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I have many years of experience in project management and there is one false assumption that has often haunted SAP Projects. What is it? The assumption that a freshly assigned SAP Project Sponsor knows how to fulfill this role. No training in SAP Activate, no enablement necessary - just instantly prepared to get things started. It obviously a big strategic mistake in one of the SAP project’s critical success factors. The C-Level title does not make you a good SAP Projectr Sponsor.

Are you competent just because you have a higher rank?

If you have never taken part in any SAP Project you can safely assume that you are not competent enough to play a sponsoring role in a large ERP system implementation like SAP S/4 HANA or small implementation like SAP ByDesign. There is no shame to admit it.

Let me give you an example which you know from military adventure movies. As soon as the mission goal is confirmed by the headquarters, the appointed mission commander starts looking for experienced crew/team members. They will need to understand and accept their roles before being sent to battle. They will be involved in planning, they will be trained to get prepared. But what if a commander himself does not have any experience in this kind of missions and he pretends to be competent when making key decisions? Isn't he endangering the whole mission and putting the crew at risk of being killed in battle?

I guess the similar situation is when a person selected to play a critical role of a project commander (i.e. Sponsor) is not enough competent yet but pretends to be prepared or is simply hoping that this responsibility can be delegated. Nope - he is wrong in this thinking. The good news is that SAP supplies along with their solution the implementation methodology (SAP Activate and Focused Build) which Project Sponsor will also find useful.

6 project governance elements for a Project Sponsor to understand

Here is my subjective list of six project elements that every SAP Project Sponsor should be familirar with before starting a project or, even better, before the Request for Proposal process.

1) Project Scope

The word ‘scope’ is in my opionion one of the most misunderstood in the whole project managemetn body of knowledge. Focused Build introduces a very lean construct to help anyone involved to understand how the SAP Project should be organized. This methodology offers three levels of scope organisation - scope item, work package, work item (task) and, optionally, sub-task. What may be important for some Executives, the tool used to manage project scope does not have to come from SAP but also from other vendors like Atlassian (Jira and Confluence), which you may have in your company already.

Image: Project Scope Hierarchy. Source: Author

2) Project Phases

This concept is well known from the times when the Waterfall methodologies were the only option there was for an SAP project (ASAP Methodology). In the new concept we also use phases but they are rather used to control the stages of a Project Release. So some phases happen only once in a major release - Discover, Prepare at the begining of a productive release and Deploy, Run at the end of a productive release. But Phases Explore and Realize with Testing may happen as many times as needed for non-productive releases (called in the Focused Build - Waves).

Image: Project Phases by SAP Activate. Source: SAP Activate

3) Milestones

Milestones is another well known aspect of project management but rarely well implemented in practice. SAP Focused Build helps a lot in understanding when and what types of milestones need to planned. For me the most important for the Sponsor is to understand that a Milestone is a moment when ALL deliverables planned in this moment of time are completed. It is like a general check-point if eg. all Functional Specification Documents in all modules are done, all Configuration Objects are done, all Single Functional Tests are completed. It is also good to understand a concept of ‘Definition of Done (DoD)’ from Agile methodologies. You can plan milestones on a project level, release level or sprint level and so you can address the needs of different management levels in your SAP Project. Understanding Project Scope you will understand what should have been completed by now when a Milestone date arrived.

Image: Types of Milestones. Source: SAP Focused Build

4) Quality Gates (Stage Gates)

This concept is widely used in product management and is also very useful in SAP Projects. Stage Gate is a formal meeting where the solution suppliers and the team report together that the ‘DoD’ criteria have been achived for the current phase. Also, the teams requests the permission to start the next phase. In other words, it is a handover from one phase to another. It is unfortunately not clear for many Sponsors that they should be prepared to ask the right ‘quality questions’ and also that their decisions should be based on specific input materials. Loosely prepared meeting agenda is really not enough. You need specific documents/presenation as inputs and specific questions/decision you need to have answered so you can make good decisions. So, you need a framework in which you can perform your role as Project Sponsor. Such meetings are also organized between phases in minor releases aka Waves (non-productive releases)

Image: Quality Gate framework example. Source: Author

5) Agile Release and Time Windows

There have been created countless articles and books about Agile and adaptive delivery. These concepts have also been introduced to the world of SAP project management. However, you as Project Sponsor, do not have to know it all. But there is one thing you should really let go behind you - Gantt Charts. These have been replaced now by, what I call, “time windows”. What is it? These are time segments that your team can plan what will be delivered in this fixed amount of time.

For example two weeks can be planned very well and in detail - this is the so called Sprint. Then you combine several sprints to plan a higher level goal - this is called Wave. Several Waves should achieve the goal of the Release. So, just like the app on our cell phone, also the SAP Solution can be released in a few time windows and the biggest of these windows is called a relase (also called a Version). Of course there is much much more to understand even the basics of Release Management.

Image: Types of time windows. Source: Focused Build

6) Business Transformation

And lastly - SAP systems bring the know-how about best practice business processes. It is amazing how many Project Sponsors forget that the SAP Project is mainly about upgrading their Business Processes and current ways of working. With the new system, you will work differently and you need to get ready for it. The technology is the necessary enabler to achive that goal. In this transformation, also here we receive the support from SAP.

In the SAP Activate Roadmap there is a complete workstream called ‘Solution Adoption’. There are topics like Organisational Change or Change Impact Analysis help you avoid the basic mistake when you have a completely new solution which was not properly embedded in your business policies, procedures, quality certifications (like ISO) and onboarding procedures for new employees.

Image: SAP Activate Roadmap, Source: SAP

Get trained before starting the SAP project

Now, I am quite aware that many concepts mentioned in this article may not be familiar to a C-Level executive, who has been assigned to the role of SAP Project Sponsor. And this is exactly the point. This person need to be trained and prepared for this role. As I said at the beginning, it is good to be trained to play this role especially before selecting the implementation partner because it will help you to choose the right one. SAP implementation partners employ sometimes people who are often not well trained themselves in project management methodologies. It will be less expesive for you not to hire them for your SAP project. Get prepared before spending your company's money.

You can find more information about mentioned methodologies in the following presentations:

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