A digital transformation such as the changeover to a new ERP solution is always a great challenge for companies. ERP systems play a key role in companies because they are used across all areas and levels of the company to control business processes. They thus form the hub of the many IT systems and applications that communicate with each other. Changes to ERP systems are therefore not only very complex projects in themselves, but errors, problems or insufficiently communicated changes immediately affect a large number of users. This can have direct negative effects on the operative business.

An ERP transformation is not a project that can be located in IT alone. It affects the entire company. Of course IT plays an important role in planning and implementation, but the involvement of the business departments as direct participants, who create requirements and validate results, is also very important. Since architecture and process design are always strategic decisions, the third area is the higher organizational level of the company, which is directly involved in the transformation.

SAP Activate – Framework for Project Management

SAP provides the Activate Methodology as a methodological framework for the project management of S/4HANA implementations. Activate is a basic outline plan that consists of a four-phase model. The individual phases are Prepare, Explore, Realize and Deploy. The Prepare phase includes more general, preparatory tasks. The project management takes over the coordination and creates a schedule. In the Explore phase, the delta requirements are determined in fit-gap workshops, meaning that the existing system landscape is compared with SAP’s best practices for the relevant industry. In the Realize phase, the defined requirements are implemented. Project management must ensure that requirements are prioritized and changes are implemented, that new requirements are assigned to the right teams, and that developments at interfaces and dependencies between work packages are kept in view and coordinated. In the final phase called Deploy, the roll-out and transition to operations takes place. SAP Activate is basically a waterfall model; the phases run one after the other. However, this procedure does not necessarily have to be followed in this way. An adapted, agile approach can certainly have advantages. A cyclical repetition of the phases in waves or sprints is useful.

Complexity of an ERP transformation

All these tasks have to be managed in a dynamic, and therefore complex, project context. Factors such as constantly new requirements and requests for adaptation demand flexibility in planning and focusing on the next steps while at the same time keeping an eye on the project goals. Within the company, ERP experts are often already working at full capacity due to parallel projects and support tasks from day-to-day business, making resource planning more difficult. In addition, many external consultants involved in the project and the changes in the team not only make resource planning more difficult, but any on- and off-boarding also involves significant effort. ERP projects might also be quite explosive in a company and thus a good breeding ground for discontent among employees, which must be actively counteracted.

Project management and coaching as success factors of an ERP transformation

The demands on project management in an ERP transformation project are high. In addition to the classic tasks of a project manager, the challenges described above must be mastered. The complex process of an ERP platform change requires from the project management a flexible prioritization and regular re-evaluation of the necessary time expenditure and the available resources in the company. Without this, the time frame can otherwise be quickly blown up if too much effort is invested too early in detailed questions.

Equally important is proactive change management and early and regular communication. The project management must ensure that the individual areas of the company are actively involved in the transformation at an early stage. It is helpful to win over employees at all levels for the changes by means of coaching and to create a positive basic mood. At the same time, it is important that the management uses the available resources correctly and sensibly. It is important to ensure that roles and decision-making processes are defined, but above all that they are understood and lived and that affected areas can actively participate in shaping the project as stakeholders.

Sometimes the effort required for coaching the members of the project team is very high and is often underestimated at the beginning of the project. However, this is one of the key tasks. Thus, project management, methodology, change management and coaching are intertwined and in combination ensure the success of the project.

Hybrid project management in practice

As a practical example, Till Hauser, consultant at mgm consulting partners, cites an SAP implementation project at a large retail company. He accompanied the process as a coach. The core of the transformation was the introduction and innovation of various SAP modules. In the course of this project it became clear how important it is to react flexibly to the many individual circumstances. The approach was based on SAP Activate and the agile approach according to Scrum. Basically, a methodical framework model makes sense, but at the same time there must be individual leeway to adapt it to the respective project and the conditions in the company. Preliminary projects for S4HANA implementations also play a role here. These should not only be used to be technically ready, but also to test which agile methods can be used successfully. This creates the framework conditions for the actual S/4HANA implementation. In this way, the bridge is built between the methodical approach of SAP-Activate and an agile, practical approach. This hybrid technique has proven successful in practice in digital transformation projects.