By Dave Hannon
Okay, those of us in Boston are somewhat “distracted” today by our newly crowned Stanley Cup Champion Boston Bruins! We admit it. But amidst our celebrations, I realized there’s something to be learned from their success this year for SAP project teams. In fact, when you really give it some thought, the parallels between a successful sports team and a successful IT project team might surprise you.
So with that in mind, I've compiled five things I think an SAP project team can learn from this year’s Bruins.
- You need support from the executive suite. Many Bruins fans will tell you that for years – no decades – this team lacked executive support and it showed on the ice. The team’s owner, Jeremy Jacobs, was long criticized by fans and players alike for not supporting his players and managers emotionally or financially. For whatever reason, that changed in the last couple years when he brought in a new management team including a president who has worked in the trenches (Cam Neely), and allowed them to go out and get the right talent. Sure enough, last night, the “Monty Burns” of the hockey world had a tear in his eye as he watched Zdeno Chara hoist that cup. Most ERP project managers can relate to this – getting support from the C-suite is paramount to success but not always easy. There may be times you feel abandoned or unsupported (the “lunch pail AC” of the enterprise). But do your best to remind those execs of your wins and how important their support is. You need their investment to bring success that the entire company will benefit from. I doubt your CEO will shed a tear on the earnings call when he announces the bottom-line benefits brought about by your ERP, but you get the metaphor.
- There will be setbacks but don’t let them rattle you. When you play more than 100 hockey games, there are going to be some setbacks and the Bruins had their share this year. Nathan Horton getting knocked out of the finals was only the latest in a string of unexpected curveballs (to mix metaphors). But the Bruins didn’t let the minor catastrophes sidetrack them and kept focus and discipline under pressure. In fact, they used some of those unforeseen challenges as an opportunity to come together as a unit. Your ERP project is more than likely going to see a rough patch and there might be a temptation to get down on things or even jump ship. Don’t. Overcoming the unexpected challenges can be almost as rewarding as achieving preset goals and can provide the “turning point” or periodic enthusiasm boost the project needs. Talk to successful ERP project leaders and they have their “Do it for Horty” moments.
- The role players bring success. A successful hockey team is not made up of all stars, it’s made up of role players and the Bruins had the best in every role this year. The best goalie in the league, for starters. A stalwart defensemen to lead the blue liners. The best faceoff man in the business is crucial at certain times. A veteran to mentor the rookies. A fighter willing to drop the gloves with anyone in defense of his teammates.
They even had a class A pest to distract the opponent at the right time. Your ERP project teams needs role players, not all stars, as well. A team of the world’s best ABAP programmers or the best-known name in the consulting world alone is not enough to deliver success. You need key players who know their roles – people from the various business units who can work with IT to make sure the system meets the business unit’s needs. You need a hard-nosed project manager willing to rattle a few cages to keep things on schedule. You need super users and trainers to help get users adjusted to the new system and track progress after go-live. Yes, even your implementation services provider must know their role and fulfill it without overstepping their bounds.
- Define success clearly and don’t settle for anything less. In the early rounds of the playoffs, the Bruins exorcised a couple major demons by beating their arch rival the Montreal Canadiens and then redeeming themselves against the Philadelphia Flyers after a total meltdown against the same team a year ago. That was a lot of success. Fans were happy. It would have been easy to call that a successful season and bow out against the Tampa Bay Lighting, a very good team in their own right. But that wasn’t the goal this team set. The same holds true for an ERP project, right? Set your goal and continue working until you achieve it. And hint: go-live is not when the commissioner hands you the cup. There’s post-implementation training, feedback, improvements and driving user adoption – those are what bring the Stanley Cup of implementations.
- Have each other’s backs. As a hockey player, there’s no better feeling than
knowing your teammates have your back (trust me, I spent a lot of years as the smallest guy on the ice, basically wearing a target on my back). From very early on, this year’s Bruins were walking that walk both by defending their teammates physically, but also by covering each other’s position if need be. When Zdeno Chara made a charge to the net, there was a forward on the blue line covering him. Michael Ryder, a forward, made a stunning glove save in the net, to cover for his teammate’s misstep. And a successful project team needs to have the same attitude. You need to know that when you need backup, it will be there. If a member of your project team makes a mistake, don’t go to the CYA finger pointing, but offer to help cover for it. Use those working weekends and long hours as a chance to come together as a team. Take on those tasks that might not be your job by definition, but needs to get done and it will come back around.
Remember, there are best practices, but there’s no magic formula to success. Every company is different, every project is different, and you can draw inspiration from a variety of sources, including sports teams like the Bruins, even if you aren’t a Bruins fan.
But today, aren’t we all Bruins fans?
P.S.— I promise, my last hockey-related comment this year, but I had to give kudos to SAP for using the NHL playoffs as a chance to demonstrate their dashboarding capabilities. If you haven’t seen it yet, the Experience SAP Hockey Playoffs site is very cool and a great way to show your executives the power and flexibility of analytics and dashboards.