Moving into SAP Functional Development : Gaining Control of Change Control - Change Management Best Practices and Approaches (part 4)

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7. Another Way to Implement Change—Workflow

As in testing, documentation, minimizing variables in the SAP landscape, and so on, the concept of workflow is another excellent change management facilitator. One of my SAP customers tells me they enjoy an exceptionally smooth change management process by employing the following “workflow-based” approach to implementing new changes. For this example, let’s say that the impending major change is with regard to adding the HR functional module to the company’s current SAP R/3 implementation. An initial budget has been approved, and executive/senior management sponsorship is already in place:

  1. The customer/end-user organization meets with the change team on a weekly basis. The team consists of the manager of the group (the change manager, or a designate), a few key technical SAP TSO resources (based on the nature of the upcoming projects or change waves), appropriate functional representatives, and the supervisor of computer operations.

  2. Based on the change to be implemented, a basic work breakdown structure (WBS) or simple “scope of work” is drafted during this meeting (for larger-scope projects, like adding HR, people are expected to come to the meetings with their initial work breakdown structures, rather than consuming valuable time to do so in the meeting).

  3. Success criteria are identified.

  4. A priority level for the particular change is established.

  5. Test hardware, software, infrastructure resources, end-user liaisons, functional liaisons, and technical liaisons (collectively termed “resources”) are identified during this initial meeting.

  6. End-user, functional, and technical team leaders are sought, and usually named at this time. For big changes, a project manager is named as well. The meeting ends, and each Team Leader takes with them action items with regard to completing their piece of the WBS, fleshing out timelines, identifying constraints, and so on.

  7. In another meeting attended by all team leaders and the project manager and/or change manager, the tasks and milestones for inclusion into the master project schedule (leveraging what this customer calls a change checklist) are identified. A preliminary timeline is drafted by each Team Leader, reflecting the needs of the area in which they are responsible.

  8. Constraints are reviewed (holiday/vacation schedules, availability of critical resources, and so on), and the meeting ends.

  9. The change checklists are merged and reviewed at another meeting to ensure that the workflow inherent to each individual area still “works” and “flows.”

  10. The merged and now revised master change checklist is formally reviewed and introduced into the master project schedule some time in the next few days. The change manager owns the master project schedule.

  11. The project manager or change manager coordinates with the technical lead, SAP Basis team, and any solution stack partners to ensure that hardware resizing is addressed. With regard to this HR example, the database server will eventually be taxed more, the application server layer will need to grow, security issues inherent to maintaining HR data will need to be addressed, accessibility to the system via Web Application Server or ITS might need to be considered, and so on.

  12. Meanwhile, the technical lead begins to work with the computer operations supervisor to secure technical sandbox or development resources, reserve testing time, and so on, in preparation for initially testing the change.

My customer uses this workflow approach to track changes in progress, too. Note that the weekly change management meeting ranges in time from an hour (status update meetings) to perhaps three or four hours (for major functional or infrastructure changes). This HR scenario would constitute a half-day meeting, for example.

Like the best of plans, our plans sometimes change, though. If changes to the master project schedule are required, the following activities need to occur:

  • Establishing new timelines

  • Reviewing resources again

  • Identifying and reviewing constraints again

I’m told that changes to the master project schedule mirror typical IT project plan changes, including slips due to unforeseen technical complexities, lack of key resources, scope creep, budget issues, and lack of ability to appease everyone’s vision of how the change needs to be tested or implemented. Special considerations and circumstances have taken their toll on past projects, too, usually related to other testing or change control projects taking precedence over the change being discussed.

8. Change Control Tool Sets and Approaches

When it comes to managing change, we are not alone. Long before SAP projects consumed so many IT and end-user organizations, we all somehow managed to implement other enterprise-wide projects. Tools and approaches like the following have long been accepted by IT project management professionals:

  • Embracing formal project planning methodologies and training

  • Management meetings, held to gain high-level management or team leader consensus

  • Team meetings, held to obtain status updates and ensure the team was making progress

  • Communication planning, and the toolkits that facilitate this

  • Change management training—processes, approaches, best practices, and so on

  • Training focused on problem-solving techniques

  • Training focused on assessment/analysis techniques

  • Business case management approaches, and training supporting this

  • Leveraging subject matter experts, via internal and external consulting resources

  • Change management software applications

With regard to this last item, change management software applications, a number of these abound specifically for I seem to run into a particular company more than any other—Kintana. Their “Kintana Accelerator for” allows for end-to-end change management, while also providing visibility into potential problem areas (like resource constraints, timeline inconsistencies, and so on).

A good change management tool will also hide unnecessary complexity (again, to increase visibility into problem areas), and automate much of the work of managing change. I like Kintana’s product because it is not limited to managing a specific SAP Solution Stack—various UNIX flavors, Windows 2000/NT, even mainframe database servers are all supported. Finally, because Kintana has products for other enterprise applications like PeopleSoft, Oracle, and Siebel, an investment in Kintana can really pay off across a mixed enterprise landscape. Read more about Kintana by visiting their Web site, or leveraging the “LINK - Kintana Accelerator for” document on the Planning CD.

I suggest that the capabilities and characteristics outlined in the following list serve as an evaluation guide for comparing the various change management toolsets available today. That is, a change management tool should accomplish the following:

  • Provide a consistent and repeatable process for managing change across the SAP system landscape

  • Safeguard the production SAP system from improperly executed or unauthorized changes

  • Provide audit-trail capabilities of previous changes to the system

  • Provide the SAP TSO with the information needed to monitor change waves, track priorities and resources, and so on.

Such an application minimizes unplanned downtime by reducing risks associated with making changes. And it also shrinks the amount of time people need to spend in change control meetings!

When it comes to managing the thousands of table settings and other options within an SAP client, SAP change management will always present a challenge to the organization managing it. By its very nature, the flexibility that end-user organizations love about becomes a driving factor in terms of the amount of time that is devoted to change management. Good change management tools will minimize the time by automating repetitive tasks related to transports, recompiles, system refreshes, migrations, and similar tasks. Thus, any software tool or utility that can ease some of this burden should be welcomed and fully embraced by the SAP technical support organization.

9. Feedback—Improving Change Management Incrementally

When it comes to improving any process, it is usually helpful afterwards to ask and try to answer the same questions that drove creating or updating the process in the first place. This constitutes a feedback loop when end users and other stakeholders are answering the questions for us. With regard to the change management process and organization, then, the following questions are appropriate:

  • How successful was the change? Were the success criteria drafted at the first change meeting on target or appropriate?

  • How long after the change did it (or will it) take to stabilize the production system?

  • Overall, how disruptive was the change to the business? And what can we learn from this, to further minimize the impact of changes in the future?

  • What individual and organizational benefits of the change have been communicated to our stakeholders?

  • What have end users given up or sacrificed as a result of the change (additional downtime, loss of other functionality)?

  • What skills and resources were actually required to implement the change? That is, how can we better plan for and execute similar changes in the future?

  • How well did the change team/project team understand and execute their roles and responsibilities during the change process? Where can we improve?

We have now concluded our discussion on change management best practices and approaches. In the next section, I take a broader look at exactly how change impacts not only every layer of the SAP Solution Stack, but every phase of an SAP implementation as well.

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