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From Managing Your SAP Projects 2012: Eric Kimberling on SAP training (transcript)

by Kristine Erickson

November 20, 2012

Eric Kimberling of Panorama Consulting recently spoke with Insider Learning Network to share his insights on the most effective way to train SAP users to drive end-user adoption.

Eric covered training approaches like train-the-trainer, end-user process training, as well as which roles should drive training, and why training is something like marketing.  SAPinsider’s Dave Hannon recorded this interview live at the recent Managing Your SAP Projects 2012 conference in Las Vegas.

Listen to the full interview in our Podcast section, or read the edited transcript below.


Dave Hannon, SAPinsider: Hello this is Dave Hannon with SAP Insider, I’m at the Managing Your SAP Projects 2012 event and I’m speaking with Eric Kimberling, president of Panorama Consulting.  Welcome, Eric.

Eric Kimberling, Panorama Consulting:  Thank you, Dave.

Dave: Eric is a presenter here this week. He’s presenting a session called “Best Practices for Achieving End-User Adoption Through Efficient SAP Training and Communication.”

Eric, your session outlined a few different training techniques, such as training the trainer, and pre-go-live business process training. I’m wondering how can an IT organization know which technique is right for their situation?

Eric: That’s a good question. There is no one answer for every company. It’s going to be a combination of multiple mechanisms and vehicles for assembling the training and getting the point across of how the to-be, post-SAP environment is going to look compared to how the current operations look.

In general though, we take some best practices of what most of our clients see work for them.

First of all, the train-the-trainer approach is commonly used for organizations, primarily because it allows companies to build an internal competence around not only training but just internal SAP knowledge. So that train-the-trainer approach tends to be pretty effective, as does the pre-go-live business process training.

A lot of companies think of end-user training as a big event that happens right before go-live, and they don’t think much about it beforehand. One thing we found that makes end-user training toward the end of an implementation more effective is doing some training throughout -- whether it be through road shows, or reviewing what the new business processes will look like, reviewing roles and responsibilities. There’s a whole host of things you could be reviewing in advance.

The short answer is there’s a multitude of different techniques, but in general you want to focus on training throughout the implementation life cycle.

Dave: When it comes to resources, do most companies underestimate what effective training will require in terms of resources? And if so, how can that be avoided?

Eric: They do. Probably the best way to avoid that pitfall is to develop a pretty clear training strategy and a training plan early on in the project.

Again, training is one of those things that is absolutely critical for SAP projects to be successful, but unfortunately, as is the case with any type of project, often resources get constrained, budgets get constrained, and it’s easy to put off training activities until the end.

So I think it’s important to have a clear training strategy upfront and also recognize what it’s really going to take to do a good job with training.

With SAP Solution Manager there’s a lot of great generic, canned training material that can be used as a good starting point for your SAP implementation. But in general, those materials need to be customized, and the training needs to be tailored for your specific environment.

You want to make sure you have enough time to open the plan for training collateral development, as well as the actual train-the-trainer approach we talked about, and any other training you might do along the way.

So while there is no one, hard and fast, general rule on how to budget for effective training,  the key is really to define that strategy upfront. Define what kind of resources you’re going to need, take an inventory of what kind of collateral you have out-of-the-box, so to speak, and get a good scope assessment of what needs to be done to tailor those materials for your specific business.

Dave: Who within an organization should really head up an SAP training program?

Eric:  I’ve seen two different types of scenarios work pretty well.

Most of our clients are bigger, multi-national organizations that have a pretty robust internal HR department. If that’s the case for your organization, this can be an effective resource to handle training.

I’ve also seen it be just as successful, though, to have someone from operations head it up. For example, if you’re a manufacturing company, someone that’s high up within the manufacturing organization or maybe the finance organization.   

I’ve also seen a combination of both work really well, too: You look at the skill sets that you might get out of your HR department -- generally  a softer, employee-focused skill set versus someone from operations who really knows hands-on how the business works and how to translate that soft stuff into something tangible. I think a combination of one or both of those areas, either HR or operations, would be the appropriate place to have someone lead up, and then obviously pull in resources from inside and outside the organization that can help you facilitate that effectively.

Dave: Is classroom training still the most effective method, or are companies leveraging a mix of classroom and alternative methods for their training?

Eric: It’s really a mix. Again, there is no one universal answer that’s going to work for any one company or -- even within a company --  for all the different types of employees. Some people are just going to learn better in a classroom environment, some learn better by doing, some learn better by reading through materials.

You really have to tackle it from all the angles, understand your audience, and really repeat your message multiple times. It’s almost like general marketing or communications, but you’re focused internally on your employees.

The better the mix you have, the more diversity, and the more repetitive some of the messaging is when it comes to training and just general project communications -- that’s going to be the best mix for most organizations.

Dave: Your presentation touches on accountability measures for training. What do you mean by that? 

Eric: There are a couple different layers of accountability measures.

One layer is just focused on the training itself: How effective was the training?

You measure that through metrics like competency tests, how well a business process is performed in a kind of sandbox environment. You can measure whether all the steps were followed in that kind of pilot, simulated environment. Those are training-based accountability measures you want to develop in a way that makes sense for your organization.

And then there are also the broader, operational accountability measures: How did that training go?  How did the overall SAP implementation actually translate into actual measurable business results?

That’s really going to depend more on what your business is and what your business benefits are for the SAP implementation, defining some KPIs and metrics that you can go back to, post-implementation, and checking:  Are we actually reducing inventory? Are we actually closing the books faster? Are we doing the things we wanted to do as part of our SAP implementation?

It’s a matter of focusing on developing sets of metrics that focus on the two layers: the training set of metrics and the more operational, end result-focused metrics.

Dave:  I want to thank Eric Kimberling for joining me today. Eric Kimberling is the president of Panorama Consulting, and he’s presenting a session here at Managing your SAP Projects 2012 on “Best Practices for Achieving End-User Adoption Through Efficient SAP Training and Communication.”

Thanks for joining us, Eric.

Eric: Thanks, Dave. It was a pleasure.

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