As we look back on 2016, it’s clear this was no ordinary year. Part of what makes 2016 special are all the innovations going on in SAP consulting, and how they all connect.

You expect constant SAP innovation on the product side. HANA, the cloud, big data analytics, and blockchain (just coming over the horizon) are clear examples. And what product innovations like these have in common are two themes: they deliver more value to the customer and they disrupt the status quo. Indeed, when it comes to technology, the word “disruptive” is almost part of the very definition of the word “innovation” itself.

But 2016 has also seen significant innovations on the implementation side as well. And these innovations also share two themes in common. The first, like in product innovation, is to deliver more value. But the second theme, very unlike the product side, is to mitigate disruption. That’s by making SAP implementations faster, less expensive, and much more likely to actually deliver the functionality the customer expects. We’ve written about three of these implementation side innovations this year — Agile, Lean, and storytelling — in these three white papers:

·        “Agile iSAP Improves Project Outcomes with Richer Customer Collaboration”

·        “Packaged Software Implementations Require a Leaner Approach to Agile”

·        “SAP Consultants Must Tell Stories Too”

Agile, Lean, and storytelling are not new, of course, not as separate ideas. They just haven’t been applied very successfully on a mass scale in ERP consulting, whether on SAP projects or elsewhere. Agile, in particular, has been has been discussed for years in the context of ERP implementations. It has just never really taken off until now.

Use in Combination

What’s different this time is the understanding that you need to apply all three ideas in combination and to do that you need the right implementation environment — in terms of both culture and tools — to support an Agile/Lean/storytelling approach. Here’s why:

Consultants need to see projects in terms of value streams (a Lean concept) rather than as a collection of individual modules. A value stream starts with a set of inputs and ends with a desired outcome with a series of transformations in between. Examples are order-to-cash and hire-to-retire. Value streams are very much like customer journeys or stories, i.e., “I want to do this with this in order to achieve this.” Each Agile sprint — as much of the value stream as consultants can implement in two-four weeks — takes the customer part way along the journey. And each one of those sprints is a story (a chapter in the end-to-end journey).

Since a sprint is both very small and also a complete demonstrable functional unit, its story can be told very simply — typically in just a sentence or two. Furthermore, it is a story that the non-technical stakeholder can tell. Which means what the stakeholder wants, the stakeholder will likely get — and quickly. Just as value streams break down the functional silos between disparate modules, stories break down the language barrier between non-technical stakeholders, functional consultants, and technical developers (who may be offshore). Agile is more agile by being Lean and storytelling makes it even leaner by reducing the back-and-forth iteration that typically occurs in SAP projects. In other words, there’s less disruption.

Consultants Must Be Trained and Equipped

The reason that culture and tools matter is because consultants must be trained and equipped to tell stories and also to manage project objects as value streams — neither of which happens automatically. (Best practices and tools also count in helping functional consultants and technical developers communicate with each other better. For more on that aspect, please watch for my two articles, “How to Break ERP’s Functional Spec Barrier” and “10 Keys to Effective Consultant-Developer Collaboration,”  coming early next year.)

With respect to value streams, Capgemini’s iSAP methodology includes technology like its Error Proofing Tool (EPT) that prepopulates value streams with project content (both executables and documentation), thereby enabling extensive object reuse and enabling management by exception — both key Lean principles. Again, there’s less disruption because there is less development and what development does occur tends to have fewer errors. Trying to do this manually would be impossible.

But having great tools like the EPT only count if you can leverage them with stories. Otherwise, you are just implementing what the customer doesn’t want faster. That’s the story of 2016 — that we found the natural synergy between Agile, Lean and storytelling — to achieve breakout improvements in speed, quality, and customer experience on SAP implementation projects.