?

                The most common reason people resist is that they either;

·         Don’t understand the benefits they can receive, or

·         Don’t believe the benefits they can receive

It’s time to get that salesperson buried deep within you back out again.

Find out what people are expecting. Why they are expecting it. What they believe the benefits are. While you’re at it, find out what they believe the downside is as well. This is all critical data that you will need to overcome resistance. You really must ensure that you understand a person’s feelings and emotions about an issue before you can try and deal with it. Take the time to really talk to them and make them feel their issues are being considered in a serious manner, not just to “check a box” that they were talked to. Make sure you ask clarifying questions. Write down the answers. As has been stated by multiple people, ensure that you understand someone’s position before you try to sell them yours.

In the end, you need to focus on what’s in it for them. People respond when they know they get something back. You will most likely be asking them to give something up. When you give something up, don’t you expect something in return? Why would you think people in your business feel any different just because some executive mandated “Install SAP”??

Why should I compromise?

                A large part of change management is compromise. In every part of the business, there will be “winners and losers”. Some managers will see themselves as winners because they do something like reduce headcount, improve processes, save money, etc. On the other hand, there are managers who need to add staff or have the cycle time of their processes increase. They see themselves as losers.

                A key point to remember here is that the overall winner needs to be the business as a whole. Not one or two functional silos within that business. So, that means it’s your job (again) to go convince someone to “take one on the chin” and endure a temporary setback. How can you do that?

                How do you like it when someone wants you to do something you don’t want to? What emotions do you feel? This is important to remember when you are dealing with people who feel “on the short end of the stick”. You need to do 2 primary things;

·         Keep your mouth shut and listen to what they have to say

·         Acknowledge their feelings about the issues they bring up

If you can do these two seemingly simple things, you go a long way to defusing the situation. After you get true understanding of the issue, then (and only then) can you go about finding ways to overcome it. Look back to the value stream maps and the business engagement sessions you had early on. In many cases, you will find something there that allows you to focus on an improvement in a up or downstream part of the business which, in turn, has longer term benefits to the area feeling like a loser.

In the end, it’s all about getting people to see the big picture. That means that you have to understand it first! Remember that you cannot sell something you don’t believe in. If you are in the position of selling something you don’t believe in, question your reasons for doing so. You may be driven by circumstances pushed on you by your executives. In that case, you need to go back to those wonderful people and try to make them see the error of their ways. This is hard to do, and needs to be done using dollar amounts you can quantify and justify.

Is that light at the end of the tunnel attached to a train?

Part of this exercise will be training. Remember, there are many ways to learn and many ways to receive training. Not everyone learns in the same manner or at the same pace. It will always take longer than you think. Make sure that you sell this starting way back to that first conversation with your boss when he told you “We are going to put in the Variant Configuration module of SAP, and you are going to run the project!” By the way, the VC training will be one of, if not the longest lead time item you have. It also requires some specific things out of your people. Make sure you have people who;

·         Will be with your company for at least 5 years

o   It will take a year or so (at minimum) before these people are really proficient. You want to ensure you get at least 3 or 4 years of productive work out of them.

·         Think abstractly

o   SAP VC is an exercise in abstract thought. The concepts of object oriented programming come into play on a regular basis. The people you have in this role need to be able to grasp those types of concepts quickly.

·         Are proactive in seeking out learning

o   These people will have to supplement their knowledge every day. There is no place you can go that will teach a person how to deal with every possible configuration scenario. The people you have in this role need to be able to seek out and find their own solutions.

When it comes to VC work, I can’t stress enough how different each person will react. I do believe that anyone that WANTS to do this work can. After all, I do it and I’m certainly not a brain surgeon! You need to design a training program that accommodates different learning styles. Whatever you do, don’t just send a person off to SAP training and expect them to come back a fully trained, functioning professional capable of performing miracles. SAP training can be good and it can be bad. It all depends on the trainer AND the trainee’s attitude.

I cannot stress enough just how much attitude plays in this game. Some of the concepts are abstract, and a person that believes they can’t grasp abstract concepts won’t. It’s that simple. However, I’ve seen people (I’m one of them) that flunked algebra who grasped the abstract nature of class hierarchies in no time at all. In every case, it was all about attitude. Sometimes it’s an attitude that says “don’t tell me this can’t be done”. In other cases it may be “I can’t afford not to learn this”. It really doesn’t matter. The individuals need to have the attitude and motivation to WANT to learn abstract concepts. Will some be better than others? Sure they will. That happens in every type of learning out there. You need to be ready for it and be able to adjust.

The reality is part of that adjustment may be that certain people just cannot do the function.  For whatever reason, they choose not to progress in their career. My advice to you is to develop objective measures that allow you to set criteria and measure people against them. Then use them. Be prepared to let people go or move them to different parts of the company. The VC area is a critical resource that, done right, doesn’t have to be a big team. Just a few of the right people can make a huge difference. Your job is to find the right ones. One method is to ask some different questions of people. Questions such as;

·         Do you prefer to play chess or checkers?

·         Do you prefer to play role based games or shoot ‘em ups?

·         Do you want a map or will you just find your way?

·         What kind of art or music do you prefer?

Do you get the flavor of the questioning? It’s simply a method of determining what a person enjoys, abstractions or absolutes. Go for the abstractions every time.

It’s Alive!!!

                Well you made it. You did all the right things, navigated all the rough roads and the system is live!! Your boss is happy and you are thinking you get to go back to your old job and read more emails. So there you are, minding your own business reading the latest joke in your in basket when all of the sudden someone runs up to your desk and screams;  

The Sky is falling! The Sky is falling!

                So you look up and the sky is still in the same old place. It’s really not that different with problems in SAP. Once you go live, every issue suddenly becomes the most critical thing since the invention of the Internet. Of course, every issue has to be solved last week too. The reality is, not every issue will shut you down. Look for the things that disrupt your customers first and get them solved. After all, they are the people paying the bills!!

                One of the largest things I see people doing wrong is trying to solve problems without a process to do so. There is a sequence of events that you need to define that shows people the places to look and items to look for. I know not every problem is the same. Most of the time, the data elements involved are.  Let’s face it; there are a finite number of data elements involved in VC. Yes, they are used in multiple ways, but it typically comes down to the same set. If it’s not in that set, then you have probably customized something somewhere.

                I’d love to be able to tell you “look here, then here, then here” but I have to take the typical consultant cop out. I have no idea how you implemented your model and the range of possibilities is just too large to make a “one size fits all” problem solving process work. It’s up to you. But figure it out for your model, then document it and teach it.

                I like to draw it in a decision tree when I teach this. The thing to remember is that people absorb processes like this at different paces. In other words, people learn at different rates. You need to be patient and make sure you speak in ways that get your message across.  Find analogies to everyday problems in people’s lives and try to explain the SAP problem in those terms. For example, let’s say you have a problem with a set of characteristics not appearing in the proper place at the proper time. The person you are working with loves cars and works on the mechanical issues with cars all the time. In this case, you would ask them “what thinking do you do to diagnose the car not starting”. They will go through a litany of things like “check the gas, then the spark” etc.  Your job is to then explain that “checking the gas” is like making sure all the characteristics are in the class. “Checking the spark” is like making sure the characteristics have object dependencies assigned to them.

                The point of this little exercise is to get it through their head that it’s just another problem. They solve problems every day using a process. Showing them the relationship between their existing process and the different data elements used in the SAP problem solving process will help them make the connections between objects much faster.

                Oh yes, sometimes this little trick needs to be applied in the other direction as well. You may have an operations manager that is irate because his demands are not exploding in the way he thinks they should. In fact, it may not be the master data that is at fault. It may be one of those compromises you made along the way. So, your job is to show him the compromise using an analogy that he can relate to.  This means you first have to calm him down, find out a little bit about him, and then draw the analogy. Don’t forget to bring those process maps and strategies back out. As you make your point, use the analogy to make him see how it fits into the process or strategy.

Change the masses?? How do I do that?

Sometimes, the issues that come up are problems with the master data. No matter how good you or your people are, you’re only human and will make a mistake. Sometimes, those mistakes cover a lot of territory in SAP. For example, you have a part in a lot of different Bills of Materials (BOM’s) and the quantity in each of those BOM’s is wrong. Maybe it is 1 but it should have been 2. You need to fix them in a hurry. It will take too long to key them in one at a time. There are multiple ways to do this. In this specific example, you could use either transaction CS20 or CEWB.

There are many different mass maintenance methods available to you. It’s a veritable alphabet soup of transaction codes that would require a separate book to describe. Here are some of the transactions you may use with a very brief description of each;

·         CA75 – Replace production resources and tools

·         CA85 – Replace work centers

·         CA95 – Change reference operation sets

·         CS20 – Change BOM data

·         C223 – Change production versions

·         CEWB – Engineering Workbench, change routings or BOM’s

·         CLMM – Change classification

·         MM17 – Change material master data

·         MM50 – Extend materials

Then there are other tools such as the Legacy System Migration Workbench, SAP GUI Scripting, and plenty of third party bolt on’s you can find.

Just remember. The speed with which you can change things is the same speed you can mess them up! You really need to understand a few things about the system before you start using these tools. You need to understand;

·         How each object is used, conceptually, logically, and physically in a single thread

·         If you are using Engineering Change Management (ECM) how that factors into the object state

·         How each object you are changing impacts related documents (such as sales orders) in the system

·         What will happen to those related documents when you make your change

·         How you will manage those results

·         Who should you communicate the changes to

Think long and hard before you click that “execute” button. I strongly advocate taking each change into a development or assurance system and trying it there before you actually do it in production.  Have a back-up plan just in case things go wrong. What steps will you need to take, how will you execute them, and when do you need to “head for the hills” to escape the angry mobs.

You want me to change what??

                In this day and age, business models change rapidly. The business that cannot adapt to change will die. What does that mean to you? It means you need to be thinking down the road and deciding how you can adapt your product model to the changing business needs. You didn’t really believe that once you put it in it would stay stagnant until the “next big software” came out did you?

                If you were lucky, or your bosses all think about the future, you have been thinking about how to build flexibility into your model from day 1. There’s another part of the pie to consider though. What about SAP? Doesn’t their business model change too? And when it does, what do they do?

                They change the software.

                You need to stay on top of those changes. Give them credit, if you know where to plug in, SAP is pretty good about telling you what to expect in the coming years. Yes, sometimes you really need to go out on a limb and try to read between the lines. This can make you feel like a gypsy fortune teller sometimes, dumping out some type of arcane magic spell to decipher the jumble of acronyms and marketing hype. That’s the easy part though. The harder part is convincing your business that you’ve read the tea leaves correctly.

The burning question is, how do you even begin to find the tea leaves to read, much less interpret them? There are several manners in which you can find out information on SAP’s direction.

·         Join the Configuration Work-Group

·         Ask your account rep (don’t laugh, it works sometimes)

·         Attend one of the many conferences that SAP puts on

o   Sapphire

o   Tech Ed

o   Etc

·         Join your closest user group such as ASUG or DSAG

Once you hear all the information, you have to digest what it means to your business. Once you get that done, run it by someone you trust to make sure your thinking is right. Then begin holding that thinking up against the strategies you have from the business. Remember though, those strategies may be out of date. Go get some new ones if you have to. Make sure you are thinking 3-5 years down the road, not using today’s processes.

Then you get to sell it. In many cases, this means you have to find the primary influencer within your company, and then influence them over a period of years. This can be very hard, but the payoffs can be huge. The reality of the payoffs here is that you get the best things for your company PLUS you get some serious learning’s about yourself as well. Don’t think so? Try it sometime. I think you’ll be surprised.

You’ve been searching for a nugget somewhere in all this. My suggestion to you is that you just found it. Namely that the largest single thing you get out of putting VC into your company is personal growth. Those of us that choose to continue growing will continue to prosper, regardless of the circumstances.

How you choose to move forward is up to you. There are 3 basic choices;

1.       Lead

2.       Follow

3.       Get out of the way

I hope your personal journey is a profitable and successful one!

About the author;

Steve Schneider has been working with configuration technology since 1993. Although he has worked with multiple different configurators, he has focused on SAP since 1997. Steve has been an avid motorcyclist since 1970 and can also be found searching the world for good microbrew beers. Steve can be reached via email  at xr1200x@fnwusers.com


Copyright Steve Schneider 2008. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced or distributed in any form without express written permission of the author.