SAP's online forum, called the SAP Community Network (SCN), includes over two million members, making it an important presence for customers, developers, and partners. With so many users, platform decisions and changes can affect a staggering number of people. The existing SCN infrastructure is dated and SAP is developing a replacement based on the Jive Software platform.
This week, SAP announced plans to delay releasing its new community software by a few months, igniting a contentious mix of opinions. While most observers believe the delay is a reasonable response to technical issues and the need for continued testing, others state the company risks "permanently blowing up" its credibility.
To learn more, I spoke with Mark Yolton, SAP's Senior Vice President responsible for SCN. Mark explained he based the decision to delay on several factors, which he subsequently summarized in a blog post:
- Technology problems, including important bugs that remain to be fixed
- Impact of end of year holidays on the project team and availability of resources to fix unexpected problems after release
- Opportunity to gain pre-release feedback from influential and active members of the community
Most important, Mark told me, he wants to ensure a positive experience for users when the new site goes live.
The decision to delay a project is always difficult and involves consideration of multiple risks, impacts, and benefits. In this case, SAP made an intelligent decision for three reasons:
- The delay causes little or no impact on users or stakeholders because the existing site continues to function without interruption.
- The original date was driven by desire to improve community experience rather than a specific external deadline.
- Premature release could cause unexpected problems, such as bugs or performance glitches, for the two million members of SCN.
While it is easy and dramatic to call this situation a failure, I take the opposite position and offer SAP kudos for reducing risk, maintaining clear focus on long-term user satisfaction, and being transparent.
We can find many examples where a business suffered substantial ill effects because management pressured a project team to release a customer-facing platform prematurely. For example, retailer J. Crew suffered poor earnings after deploying a CRM and web system without sufficient testing.
In this case, SAP's decision to delay helps ensure that users receive high quality, uninterrupted service. Since the original deadline was arbitrary and self-imposed, SAP made the right decision. Moreover, according to Marc Yolton, it is unlikely the delay will be significant relative to the project duration as a whole.
I asked respected community member, Jon Reed, for his thoughts. Jon's view reflects a nuanced view in accord with those expressed in this post:
In this case, a late launch done the right way is far better than a premature, buggy go-live. But, SAP will take a PR hit for these delays. It puts the pressure squarely on SAP to deliver something excellent out of the gate in 2012. How the community receives this go-live will tell us a lot about whether SAP was inclusive enough in their implementation to anticipate snafus they can't afford to have in January.
My take. This situation is meaningful because SAP's large community draws significant attention. From a project failure perspective, this case offers a great lesson -- don't take unnecessary risks, especially when your only deadline is self-imposed. In the end, good judgment trumps slavish adherence to schedule, budget, or the desire to drive short-term public relations.