Moving into SAP Functional Development : Gaining Control of Change Control - An Overview of Change Management

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At this point in your SAP implementation, your solution vision has materialized in front of you—the SAP Data Center and quite a number of SAP instances are finally running, and the development team is making solid progress by now. Your SAP Technical Support Organization is busy planning for the production phase, too. All of this activity is at serious risk, though, if you do not give attention to the process of managing change. Addressing change management or change control—the terms are interchangeable—is “just another critical cog” in the machine we call SAP. As with any enterprise or mission-critical system or application, how an organization manages changes to that system must be defined. Thus, before we take a look at best practices and approaches regarding change management, a quick review is in order. Later, I’ll highlight its value and importance in terms of maintaining a highly available SAP system, as well as covering information on organizational structures.

Change Management Mentality

A productive mySAP solution environment is not expected to remain static. That is, as functional and business requirements, software upgrades, OS and hardware updates, and other subtle changes are requested or required, the environment will evolve over time. Although this evolution is good in terms of keeping a customer’s employees productive and informed, an enormous opportunity to introduce instability into the production environment exists, in the form of changes to the production system. Therefore, if these changes are not managed well, and managed consistently, the result over time will be much different than the desired outcome—the system will prove to be less than reliable, prone to unscheduled downtime, and more difficult to manage than otherwise required.

Fortunately, change management in regards to mission-critical enterprise environments has typically been taken quite seriously. I work every day with wonderful enterprise-wide examples of sound change control in action, from mainframe-class and large UNIX implementations to successful PC server-based enterprise environments. All of these companies have embraced what can only be described as a no-nonsense “mainframe mentality” to change control—it’s taken very seriously, and it shows in their high system uptimes, low unplanned outages, and ultimately happier, more productive end users.

Often, when the topic of change management or change control is brought up in the context of an enterprise application, managing the functional changes within the application layer itself seems to capture the center of attention. That is, all too often the focus is of a functional nature. True, much of what drives changes to a system is initiated on behalf of the end users and functional folks who reconfigure and test SAP’s business processes. But many organizations that are not end-user-based, not to mention technology drivers, serve to initiate change as well, as you see in Figure 1. And each change ultimately must be reviewed, approved, developed/implemented, and eventually migrated or promoted throughout the SAP system landscape. With little exaggeration, then, I can say that nearly every member of the SAP Technical Support Organization can therefore impact, or be impacted by, change control.

Figure 1. Changes come from everywhere, not just from within the SAP business-process realm.

Managing and implementing changes is a very precise activity, fraught with system-wide ramifications if addressed less than absolutely correctly day after day. And it is often unfortunately a labor-intensive task, impacting functional teams, developers, SAP infrastructure support folks, database administrators, the SAP Basis team, SAP administrators, Enterprise Operations, the SAP Support Center, and more, not to mention the Training, Documentation, and Change Management teams themselves.

Yes, change management affects much more than just the SAP functional layer. The entire SAP Solution Stack is impacted. So, too, is the entire SAP system landscape and every phase of implementation. Your management team drives and is affected by changes as well. And finally, change management must focus on human and organizational success factors, too, because these factors greatly impact whether end-user productivity or behavior is indeed improved.

“Change” often goes against the very values held dear by members of an organization. This explains why changes in the daily routine or culture of an organization must be proactively discussed and not ignored. Our natural reaction to change, on the other hand, is to deny it at first, and then to simply resist it when we figure out that the change will not “go away.” Eventually, a critical juncture emerges—the change is either accepted, or it is rejected, as Figure 2 illustrates.

Figure 2. Our natural reaction to change must be addressed before we can ever hope to improve productivity or increase availability of our SAP environment.

This natural reaction must be addressed as much as anything else when organizational change takes place.

Change is inevitable. But even fewer people than we think actually enjoy change and can embrace and adapt to it quickly. Fortunately, the reward for organizations that handle change effectively is compelling. Effectively managing change is focused on SAP end users and other stakeholders, resulting in a more stable system, a better-performing system, a highly effective system, and so on.

In addition, the mission of change control often amounts to the following goals:

  • Providing solutions to users’ system problems (ushering in improved business processes), which further tends to improve system utilization or value

  • Improving system testing

  • Maintaining documentation

  • Maintaining training levels

  • Improving knowledge management

  • Implementing improved operational processes and procedures

The Real Reason for Managing Change—Stakeholders

Stakeholders in an SAP implementation include anyone with a vested interest in the success of the project. Gaining their buy-in is essential. However, the degree in which stakeholders are impacted by the project vary, and therefore their commitment level varies as well. A common way of breaking these commitment levels down is by ownership, identity, participation, agreement, and awareness.

To best address organizational change like that driven by an SAP implementation, consider the following guidelines and best practices when it comes to designing or developing a change management organization:

  • Stay focused on the needs of the stakeholders. This should drive everything from timelines to priorities, the structure of the organization, and how processes are ultimately deployed.

  • Leverage an experienced change management consultant to review your environment and help design your change management organization.

  • Get as much feedback as practical from stakeholders, including what they think needs to be done with regard to developing an organization focused on managing change.

  • Delegate decisions to end users whenever possible. With their decisions driving the project in many ways, buy-in is practically a given, and priorities tend to be naturally maintained.

  • Ensure that the project plan allows enough time to formulate and implement a change management organization.

  • Ensure that the stakeholders understand the impact of your mySAP technical designs. To that end, I am reminded of a customer who moved from a single SAP production instance to a federation of systems connected via ALE. The impact of this on the business, in that all data wasn’t available on all systems, had to be understood and accepted by the business.

  • Finally, rather than trying to control change, instead take the position that it is more effective in the long run to understand and manage it.

If you follow these guidelines, not only will it become apparent who the primary people impacted by the project are, but it will allow for preliminary stakeholder profiles to be developed for the SAP project. And each stakeholder’s commitment levels will make themselves known, too. Finally, general change management and communication models can be created with each specific stakeholder/audience in mind.

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