Can the Agile methodology actually work in SAP?


Sonya Oberstar, Davidson Technology

It’s an age-old debate in the technology space, Agile vs Waterfall. We’ve all heard the arguments as to why each approach does or doesn’t work, particularly when it comes to the SAP sector, but is it time to embrace a more Agile approach in a bid to improve project success? Sonya Oberstar investigates.
As someone who has been recruiting SAP professionals across Australia for more than 10 years, and can see the value of both methodologies, I’ve noticed it’s a subject that continues to come up in my discussions across the SAP market.

I look around at my clients and very rarely does a project get delivered, on time, let alone on budget. In fact, did you know latest statistics* show that projects above $10 million are successful only 10 per cent of the time, 52 per cent are challenged and 38 per cent fail!

Is Waterfall failing us? Are we ready to start accepting inevitable change or are we trying to ignore it?

SAP has traditionally ran projects on Waterfall methodologies as we know, generally hybrid versions of Prince2 and there are strong historical reasons for this. During the time of R/3 in the early 90s, Waterfall-based software engineering frameworks were mostly taught to software professionals and subsequently adopted as ‘best practice’, which became the dominant way to implement configuration-driven package software.

This position was further entrenched by the release of SAP’s standardised approach ASAP (Accelerated SAP) in the late ’90s, which was adopted as the standard reference framework for SAP.

This started to change slowly after Agile became popularised in 2001 with the manifesto for Agile Software Development that was created by frustrated software professionals.

Agile methods, until recently, were seen to be more applicable to bespoke software product development than ERP implementations.

However, in the past 15 years or so, a small group of software development professionals found themselves in SAP projects and successfully implemented aspects of Agile techniques such as Xtreme Programming (XP) and Scrum in their SAP projects mostly ‘under the radar’ or hidden within a Waterfall framework, and it worked.

More positive openness towards Agile methods emerged when SAP AG itself started adopting Agile development around 2010, releasing Agile extensions to ASAP 8 as an integral part of SAP Solution Manager.

Anton Rossouw is a senior project manager and Agile evangelist who believes that when Agile is implemented well, it improves the project overall.

“Improvements due to Agility is supported by project researchers such as the Don Reiffer 2014 Quantitative Analysis Report that showed productivity gains and savings in practice of between 10 per cent and 25 per cent (13 per cent on average in the initial years),” Rossouw said.

The director and secretary of Melbourne’s Project Management Institute, David Childs, who has more than 20 years’ experience with FMCG and SAP projects, said the low uptake of Agile is due to SAP implementations having an industry reputation, deserved or otherwise, for high cost and high risk.

“Traditional Waterfall methodologies are perceived to have more control of risk and more focus on cost control through stage gates, a defined PCR process and a well-understood approach to earned value,” Childs said.

“In contrast, Agile methodologies with emphasis on software over documentation and response to change over following a plan are inherently ‘riskier’ in the eyes of C-Suite.

“When you weigh up risk vs reward it is not hard to see why Agile is a difficult sell in the SAP enterprise environment.”

Rossouw agrees with this sentiment.

“There is definitely an element of concern that Agile adoption (at team and business levels) would be costly and take too much time,” Rossouw said.

“There is still a perception that Agile methods (jokingly referred to as ‘Agile Fragile’) is undisciplined, unplanned and inherently ungovernable because no one delivers any documentation and/or reports.

“This is far from the truth because in reality, Agile demands a lot of discipline, communication and collaboration from both the project management, business and the project team and in addition emphasises strong focus on quality and technical excellence.”

These statements led me to ponder, do we need to educate C-Suite stakeholders? Do companies and PMO managers need to start planning for a change into Agile? Lead the charge and start the change process?

Let’s look at the release of SAP HANA products. The ASAP Methodology in 2015 was transcended and replaced by the new SAP Activate methodology that now has Agile development at its core.

Is Agile SAP here to stay? And if so, as it seems to be, are many businesses putting their proverbial head in the sand?

When asked, Childs believes that “implementing and understanding Agile, just like anything else, is not a guilt-free salvation to your problems”.

“Projects are by definition disruptive, temporary and noisy,” he said. “Organisations need to realise and acknowledge that whatever transition method they choose there will be disruption.”

Rossouw agrees wholeheartedly and adds: “Agile transformation requires a serious mind-set change and strong focus and commitment.”

So are we committed?

Within Australia we have seen a movement toward Agile transformation at the big end of town including REA Group, Seek, MYOB, Telstra, Australia Post, Suncorp, AMP, many of the large banks and some government agencies such as the ATO. However, there are still many organisations setting up PMO in Waterfall and continuing to follow a more traditional methodology.

Let’s be fair, there is no denying that Waterfall works, so what is the answer?

“You need to adapt, adopt, use the right tool for the right job,” Childs said. “It seems to me, that as a sector, we need to look at the case job-by-job, rather than bringing forward the thinking ‘it’s the way we’ve done it before, and it’s the way we’ll do it again’.”

Would you agree? I am open to hear your thoughts.

Sonya Oberstar is practice lead ERP/SAP for Davidson Technology. Sonya has been recruiting in the Melbourne market since 2006, initially developing the RDBMS sector she soon branched out to also specialising in PMs, BAs and SAP among other specialty IT requirements. Bringing this diverse exposure in several technical skill-sets, Sonya is a leading specialist for Davidson Technology in the SAP space. Sonya has strong, long-standing networks across the SAP and the non-SAP project space within both contract and permanent realms.

*Statistics provided by The Chaos Report.


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