Categories: Founder's Blog


Sam Bayer


Why initiation workshops make or break projects

Last week, upon my return from facilitating our newest client’s  SAP B2B project initiation workshop in Cologne, Germany, I found myself meditating on the question of “why are these workshops so important to our projects and what makes them so successful?”  I’ve been facilitating these workshops for over 20 years so I guess I take their execution and benefits for granted.  However, with so many new employees at Corevist,  so many new partners joining our fold, and a rapidly growing list of prospective clients, I wanted to make sure that we were all on the same page about the role these workshops play in laying the foundation for a successful SAP Integrated B2B eCommerce project.

A brief description of the event itself can be found in this document Project Kickoff Workshop.  The elevator pitch is that we assemble a roomful of stakeholders for two days and show them our out-of-the-box Corevist solution integrated to their SAP system and continuously ask them “why can’t this go into production tomorrow”.  The 100+ responses that we receive over that two day period become the ingredients of our project plan.  The end result of the workshop is an Agile 90 day Milestone driven project plan
At the conclusion of the Cologne workshop, I asked one of the participants how he felt the event went.  His immediate reaction was, “I think it was a very productive meeting and a great way to kick-off and structure the project initiation”.  However, he qualified his answer by conveying that he felt we may have had an unfair advantage over the preceding FOUR project initiation workshops that he previously attended in his organization’s attempts to launch an SAP Integrated B2B eCommerce website by saying, “..Of course it is much simpler to start from a system that is already in place and provides great features right out of the box”.  We started his project, like we do all of our projects, with the Corevist application already integrated to his SAP system on day one.  He went on to concede, “…But this is your business model so the design of the kick-off is perfectly embedded in to the overall structure”.
So what are the 7 major benefits of the Corevist Initiation Workshops?  (by the way, unless you can start your projects with the eCommerce website integrated to SAP on day one, you won’t get the same results at home :-))
#1 – Executive Sponsorship
B2B eCommerce projects absolutely require very senior sponsorship in the organization.  These projects change the way organizations work and how they interact with their customers.  Many policy decisions are going to have to be made along the way and without Senior Executive Sponsorship, projects tend to flounder.  By agreeing to fund an Initiation Workshop which will consume ~15 people’s time over 2 days, a clear signal is being sent to the importance of this project.  It also helps significantly when the Executive Sponsor shows up to charter the project team and the team is committed to report out their progress at the end of the workshop to the Executive Sponsor.
#2 – Meet your neighbor
In many of these workshops, this is the first time that folks from Sales, Marketing, IT and operations have been in the same room together at the same time talking about anything together.  It’s amazing to me how much time is spent during these workshops just having these folks learn about each other and their silos of responsibilities.  A lot of process “waste” and “I didn’t know you needed that” kind of revelations are uncovered in these workshops.
#3 – Strategic Alignment
Without strategic alignment across these functional areas, these B2B eCommerce projects are doomed to failure.  For instance, if marketing decides to launch a B2B eCommerce website that isn’t integrated to SAP, Customer Services is going to have an unexpected nightmare on their hands when all of a sudden they have to deal with all of these emailed orders that can’t be easily entered into SAP.  What makes matters worse, is having to deal with all of those disgruntled customers when they find out that pricing and availability are different on the disconnected website than they are in SAP.  Everyone has to have their say on how the project will unfold and understand the impact on their organizations as it rolls out.
#4 – Roll up your sleeves
SAP Integrated B2B eCommerce projects are a team sport.  A very complicated one at that.  In the case of our Cologne based project, while we all came together in Cologne for a 3 day workshop, we’re all now back in our offices which range from multiple cities all over Germany, to Belarus and the Ukraine, to North Carolina, Pennsylvania and Maine.  There are at least 3 different companies involved and the client has at least 2 divisions in 2 different countries (to start) and who knows how many internal departments engaged (SAP Master Date, SAP Basis, the PIM (Product Information Management) Group, Sales, Marketing, Product Management, etc. etc.).  All of these individuals, teams and companies need to come together pretty quickly and get pointed and energized in the same direction if we’re going to go live in 90 days.
It sounds overwhelming as I write this. 
That’s the #4 benefit of our Project Initiation Workshop.  We get everyone on the same page and establish: roles and responsibilities, communication pathways, expected deliverables and publicize dates of key milestones in the workshop.  The group gets to work together for a few days and begins to engage the forming, storming, norming and performing stages of group development.
#5 – Score the first victory for the technical team
Because we come to this workshop with a working SAP Integrated B2B eCommerce application, that means “real” work had to happen before we got on a plane.  Corevist and the Client needed to have worked together to:

  • provision the clients eCommerce website in our data center
  • establish virtual private network (vpn) connectivity to our client’s data center
  • transport our SAP assets to the client’s SAP landscape
  • configure our out-of-the-box application to map to the client’s Sales Areas and Document Types
  • establish users and their roles and privileges to exercise the system with
  • generate enough SAP test data to run through all of the initial roles, scenarios and use cases for order placement and tracking

In accomplishing the above, we’ve already established a good working relationship with our clients and have demonstrated material progress towards the success of the project.
By the way, lest you feel sorry for us, aside from establishing vpn access which could take weeks of elapsed time thanks to the paranoia of most infrastructure and security teams, we usually get this entire list done in less than 2 days of effort. :-)
Which leads me to benefit #6.
#6 – Build confidence and trust
Most of our clients have already been burnt…at least once…during their attempts to get their SAP Integrated B2B eCommerce websites up and running.  We get that and we know it’s important to establish confidence and trust as quickly as possible.  Since most of these SAP Integrated B2B eCommerce projects fail because of their challenges with integrating with SAP, we tackle that first.  When we show up to the Initiation Workshop with our client’s business…their SAP data, rules and processes…being expressed on the Corevist website in real time, you can feel the collective sighs of relief come across the group.  Granted for many of the attendees their skepticism is still on their sleeves, so we assuage their disbelief with a healthy helping of SAP GUI screens to validate that indeed we’re integrated in real time to their SAP system on day one.
This is a HUGE injection of confidence to the project team.
Another way that we instill confidence and trust, is that we not only capture those 100 +/- reasons why their website can’t go into production the day after the workshop, but we review our growing Change Request Log (CRlog) in real time with the group.  By reviewing what we’ve captured during the workshop, we’re demonstrating the fact that we’re listening, that we have deep expertise in the subject matter, and that we’re organized.  That leaves the group with the sense that they’ve partnered with people who care about their business and who are vested in their successful outcome.
This isn’t “our first rodeo” as they say.
As our Cologne workshop attendee summarized for me, “I’m very confident that we’re going to make this 5th attempt (at an SAP Integrated B2B eCommerce website sic) as the last one, because of two things:

  1. You have a robust and flexible solution which is already meeting the majority of our requirements
  2. You’ve got great people.”

The Project Initiation Workshop is designed to instill confidence and trust.  That’s a much better way to start a project than with just promises and hope.
And last but not least…
#7 – Establish a common Goal
Leaving the workshop, everyone knows what the project schedule is and what is expected of them individually in order for the project as a whole to meet its goal.  To be sure most everyone leaves the workshop with a lot of questions and concerns about how they’re going to meet their obligations, but no one is in doubt about the schedule.  They’ll be plenty of time to work out the details.  But everyone is leaving the Project Initiation Workshop knowing:

  • what we’re doing
  • why we’re doing it
  • when it has to be done by
  • who they will be working with and how to communicate with them
  • where the golive party will be held

A successful Project Initiation Workshop is one where as our Cologne client concluded, “…yes, I would DEFINITELY recommend this approach to other eCommerce teams.  And I will in the very near future!”
I guess we succeeded in Cologne :-).