August 2020 – Welcome to the moment of truth. Strategies that have been developed with foresight are beginning to bear fruit. Initial carelessness leads to growing difficulties and additional work on the way to the cutover to the S/4HANA Business Suite.
Welcome to the Realize Phase.
The S/4HANA conversion is complex, we already realized that much in our previous articles. In our CH/4NGE article series along the SAP Activate phases, we discuss the challenges that arise in the context of human interaction and how they can be overcome. The focus of the previous articles, from the Discover to the Explore Phase, was the conception and preparation of all measures for the changeover.
What happens in the Realize phase?
From a technical perspective, the Realize Phase is about getting down to business. Planning and preparatory work is completed, the change takes shape. The functional and security-related system changes that were recorded in a backlog as part of the fit-gap analysis are now being implemented. Depending on the individual user role in the organization and the necessary SAP authorizations, the corresponding SAP Fiori interfaces can be set up. What sounds like a small package of tasks is often more complex than expected due to the interplay of user vision, authorization and organizational role in the new processes.
The relevant interfaces to other systems are now implemented in the Integration Stream. Many of these activities take place in parallel to ensure that the migration is performed at an acceptable quality and speed. Strong coordination and effective risk management are therefore absolutely necessary to prevent errors when a cutover occurs. Speaking of errors during the cutover: A so-called rollback plan is created for the worst case scenario to avoid the greatest damage if something goes wrong. In any case, the implementation of the support organization, including roles, processes and tools, must take place now at the latest.
From a change perspective, the pace is now also being accelerated. Change sprints are planned in order to incrementally develop, execute and continuously adapt specific measures with the right impact (e.g. setup and maintenance of user communities). This is accompanied by an increased focus on change controlling in order to realistically reflect the impact of the measures. End-user trainings are designed and planned, feedback channels established and broad communication campaigns launched. As announced in the last article, the mobilisation of a good network of change agents and sponsors now plays a decisive part. This is due in part to the current situation where central measures might actually generate less impact than target group-specific ones.
What are the typical challenges in this phase?
Especially in large companies, many processes run as centralized and standardized as possible. Statements like: “A standardized approach helps to achieve efficient direct control and prevents redundancies or incorrect communication” are widespread and certainly applicable in many areas. In a project with the complexity of the S/4HANA conversion, however, this attitude is the route to disaster. As discussed in the last articles in various contexts, the needs and changes are so diverse among the many different target groups that decentralized communication and user support is a must. In order to realize this, carefully selected change agents and sponsors are the decisive means of implementation.
Often referred to as the “voice of the organization“, change agents take on a multiplier role in company segments. They help to carry messages in sub-organisations and, through their trustworthiness, promote acceptance by the broad majority. Within the framework of the S/4HANA changeover, it is therefore important to prepare them for their role, e.g. as rollout helpers and/or floorwalkers, to involve them in a targeted manner, to deploy them and to keep them constantly informed about the progress of the project. In this way, they are not only able to provide feedback on the mood and needs of the employees, who are often distributed globally, but can also develop very precisely tailored change measures in cooperation with the project team.
In the further course of the rollout, they can provide relief in sensitive phases of uncertainty and help colleagues over minor change hurdles. It is of course important that the roles are filled with the appropriate personalities. A change agent is well networked, professionally and personally competent and has good communication skills.
Deploying local change agents and sponsors in a systematic manner
Besides change agents, sponsors also play a decisive role in the construct. As (senior) managers, they steer resistances among employees in the right direction through active change leadership. They free up resources and remove further obstacles in order to keep to the change plan. In order to fulfil this role, it is therefore necessary that the sponsors (1) openly show their commitment to the S/4HANA conversion, (2) set a strong example and (3) influence the behaviour of the employees in this context through rewards or appropriate consequences. “Walk the Talk” – saying the right things is not enough: An effective sponsor needs to align his or her own motivation and goals behind the changeover, so that he or she distributes tasks correctly and thus guides behaviour intuitively and with credibility.
Both change agents and sponsors sound like a true “jack of all trades” – and they are. Unfortunately, good change agents and strong sponsors are often not valued enough in decentralized change management. The respect they deserve is also due to the fact that they play a major role in communicating the change. As mentioned above, there is a point in large change projects where affected persons are strongly concerned with the individual consequences. They do not feel that they are being taken care of by central communication alone, and do not have the impression that quick answers to their questions are possible. If they feel overwhelmed, they turn away, an “overload” occurs. In addition, employees like to hear news about S/4HANA from their direct superiors, whom they trust and who are close to their operational work.
Sponsors and change agents are therefore also an important success factor here. They can feel the doubts, questions, needs, ask questions and finally enter into direct dialogue.
Differentiation via user communities
Personal dialogue is not always possible at information level. For capacity reasons alone, individual support for all those affected would be completely unrealistic. Nevertheless, nothing is more severe than realising afterwards that communication – often linked with a lot of effort – was aimed in the wrong direction or flooded users with irrelevant information. So-called user communities provide a remedy here. User communities (often also digitally displayed via the company intranet or internal social media channels) are used to cluster employees who are undergoing similar changes and have a comparable level of involvement. According to their interests, they are provided with relevant (!) news and the opportunity to exchange information. Functional training and communication measures are tailored to these communities, users can ask questions and, if necessary, clarify them among themselves. And the Transformation Office also benefits from this: they receive rapid first-hand feedback on their measures.
This feedback is very valuable and should be considered for future activities. If this does not happen, incidents like the following situation are inevitable: The Transformation Office creates an important information package for the end user teams and distributes it to the appropriate managers. Only weeks later does it turn out that the teams have briefly discussed the document, but have not used it for their own work. When asked why, the answer is that the document did not contain the level of detail they needed. But all the other documents for the series have already been produced – at the same level of information. This is also annoying because the document could have added value through thoughtful feedback.
Planning change sprints is a good way to avoid such missteps. But don’t “sprints” actually belong in an agile setup? – Correct.
Agile change sprints are more important than planning everything through.
Anyone who has read the previous articles knows that another important feature of the change management concept for the S/4HANA changeover is flexibility. Steered by the measurements of change controlling (e.g. mood rate), the input of the change agents and the feedback from other feedback channels, the goal is to design change measures as demand-oriented as possible and to adapt them continuously. And what procedure fits this better than an iterative setup using agile change sprints?
In an iterative approach, change management measures can be specifically planned, implemented and measured. Based on the results, the measures are then adjusted, redesigned or cancelled in the subsequent cycle. Within the framework of the S/4HANA transformation, the right levers can be turned at the right time for communication, involvement or knowledge transfer.
Dual leadership in testing – Business and IT
Another important topic in the S/4HANA context cannot be repeated often enough: Close cooperation between IT and business is critical to success. Starting with key project decisions during the Discover Phase, it becomes apparent in the Realize Phase when testing the functionalities. Anyone who has ever rolled out a system and thus experienced the importance of testing also knows that coordination at the operational level is sometimes nerve-racking. In the S/4HANA context, this challenge becomes even greater: Due to the end-to-end processes with granular and interdependent system changes, it must be precisely defined who tests what and when. If one deadline is delayed, all subsequent deadlines are delayed because testing must be carried out across all functions involved. There is also the well-known problem that business users as testers need the time to test the new system.
Although the added value is not yet immediately apparent, it is necessary for managers to ” free up ” the necessary capacity so that they can provide feedback. This requires a strong commitment from sponsors and a common approach from the various units. What are long-term benefits? What is our goal and why can everyone benefit? What happens if tests are delayed? Especially in a long-term project such as the S/4HANA conversion, it is advisable to provide suitable contact persons on both sides right at the beginning and to agree on regular communication to promote exchange. Not only for testing, but also for all other points of contact.
- An exclusively centrally steered change management is not a viable option – make sure that local change agents and sponsors are deployed in a systematic manner.
- Differentiation via user communities – Do you know the different needs?
- Adapt measures continuously – Agile change sprints are more important than planning everything through.
- Dual leadership in testing – Business and IT must form a reliable alliance in testing as well.
Combining the Deploy and Run phase in our last article we will take a closer look on the final stages of the S/4HANA conversion. How can you best prepare the system GoLive, what needs to be done to successfully close the project and what actions can you take to secure long-term improvements of the system after project closure.
Do you have questions about change management in S/4HANA transformation projects? Please contact us!