Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

Summary: SAP made the right decision in delaying release of its massive external community, consisting of more than two million members.

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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.

STRATEGIC ANALYSIS

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:

  1. The delay causes little or no impact on users or stakeholders because the existing site continues to function without interruption.
  2. The original date was driven by desire to improve community experience rather than a specific external deadline.
  3. 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.

Topics: SAP, Apps, Software Development

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15 comments
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  • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

    The move to delay, sounds like it was the only option on the table which to me is not too smart.

    The issue to community members is not that the project has been delayed - but the timing of the delay. In simple terms the community members learnt about this during the cutover time.

    I have seen some of the new functionality that SAP will deliver within the "new" SCN and I think they are massive steps forward - however that it makes it all the more disappointing.

    When the new solution is finally released, the community will see the benefit - and to be fair most members have been patient using the current version.
    Mark Chalfen
    • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

      @Mark Chalfen Given the technical issues and lack of user feedback described in Mark Yolton's blog, SAP had no choice whatsoever. In my view, they absolutely made the right decision, which is not always the case, as my point describes. It appears they continued work up until the time of no return, at which point they decided to not rollout the new platform as planned. Since there is no impact on users, aside from not meeting expectations of previously announced dates, the whole thing is being overblown.

      That said, there are certainly internal project management issues that SAP should address internally.
      mkrigsman@...
      • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

        @mkrigsman@... I suppose the simple issue I have is getting to the cutover - 48 hours before the new system was due to be up and running and delaying it then.

        I have worked on a number of implementations, different sizes, projects industry sectors, and some have not hit the baseline go live date.

        But the delay to the project was raised in advance on the cutover weekend.

        Change management is probably the key criteria for a successful project. Clear communications setting expectations around scope, timing and change needs to occur.

        Personally I thought this was being handled - but it has become clear, that a few weeks before the go live the team knew it could not be delivered on time. That is when an announcement should have been made.
        Mark Chalfen
  • project management ?

    Members of the community wiil, by the nature of their own job, have a great deal of sympathy for Mark and his team. Pragnmatically, it was the only sensible thing to do given the issues with data entry and search in the new system - my attitude is that, regardless of the UI, the reason i go to SCN is to exchange information, and there was a real risk of this being compromised if the new system HAD been implemented. However, a few things you haven't addressed;
    How did the situation progress to where the no-go was necessary ?
    Can (and will) SAP and the project team learn from this ?
    Where is Jive (the platform vendor) in all this ?
    martin.english
    • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

      @martin.english - the analysis is incomplete. I don't believe Jive should figure in this as a separate discussion. The decision SAP took with access to the Jive code was made a long time ago so SAP are deemed to know what they're letting themselves in for and in full knowledge of both advantages and limitations.

      The issues are much deeper and if the author had talked to the actors in this case he would have understood that.
      dahowlett
  • Wait a second...

    Experience in enterprise software develop suggests something different.
    1. Any proper development process (which, presumably SAP uses) will show the trajectory of bugs uncovered to bugs resolved over time. If the project was run using mature development processes, there should be early warning well in advance at milestones, user interface reviews, usability studies etc., giving SAP enough time to reduce scope or add resources months in advance. Sure, there is the mystical man month problem, but modern methods provide predictability.
    2. This notion of 'transparency' is a bit dubious. Maybe I'm reading too much int this, but the reason for delay that was provided isn't verbose.
    3. SAP is entering the cloud and social product arenas. Is SAP not using agile methods for this? Seems like this project is very waterfall - or badly conceives without proper review milestones.
    dhadden@...
    • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

      @dhadden@... you say: "Any proper development process (which, presumably SAP uses)" - did it? That has to be under question given the gravity of the problems which caused the sudden halt.
      dahowlett
    • I think you mean mythical man month

      @dhadden@... <br><br>but I have to admit that "mystical man month" does have a certain ring to it - does this come from Zen and the Art of Project Management? Maybe many projects would benefit from the whole team going into the Japanese mountains for a month of silent meditation.<br><br>I think SAP have been remarkably open about the problems with the project. It isn't often you get this from a large software company.<br><br>In a few months everyone will have forgotten about the delay. If they launched a faulty or unfinished product then everyone will suffer and the consequences will be remembered for years to come.
      jorwell
      • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

        @jorwell Play on words it was. The message from SAP was opaque. Today, there is no reason for lack of transparency to be proportional to size of company. 'Open' isn't a relative concept.

        The reality is that there is no competent reason for this delay except a lack of commitment.
        dhadden@...
  • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

    Have to admire the SAP ability to make an opaque statement yet claim transparency, introduce product enhancements and call it innovation, take legacy code and call it modern, tout sustainability with software bloat and blame the victim when implementations go wrong.

    Where were the internal reviews on this project? Design, UI prototypes, UML diagrams, code reviews, test plans, usability studies?

    Perhaps SAP tried to advance a skunkworks project that was more skunk than works. Maybe this was an effort by the marketing department. Or, given to interns.
    dhadden@...
    • UML diagrams

      @dhadden@... <br><br>There is a growing body of opinion that UML is part of the problem, not part of the solution. <br><br>Try having a look at some of Terry Halpin's work.
      jorwell
      • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

        @jorwell Seriously? I don't know what internal process SAP is using. A competent process is well documented with review milestones. My company uses UML infrequently. Point is: very good predictability on software development.
        dhadden@...
      • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

        @dhadden

        I am fully in agreement that proper controls need to be in place. So maybe SAP should have seen earlier that there were problems ahead.

        However I would say there is a strong dividing line between design and implementation. If SAP's design is flawed then no amount of development process management will help them.

        What methods are your company using by the way?
        jorwell
      • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

        @jorwell For some reason, can't reply to your following comment, so here it is out of sequence. First of all, if you want to follow me on twitter it's @freebalance (99.99% me).

        We use UML only when we encounter something odd. Our process integrates development, integration & support - possibly unique for a COTS vendor. We have revised good practices for the domain. Among those used is: business component mapping, market requirements adapted from Pragmatic Marketing, process of object-oriented spec development (b/c we recreated our software, rather than wrapping it), wideband delta, risk registers, 6 thinking hats (really), UI/design/code/usability reviews. And, we do this globally.
        dhadden@...
  • RE: Smart move: SAP delays community platform rollout

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