In any project, be it a greenfield or an additional module implementation, being able to easily access decisions and documentation – or the 2 Ds – are the project’s lifeline during set up, implementation and beyond into support. Peter Stulcbauer looks at how new tools can simplify this process.
Imagine you need to remind yourself why a crucial decision was made or locate key information that’s buried in documentation. Hands up how many of you have had a problem finding it? This article explains how you can make that problem disappear by using social business tools.
The 1st D: Decisions
From the inception of a project, decisions are made including which architecture to use, where to house the teams, which modules to implement, how the go-live procedure will look, how to perform a cut-over and what the warranty/support will be.
These decisions are made by holding official steering committee meetings, running working parties, having coffee chats and by email. Some decisions are made and retained in email correspondence, while others require white papers to be produced.
White papers or decision papers are written and circulated by email for input and final approval. Once approved, they are often siloed within a server folder or a document management system. This precludes ready access for users.
Where decisions have been made and communicated by email though, they may have been sent to a select number of people for feedback on a topic. They are then forwarded to others, but perhaps one person in the group hasn’t been included on all the toing and froing before it reached them and they, in turn, forward the email to another person. They may ask the same question as one of the original reviewers, which has already been answered. Since they are unaware of previous discussions and agreements, this may block any new decisions until prior discussions can be located and verified.
During a recent SAP Support Pack Upgrade project, I used a business collaboration tool known as Jive. It allows the user to set up groups for internal and external members and for them to receive notification of any activity in that group. Instead of creating emails, discussion threads are created and as members think of someone else to invite, they are added to the discussion. Since the complete discussion is located in a particular thread, the new group members can read the discussion from inception to the current point. With this historical background, they are equipped to make a better informed decision and not hold the group up.
The 2nd D: Documentation
We also maintained all documents and spreadsheets within Jive and therefore the same group. This had a dual purpose: 1) version control was maintained, meaning we could revert to an earlier version, if necessary; and 2) other team members were able to open the document or spreadsheet in Microsoft Word or Excel and follow the changes as they were published.
Having the communication contained within Jive meant that new discussions could easily point to earlier discussions and/or reference a file. Also, as spreadsheets appeared as new versions, comments could be added with useful facts about the addition in the new version. Any comments related to the document stayed within it and anyone new was able to understand how and why it had progressed the way it had.
The support pack project was to upgrade the SAP system to the latest set of notes from SAP. I took advantage of Jive’s fast search facility to store all the notes in a special group. Entering in the search engine a note number, word or phrase quickly highlighted all notes, documents, discussions, and files matching the search term. The field can be further refined to only search documents.
Collaboration and version control
The project manager could monitor the status of discussions and documents at a high or granular level, as required. A particularly interesting document was the issue register. Having a simple spreadsheet logging any issues found during the testing would send a notification when a new version was published. The project manager would therefore know when to check the sheet for new changes.
Using the Microsoft Office plug-in from Jive meant that the project manager (or anyone else with access to the group) could have the issue register open and be a co-editor with any other parties who had the same file open. Once any of these members published a new version, the others received a notification within Excel that a member had made changes. They could then choose to merge the changes, replace their file or ignore the changes. By choosing merge, the project manager is able to see which fields and rows have changed. This is the same for Word documents.
Now that the project has gone live with the upgrade, whenever a question is asked about why a certain decision was made, the team can search Jive and find those references to the decision. Searching emails is dependent on retaining all of your emails, something that isn’t always the case when you begin to exceed your email quota. Getting a list of emails then means you need to open each one and read through it and if it isn’t the one you were looking for, you move to the next to only find it is about the same subject. That is because every reply is treated as a separate email, while in Jive, searching shows all references in a discussion, saving time searching for the correct information.
Businesses do not consider emails to be an asset because they are between individuals and are classified as a personal communication, with a large volume considered to be noise. Centralising emails duplicates, triplicates and so on the same information every time it is forwarded to another person. Searching this centralised email storage would create a list with many more emails with the same information.
By reclassifying emails as an asset, businesses retain important decisions that contribute to documentation. This is created during the project and towards the end of the project. Even though the documenter tries to capture the most important information and decisions, it is hard to remember all the decisions taken. Even those that are captured do not allow the user to retain any history of how a decision was reached. The added benefit of centralising discussions means they become a natural part of the prepared documentation.
Documentation once prepared is rarely updated, either because it is ‘lost’ in some multi-level folder or on some drive that isn’t accessible or forgotten. Storing it in an enterprise collaboration system allows a new member of staff to search for the document or be led there by a ‘pointer’ to the document.
Streaming and the 2Ds
Another benefit of using the enterprise collaboration tool is the ability to set up different groups or segregate discussions into specific streams. When working with several clients, I had a stream for each client, showing when a client started a discussion, responded to a discussion or updated a document. Their updates went into the stream I had set up for their group. This meant that I could focus more of my time on the client without having to trawl through emails, especially from colleagues who were working with me across several clients, searching for responses relevant to the client I needed to focus on.
During my time using this enterprise collaboration tool, I noticed efficiencies in reusing documents and discussions. Starting discussions in the applicable group meant that all members were aware of the topic without the need to re-email the document or discussion to another member who was included later. Pointing a new arrival to the group allowed me to quickly refer them to the discussion that needed their input.
Overall I find the enterprise collaboration tool easy to use and structured. It allows me to focus on the client at hand, creating efficiencies in use of time on both sides. When I need to revisit discussions, I can quickly refresh my memory on the status.
I suggest you seriously consider how you can use enterprise collaboration tools in your business and projects.
Peter Stulcbauer is an experienced payroll consultant who has been assisting clients in SAP for over 15 years. He operates through his company, Martarna, providing freelance services at client sites around Australia. He can be reached by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone – Perth: 08 9467 4997; Brisbane: 07 3503 6733; Sydney: 02 8022 8411; Melbourne: 03 9948 4033.
This article originally appeared in Inside SAP Summer 2013.