About one-to-many EMEA SAPPHIREs

There has been some hubbub (Dennis Howlett collects some comments here, Josh Greenbaum more positively here, SearchSAP story here) about SAP’s decision to move from a single SAPPHIRE event in EMEA (2008 was in Berlin) to a series of events around the continents.  From my experience working around the world — and based on no “inside SAP” knowledge whatsoever — I’m not surprised by what Mike Prosceno conveyed to Dennis.  EMEA (and APJ and LA) customers often pine for:

a closer-to-home experience, in local language, one that is more intimate, and provides better opportunities for networking with peers, but that also continues to deliver SAP executive insight, partner participation and, where possible, user group participation

We’ve had similar mini-SAPPHIRES (to steal from Josh’s headline) in different geographies — I’m most familiar with the SAP Forums that SAP Brazil puts on (2008 here, 2007 here).  The attractions of local language and partner access are pretty obvious.  Furthermore, I’m not sure how this could be perceived as obviously a cost reduction measure.  If anything, on its face this approach will require more commitment and coordination, never mind resources. 

Finally, whenever I’ve presented at such events, I feel like I’ve made real, in-depth contact with our customers.  I believe that they feel that way as well.  IMO, going to where our customers live — and not asking them to come to us — is a shrewd move.

Perils of being a “brand protector”

I’m sure you all have seen the bad publicity SAP Services got via a news story on Bloomberg about the Shane Company bankruptcy filing.  Josh Greenbaum picked apart the piece pretty comprehensively (here) and the Shane Company itself came out with provided a statement that SAP can use to clear the air (NOTE: struck out section reworded in bold to clarify):

Press coverage resulting from the Shane Company Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing has unfairly characterized SAP as the cause of Shane Company’s cost overruns based on the software applications licensed from SAP in 2005. Project implementation cost overruns were caused by a failed implementation process utilizing multiple third-party industry experts.  After not meeting expectations, the Shane Company contracted SAP Services to restart the project which they played a key role in implementing, stabilizing, and further enhancing the system.  In fact, we have a strong business relationship with SAP and will continue working with them as we emerge from our Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

It is a different consulting business when you’re the services arm of a product company, especially one with a prominent brand.  SAP Services must be vigilant to ensure that our brand value protection efforts aren’t in vain.  It is tough enough to get projects back on track without then seeing stories that suggest we weren’t effective.

Example of saying “yes, but” to customers…

Per some recent comments and posts (here and here) on discussing responsiveness to customers, Henning Kagermann related a story on a call that I had completely forgotten about.  I’m certain that it has been told publicly before, but I’ve disguised it a bit just in case…

In the early 1990’s, SAP was approached by a delegation of firms w/r/t industry-specific improvements to R/2.  They had a list of demands that they wanted to see implemented in R/2.  Fair enough.  That industry was perhaps the core of SAP’s success to that time, so why not do it?  Except that SAP was in the midst of developing its next generation product, R/3.  We also wanted to expand our footprint to other industries and markets.  There was no way we could do R/3 and satisfy much of that list of demands in the current product.

If you know anything about the history and success of SAP, you can guess the answer.  We chose to spend the preponderance of our efforts on R/3.  While some of the key demands were satisfied, most were deferred in favor of ensuring that R/3 got to market.

This example illustrates the challenge well.  Most of the time you should listen to your customers so you can satisfy and delight them.  But listening for too well for too long can mean that you wake up one day and find that you’ve become a no-growth “legacy” business.  Sometimes you need to say “yes, but.”

Leo Apotheker interview on Charlie Rose

Leo recently gave an interview to Charlie Rose with Andrew McAfee of Harvard Business School (video here, transcript here at the bottom of the page).  I’ve live “replay” blogged the interview below.

  • Oops… Charlie both mangles Leo’s name and implies that SAP is based in Paris.
  • Leo’s description of IT as the “central nervous system” is useful.  In my mind, I think of configuring, coding, and implementing enterprise software as creating a virtual model of the enterprise.  Extending Leo’s metaphor would mean that such projects are “virtually wiring” an enterprise.
  • About 2 minutes in, Andrew McAfee gave about the best concise explanation I’ve heard of how IT can be used to differentiate competitively (and why it isn’t a commodity).
  • About 9 minutes in, there’s an interesting discussion about barriers to entry and how they have little to do with technology.  As Leo says, “sometimes there’s a spark”, but most often the technology becomes widely available and commoditized very quickly.  The differentiation is in the richness of the ecosystem and the melding of business and technological expertise.
  • About 13 minutes in, Leo spends sometime talking about business networks and their emerging role in innovation (Procter and Gamble as an example).  He also talks about the parallel role of process and human collaboration, which we tend to talk about separately.  This last point hits one of my pet projects — encouraging more tightly coupling process, project, and knowledge management.  Too often KM is divorced from the “way we work.”
  • Finally, Andrew McAfee alludes to the boundaries between “designed” and “emergent” processes/structures, but he never explores the topic in depth.  To me, the debate between design and emergence advocates isn’t that useful — too much either/or.  Exploring the boundaries and potential co-existence between these approaches is where I want to go.

P.S. — I think someone clarified SAP’s location for Charlie via his earpiece at the very end…

The headline shows how big SAP has become

The other transition” is quite a headline for this piece on the pending accession of Léo Apotheker to the CEO role.  Pairing the SAP transition with the inauguration of Barack Obama says a lot about where SAP is today.  The piece itself is perceptive and worth a read, especially about how SAP has avoided concocting

a recipe for cloning the head of a corporation so the body can stay the same. But SAP, which has practised this type of “smooth” transition in different forms since it was founded in 1972, has so far avoided this pitfall. Each of its bosses has been quite different from the previous one, as the firm’s needs have changed. 

There are a few other points in the piece that warrant comment:

  1. At SAP, succession planning is done about as well as I’ve seen it anywhere.  While the succession role may not materialize per the original design, I’ve found the process useful in planning my career, as well as helping my team plan theirs.
  2. Léo is very keen on an “internationalist outlook.”  Global perspective and experience has become a prerequisite for SAP executives.
  3. Many of SAP’s current and pending organizational changes are all about executing against the goal highlighted in this line from the article: “[M]aking real money from all the new products it has developed.” 

On keeping top talent…

Back after a bit of year-end organizational fun and games…  so this Investor’s Business Daily article on talent retention posted on Yahoo (here) is particularly relevant.   This quote captures the challenge of managing top talent in a downturn:

Even with the economy slumping, employment consulting firms say tracking, coddling and nurturing young turks is vitally important….  “We think some of these best and brightest, if you don’t communicate with them and engage them, they’re going to be looking for their own bailout package,” said Steve Krupp, partner and leader of the executive talent management practice at Delta Organization & Leadership.

SAP’s Top Talent program is mentioned prominently, especially the fellowship program.  I had an opportunity to leverage the fellowship program, both as a fellow and as a hosting organization.   For me, the fellowship experience was by far the best part of the Top Talent program to date.  As Paul Orleman from SAP notes:

The key to such a program, experts say, is that it has to be embraced by the CEO on down. If not, it’s all too easy for a key employee in one division to be pigeonholed.  To help avoid that, SAP offers some of its highest prospects six-month fellowships in another line of the company’s business, usually in a different geography.

Other parts of the SAP Top Talent approach aren’t as mature — the marketplace and networking initiatives are uneven at best.  However, there’s not doubting the prominence of the effort; the program is part of the Office of the CEO.  I’ll be curious to see how it evolves in 2009, given the pending CEO transition.

Over-reading the SAP Headcount numbers

Tom Steinert-Threlkeld is reaching a bit with his analysis of how SAP is reacting to the economic crisis (here).   As he notes, SAP has implemented a hiring freeze.  But the Americas evidence he proffers doesn’t show that SAP is “trimming headcount” — or at least that the trimming is driven by the financial crisis.  Three questions come to mind:

  1. Given the SAP turnover numbers Tom cites (9%), isn’t the 165 net HC loss is negligible (about 1.5% of the >10000 pre-BOBJ headcount)?  
  2. Wouldn’t realizing synergies from the Business Objects acquisition allow the Americas — where the majority of BOBJ resources reside — to take its time in backfilling such turnover?
  3. FInally, don’t these Q3-2008 YTD numbers cover only about 15 days of the financial crisis?

IMO, Tom is over-reading Between the Lines :-)

PM Quote of the Day — Vince Lombardi

Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

When I was younger, I never got the point of practice.  Sure, I knew that it would get me in shape and knock of the rust off.  However, I never got the idea that practice would help me perform better under pressure.  Too many times I found myself over-thinking a situation because I hadn’t practiced enough to make it automatic.  I finally started to realize that realistic practice in all sorts of endeavors — in particular, public speaking and presenting — helped to take the edge off along with the rust.

Practice?...  Youre talkin about practice?

Practice?... We're talkin' about practice?

Lombardi’s point also applies to how we test our processes and systems.  Too often I’ve seen customers and consultants assume away difficulties in their desire to save testing time and money.  Even worse, this saving “spasm” usually comes towards the end of the project, just as the testing was about to get serious.

The best testing practice (so to speak) I’ve seen came at a global firm that does dirty and dangerous work.  As you might imagine, that company is very conscious of safety and quality.  That firm called their last round of testing not integration or user acceptance, but “business simulation.”  Business simulation didn’t simply involve folks following a script.  We brought the system, interfaces, and data up like go-live, then encouraged the users to go “do their jobs” and call support if something went wrong.

Sure, such an approach is expensive.  But how much is that peace of mind that comes with a no-holds-barred validation that the system and its support conformed to requirements worth?

New Strategy & Projects Blog

I’m a regular presenter at the Strategy & Projects conferences, so it was good to see that the folks behind this have joined the blogosphere.  The PM Solutions Strategy & Projects blog is here.

They’re picking up on a couple of themes we’re into at SAP.  Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin notes the increased use of social media in the project environment (here), which we already use in large parts of SAP and are expanding into new areas this year.  

We also use Scrum to shorten the cycle time of our strategy management processes, so it was interesting to see that Karen White has started blogging on agility (post here).   In particular, she has been looking at using agile principles outside of the software development environment.  Karen has a new book out on the topic (press release here).

Biggest PM Job in the world… ha!

While I appreciate Glen’s shout-out (here), it is the SAP project and program managers who have the big and tough jobs. As Glen notes, managing SAP projects isn’t for the faint of heart.  Our engagement leaders are the ultimate guarantor of SAP’s brand value (which has a solid 10% CAGR since we started our PM initiative in 2003, BTW).  These colleagues have tons of talent and responsibility.  

They certainly have my team’s respect.  We demonstrate that respect by not claiming to promulgate “best” practices.  Sure, what the Global PMO delivers should be “good” practice; however, our material has its greatest value as a foundation for innovation.  Truly best practices come from the field looking at our content and saying “this approach is OK, but how about if we added/changed/deleted this?”

How NOT to explain the value of your PMO...

How NOT to explain the ways one's PMO adds value to the field.

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