Moving into SAP Functional Development : Gaining Control of Change Control - Change Management Best Practices and Approaches (part 1)

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In this article, I will discuss a process commonly used to implement change, and identify what I consider to be best-in-class change management practices.

Although the labels may differ, organizations possessing a firm grasp on managing change have adopted a process similar to the following:

  • Create a project team dedicated to change

  • Communicate the vision and goals of this team

  • Acquire project team resources

  • Monitor people/organizational issues

  • Determine change management processes and practices to be leveraged, including tool sets

  • Reorganize to support these processes and practices

  • Implement these processes and practices

  • Monitor completion of the project plan’s tasks and milestones

  • Communicate feedback, revise processes and practices as required, and continue to monitor

When it comes to managing change, topics like procedures, processes, guidelines, managing to a plan, tool sets, and so on naturally come to mind. Some guidebooks to change suggest an even simpler path to implementing change, focusing on project plan execution, communication plan execution, and stakeholder management. I have assembled a more representative list, though, that I believe reflects best-in-class change management practices as observed in my experience. These practices are illustrated in Figure 1, and include the following:

  • Testing

  • Documentation

  • Standards

  • Release strategy

  • Clear communications

  • Workflow

  • Tool sets

  • Feedback loop

Figure 1. Best-in-class change practices all work together to help ensure that changes are managed comprehensively and effectively.

Each of these best-in-class practices to change management is discussed next.

1. The Core Philosophy Behind Change Control—Testing

Prior to any change being implemented in a system, it must be tested. This is true regardless of the enormity, location, or relevance of the system. In other words, if the system is truly important or otherwise mission-critical to its end users, it follows that anything that potentially affects the availability of this system must be thoroughly tested first. Sound testing has the following requirements or characteristics:

  • A highly available and stable test environment is key.

  • The staff is sufficient to handle a large load of new/changed test projects or “test cases.”

  • To encourage repeatable and rapid testing capabilities, an automated testing tool or tools should be leveraged.

  • Test cases should mirror process design, including exception handling, error corrections, reversals, and so on. By their nature, therefore, well-understood business processes often make the best test cases.

  • Testing must fully cover and verify all SAP integration points, and all possible input data.

  • Test cases should be able to run “standalone.” That is, there should be no dependencies on external data or other test cases, unless testing these dependencies is the goal of the testing.

  • Testing must help an organization determine the impact that change has on other areas in the SAP implementation or within the company (that is, business process changes).

  • To be most effective, the individuals tasked with building test cases should be very familiar with the functional or technology area in which they are testing. This includes access to formal training as required.

  • In a new implementation, the testing phase and related timelines should be broken out from your master project plan, to allow for the granular level of detail required but not typically found or warranted in the master project plan (in other words, a high-level project plan like the SIPP included on the Planning CD is not appropriate for planning and tracking granular-level test case execution).

  • The end users should determine what constitutes successful business-process output, based on what they also deem as acceptable input.

  • Early and earnest involvement on the part of functional design teams helps them to understand the high priority of testing and test cases.

  • Test cases are refined and otherwise updated when gaps are discovered.

  • Changes resulting from testing should be reflected in documentation, from end-user-based to test-case documentation leveraged by the SAP TSO and more.

If testing reflects the relative importance of a system, it’s safe to say that documentation reflects how seriously this importance is taken—the more critical a system, the better the documentation package should be that supports it. Why? Because documentation directly impacts how effectively the system can be used, managed, and supported. The central role that documentation plays in change management is covered next.

2. How Documentation Impacts Change Management

Before we begin, it must be understood that the term “documentation” in the context of change management means many things. To the mySAP solution’s end users, the word “documentation” applies primarily to functional test cases. Each test case must be documented such that the case is very repeatable, and easily modified as the underlying SAP system evolves with each SAP Support Package and new functional enhancements. The key here is maintaining the data entry points, like which particular company codes apply to which materials, which storage locations apply to which plants, and so on. All of this is typically documented in a documentation “package.”

To the folks tasked with training, “documentation” relates to everything a person new to a job task or position needs to know to become an effective component end user. Thus, documenting the process or work flow associated with each test case is paramount. And these trainers also need to understand how to maintain this documentation, the most effective ways of laying it out and presenting or delivering it (workshops, formal training, Internet-based, and so on), and any delta training required to be delivered between change management waves or releases (discussed later).

Documented workflow, process, and system training are all relevant and critical. This is because regardless of the goal of a specific set of documentation, it quickly becomes an integral part of supporting a business unit’s standard operating procedures and processes.

Up to this point, I have only looked at documentation from an end-user perspective. To the SAP Technical Support Organization, though, the term “documentation” refers to the various tools and approaches used to manage change. This also includes documenting processes, like the “promote to production” process, or anything regarding timelines (that is, the amount of time a change stays and is tested in the technical sandbox before being promoted to the next system, and then the next, and so on). Finally, documentation to the IS professional means frequently redocumenting the “current state” of the entire SAP Solution Stack, and updating how-to documentation as appropriate, such that all changes are easily identified and tracked throughout the life of the component’s system landscape.

3. Minimizing Change Management with Standards

For most companies, maintaining less of a variety of IT technology—whether this be a certain model of server, or type of disk drive, or version of software package—will cost less in the long run and prove easier to manage than maintaining a mix of products that might better fit each variance and niche-requirement within a particular SAP system landscape. For example, at one of my SAP customer sites, the client selected Microsoft Windows 2000 Advanced Server as their standard OS, even though Windows 2000 Server would have been adequate in quite a few instances, not to mention cheaper. Similarly, they standardized on a single model of database and application server, even though it provided additional processing headroom in some instances, and therefore cost a bit more up front than other models—in the long run, we all believed that the total cost of ownership would prove to be lower because this client had fewer alternatives to deal with. That is, with fewer types and kinds of hardware and software to run through the change control process every time a new firmware update or Service Pack became available, stability of the SAP landscape would be better preserved.

This example represents technology areas where standardization served to minimize the change management activities required to support the SAP landscape. Additional reasons to standardize include the following:

  • Fewer hardware spares need to be maintained (less costly than maintaining one or more spare hardware components for each component deployed in production).

  • You can take advantage of bulk buying or quantity discounts (where “20 of these” is less expensive to acquire than “7 of these” and “6 of those” and “2 of that” and “5 of those new ones”).

  • Less training is required for the SAP support staff (no requirement to spend budget money training the operations staff in supporting different variations of the OS, for example, or different disk subsystem platforms, or database releases).

  • The staff becomes very familiar and comfortable supporting fewer hardware platforms/components (no requirement to spend budget money training staff in supporting multiple server models, for example), and support calls are addressed faster.

  • You will enjoy less unplanned downtime, because components are interchangeable (less risk of having to wait for a hard-to-find or out-of-stock part in the event of a critical server component failure), and less component variety equates to fewer changes that must be initiated, tested, and ultimately promoted to production.
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