Setting the Stage for Success
Managing client expectations is critical for the success of any SAP implementation project.
When clients have unrealistic expectations around project scope, budgets, timelines, or solution capabilities, it leads to dissatisfaction, even if consultants deliver projects on-time and on-budget. Unmet expectations have led many high-profile companies like Hershey, Lidl, and Revlon to file lawsuits against SAP consulting firms worth billions of dollars related to failed SAP projects.
Consultants should employ strategies such as spending more time aligning stakeholders during the sales process, documenting assumptions and risks early on, establishing clear governance models, and planning for rigorous testing and training.
Ongoing communication and deep collaboration are fundamental. Leading SAP implementation partners use mechanisms like executive steering committees, regular project status meetings, interactive prototyping, and comprehensive change management programs.
Equipping clients with the right expectations as projects begin is absolutely essential. Keeping complex, multi-year transformation programs on track requires proactively managing stakeholder expectations throughout the entire journey.
Set Clear Expectations Upfront
The best time to set clear expectations with clients is during the initial discussions and project planning phase. Trying to realign understanding once projects are already underway leads to finger pointing and erodes trust.
Consultants should work with clients to first establish a vision for how the project will benefit them. This will be somewhat fuzzy and unrealistic to begin with, but as these discussions progress they can lead to clearer shared expectations around the purpose of the project which can be refined further.
Consultants should facilitate detailed scoping sessions with clients early on to create shared understanding of process and functionality in scope. Once these are established they can be made more tangible: leading to a series of functional and technical requirements which must be met.
Once clear expectations for the scope of the project are established, consultants should develop an integrated project plan that sets expectations for project phases, milestones, roles and responsibilities. Provide guidance on realistic budgets and timelines for projects based on SAP recommended benchmarks for implementation duration and cost by module, user count, and business complexity.
Document Project Expectations
Even with thorough upfront planning, ERP projects have underlying assumptions, external dependencies, and potential risks. Undocumented expectations open the door for misaligned realities between business partners imagining one solution while developers build another. Before long, teams get mired in scope creep trying to bridge gaps through endless patches.
Maintaining a master document that defines shared expectations can help avoid surprise down the road. Key items to cover include prerequisites expected of the client, the extent of dependence on any third party software or integrations, potential security and performance impacts, and a shared understanding of organizational change management risks.
Establish A Change Request Process
Establish a clear and efficient change request process to enable the relationship to flexibly adapt to real-world influences on the project while also avoiding scope creep.
The process should outline change request categories like reasonable timeline extensions, additional functionality, budget increases etc. and map those to specific approval processes based on the extent of the change. For substantial changes, recreate shared scoping documents to detail new expectations around revised timelines, costs, resources and impacts across upstream or downstream processes.
Beyond technical implementation, achieving desired business outcomes hinges on user adoption and process adherence. A structured program focused on people, process and technology changes helps drive the right behaviors
Before making any changes, conduct an assessment analyzing the company’s ability to change across dimensions like leadership alignment, tolerance for change, training proficiency, communication etc. This diagnosis spotlights areas needing reinforcement for readiness both at the start of the program as well as pinpointing where more support may be useful across business units during rollout.
Recognize those respected influencers throughout the organization. Those that embrace the program’s goals rather than resist change. Engage them as champions early in the process to help explain concepts and related benefits with colleagues, and continue advocating throughout the project. They will help confront skepticism with peer reinforcement alongside executive champions of the project.
Consultants must deliver tailored hands-on training for all users focused on new processes, policies and system functionality per audience and role. For task workers, provide job aids, quick reference guides, interactive e-learning and other tools that make grasping new procedures easy and intuitive. Knowledge transfer is essential for cementing new practices and reducing support calls, and ultimately delivering added-value to the business on its investment.
Communicate Early and Often
SAP projects involve many interdependent moving pieces so frequent and transparent communication across the entire program team is vital. Best practice is to lean towards over-communication rather than leaving partners guessing.
Implement a project governance schedule that includes both weekly cross-functional status meetings as well as regular steering committee meetings for executives. Appoint respected client team members to lead each forum. The project manager then needs to deliver regular status reports covering items like timeline progress, milestone achievement, budget impacts, risk adjustments, and upcoming decisions required.
Consultants should always be transparent with client counterparts about potential issues as soon as they identify them, such as timeline delays, feature gaps identified, additional data conversion needs and others. Jointly brainstorm options and corrective actions along with implications of each. Align on next steps once decisions are made. Ignoring or delaying dealing with known issues inevitably hurts credibility down the line.
Provide tailored messaging and communication channels for various business unit leaders, subject matter experts from different functions, end-users, and supporting teams like business network partners. Customized communication helps engage each group in supporting the transformation.
Involve Clients in the Process
Delivering the project using an agile and iterative approach with continuous collaboration via input, feedback, previews and testing ensures solutions match client expectations. During scoping and also through configuration phases, clients should be frequently engaged to gather input and feedback, rather than only updating them at major milestones.
Gather their perspective through Joint Application Development sessions, validation of specs, user acceptance testing cycles. Hold preview workshops early to follow periods of quick change where users can see software come to life in a context they can understand.
Clients should experience other detailed hands-on training and role-based demos well before the Go-Live stage. This allows stakeholders and end-users to visualize final business processes and solution functionality firsthand. They can provide extremely important input if capabilities do not match expectations and get excited seeing the future solution at work.
This is also the most direct way to align reality versus perceptions: through hands-on validation. As functionality gets configured, clients should continuously test via system walkthroughs, user acceptance testing on real scenarios, integration testing , etc. Rather than waiting until final validation cycles, early testing reveals gaps that can be addressed on the fly instead of dealing with late-stage surprises which almost always lead to delays or disappointment.
Realizing Project Success
Ambitious SAP implementations inherently carry uncertainty and risk. However, clearly defining project scope and requirements, coupled with continuous collaboration with all stakeholders preempts many potential pitfalls. When clients actively participate in bringing new systems to life rather than passively waiting for delivery, they are far more likely to adopt the changed system, leading to better business outcomes for the client.
The extent and frequency of communication activities may seem excessive, but experience proves expectations meet reality faster by focussing intensely on transparency before and during the project. Addressing issues raised immediately will keep timelines and budgets intact and promote trust between consulting teams and business users. Scope and expectations align more tightly when all parties participate in regular progress reviews, prototype demonstrations and user testing cycles collaboratively.
The technical launch is an important milestone but not the end goal. Training users on enhanced workflows, system functionality and updated policies ensures adoption of new practices. Partnering with change champions throughout the organization also helps reinforce continuity messages lowering resistance. Comprehensive organizational readiness coupled with allocation of resources for intuitive support substantially reduces business disruption.
SAP projects with informed stakeholders fully engaged in the process measurably increase the ability of consultants to meet expectations and project goals. Consultants and customers can only reach their preferred destination if they use the same map to get there.
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