Lessons Learned From Global Sap Implementation in Asia

With my current role of managing global virtual project teams, I have been asked repeatedly by my peers on what are the key success factors of implementing SAP for plant start-up in Asia, especially since the users have no previous SAP experience and business process knowledge ,and English is not their first language.

As you can see, global project teams have several unique characters and challenges, such as multi-functional, constantly evolving to meet business and resource constraints, matrix structured, culturally diverse and geographically distributed. These challenges resulted in that corporate culture is not very conductive for effective communication and cross-team learning. Many learning opportunities are missed and corporate have been paying high price for repeating similar mistakes. Thus, capturing and sharing lessons learned as must-to-have project management processes will reduce global project costs and increase customers and users’ satisfaction. 

If you are responsible for global SAP rollout, here are some lessons learned that can benefit your team and your company.

Lessons Learned – Local Leadership Buy-in event
More often, global project team encounters issues like roles and responsibilities of extended team* are not well defined, local support team resources are not committed after project started, there is no go-to person on site to coordinate issues between site, business team and project team, etc.  In order to get full support from the local leadership team, a project buy-in event needs to carry out by change management team 3-6 months prior to the project kick-off to help local leaders to understand that SAP implementation project is not only an IT implementation, but a business project as well; to help local leaders to understand the importance of aligning business to SAP; to communicate with local leaders clearly about organizational structure, business processes and business units that will be impacted by implementation, resource requirements, etc.  

Lessons Learned – Decoding Email Messages
As many companies are moving their business to Asia, communicating effectively in a cross-cultural work environment can ensure companies’ international business success.  Due to the language barriers and different vocabulary systems, core team and local users are having difficulty understanding and decoding email messages.  As a result, misunderstanding often arises and issues do not get resolved on time, which affects activities schedule and eventually, affects the rollout schedule.

The recommendation is to conduct a Cross-Cultural Communication session during the Kick-off period to the local users and project team to recognize specific cultural differences, to aware of communication differences and to overcome or minimize the cultural communication barriers to high quality communication. 

Lessons Learned – Local Site Coordinator
Global SAP ERP project team normally is referred to as “virtual team”. Team members are working on remote and scattered all over the world. For example, my team has about sixty members and they are located in Germany, Budapest, Mexico, US, Canada, Singapore, China. A lot of times, core team members do not know who to go to address local business-related activities and issues; users do not know who to go to bring up project and business-related issues; and local site management does not get the latest project status therefore unable to provide just-in-time support.

The recommendation is to nominate an experienced site coordinator onsite to act as a local go-to person for all SAP-related issues. The role is responsible for communicating to all appropriate parties on overall project status, issues, successes, and barriers to keep the members engaged in the project.

Lessons Learned – ERP concept and Global Business Process
For most international companies, global SAP implementation is to provide an ERP solution in support of constructing new production start-up in Asia. Most of users are new hires and they do not understand the ERP concept or the Global Template; they do not understand their roles and the associated business processes.

Recommendation is to conduct a Global Template Familiarization session to introduce the Global End-to-End Processes to the users. Afterwards, change management team should work with the local business to determine which processes are applicable to the site, and which ones need localization due to legal and language requirements. A process mapping exercise is highly recommended as well, where the to-be processes (Visio diagram with swim-lanes) are finalized and presented to the local management team. Upon their agreement, SAP roles are able locked, training courses for different SAP roles can be assigned.

Lessons Learned – To-be Process
Like I mentioned above, users are new and they do not have much of SAP and business process knowledge. It is unrealistic to expect users to grasp the to-be process fully.

Recommendation is to conduct a User Acceptance Test/Process Testing prior to go-live after end user Basic SAP and business process training.  By now, the design has been tested by the Core Team, actual data has been loaded to the test environment, and Super Users have been trained in SAP and business concepts.  The Super Users run through the integration test script. This milestone ensures the design works, the data load is accurate and complete, and the super users are trained properly. This key success step should be included in the project plan in order to give core team, business team and extended team good visibility.

Lessons Learned – Master Data & Data Validation
Another issue global SAP implementation team faces is that requesting for data validation took much longer than expected. Three steps that involved in master data. There are data collecting, data loading and data validation. Because not all colleagues from business have been told the data collection process, “how” to validate and the importance of validation, master data always came last minute and past the deadline.

The recommendation is that change management team to conduct workshops locally to explain the data collection and data validation process to business users; to help users understand the meaning of the fields to be validated; and to communicate roles and responsibilities surrounding master data collection and validation by specify who will do what by when. Further, requests for validation should be to a single individual, not a group. Project manager should segregate data load and data validation activities in work plan and ties back to articulating due dates for specific activities and responsibilities distribution list.

Lessons Learned – End User Training
According to normal SAP implementation methodology, change management team plans the training activities one month before system go-live. The training focuses on to-be processes. 

Due to the cultural differences, people in Asia intent to nod a lot when instructor talking. It does mean they understand what instructor talking about, it only means that “I hear you”. They may not tell instructors if they really understand the process/SAP transactions or not.  Core team members, for example, weren’t aware that some users didn’t take the basic SAP training until they started the delta training. This resulted in that user’s SAP and business process knowledge level may not attain the level expected and some users are unable to perform transactions in SAP, e.g. create STO to move raw materials from the US to Asia, near go-live.

The recommendation is to set up process to on board new staff. The process includes obtain the SAP ID, go through the SAP navigation training, the SAP functional module training, obtain the knowledge from Subject Matter Experts (SMEs), and go through the after-training test.  The process should ensure the new users fully understand the process and can create the transactions in SAP independently. The standard training goes first, and in the support period, have a 2-3 week refresher training.  People are more familiar with the process and know how SAP supports the process.  They then start asking questions and we know their learning situation. 

Sounded communication between core team and local extended team is very important factor for global SAP rollout. Including all team members in the email loop and plan the regular team update meetings can keep all parties on the same page on each project stage.  

In summary, many leading companies use SAP ERP system as an essential infrastructure to provide integrated and standardized real time data to support their global operations. As they move their productions to Asia, they are facing very complicated issues and unique challenges due to national cultural differences and local requirements. Researches of the impact of different cultures on SAP ERP systems implementation in Asian region have not been taken widely yet. Any mistakes of implementation can cost company millions and millions of dollars. Therefore, these lessons we learned from real-time SAP rollouts will provide some guidance on global SAP ERP implementation in Asia.

Qiuyan Joanna Wang
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