Good Organizations Know How to Make Lemonade
No one really likes to talk about it, but sometimes, projects do not go well. The reasons for this are varied. Culprits can range from technical issues to poor or lack of project management to change management to politics and everything in between. But if you work in SAP long enough, particularly in the Analytics space, it is likely that at some point you will face that situation – either as something you worked on personally or a situation you step into.
Of course, there is a blame game to be played. When dealing with financial expenditures as large as those associated with an SAP implementation, they inevitably (and properly) require reflection as to what went wrong and, more importantly, what needs to be done now to restore the situation.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of organizational maturity. Organizational maturity has little to do with linear age (although that can be a component), and far more to do with attitude and experience. In IT projects and in life, failure happens. How an individual or an organization reacts to setbacks is a function of maturity. For example, if you are coaching a Little League baseball team, and your team loses a game, you can react by screaming incoherently at the kids about what failures they are. Or you can take a step back, examine what went wrong (hitting, fielding, pitching, etc.), and focus on those things that need improvement. Most people would agree that the second option is far better than the first. Screaming at kids won’t do anything to help them do better in the next game.
Of course, there is an enormous relative difference between an SAP implementation and a Little League game. Millions of dollars in difference. The lesson, however, holds true. To put it in SAP terms, the first response is “transactional,” the second response is “analytical.” Mature organizations will adopt an analytical approach towards setbacks. Immature ones will not.
While there is no single, “correct’ response to project failure, there is an analytical series of questions to be asked when it happens. First, what parts DID succeed? Did the hardware go in well? Were the specifications properly defined and documented? Was any functionality put into production? Most of the time, the answer to at least some questions will be “yes.” From that as a starting point, an organization can examine what they have; the gap between that and what they want; and finally, what it will take in terms of resource expenditure to get to where they need to be.
This is not easy. The fallout could mean millions of dollars lost and devastating impacts on people’s careers. Given that we are all human, strong emotions are inevitable. A mature organization recognizes this, and deals with it effectively. This is not achieved by suppressing individual emotions, but by providing an appropriate outlet for them, learning the lessons that come with understanding why it happened, and then moving forward. Failure usually isn’t personal. The response should not be either, even if that means personal hardship for some.
Think of this example: Two companies conduct expensive SAP ECC and BI implementations. Both fail in that after cost overruns, ECC is not in place and BI hasn’t left development. Company A takes a transactional approach to the failure. The consultants are fired. The internal VP leading the project is fired. The PMs are fired. The CIO is fired. Then new ones brought in, and the CEO goes before the board to show a “muscular” response to the problem. Company B, conversely, takes the Analytical approach. The hardware is OK. The specs are mostly OK. The consultants were a mixed bag. The two PMs put in over 100 hours a week to try to make it work. The internal VP skipped vacations for a year. Analysis shows some internal business models – time honored as they are – simply won’t work with SAP. Company B fires a few under-performing consultants, brings in some more functional experts, and tries again.
Company A has lost EVERYONE who knew anything about the project, current status, what can be salvaged, and any progress that was made. Further, the project is now toxic; no one will want to be ANYWHERE near it. Company B has retained internal knowledge, recognized where the issues are and unemotionally decided to proceed. Which company is more likely to succeed in Round Two?
Organizational maturity does not prevent setbacks or failures. What it does is significantly increase the likelihood of positive outcomes. Setbacks are inevitable; an analytical response is not. To be successful – at more than just SAP implementations – organizational maturity is a must…and a part of our jobs as consultants is to help our clients realize that.