How agile methods can work in an SAP environment
Sometimes you need to think outside the box. After all, isn’t that what MacGyver did? When it comes to complex challenges, particularly in IT development, a step-by-step instruction manual isn’t always the way to go. If you work in an ever-evolving environment, you need to break up familiar processes and schedules to make room for flexibility and reflection. Agile working is the most well-known and efficient tool for doing just that.
Classic project management is usually characterised by long work stretches until the product (e.g. software) is presented to the customer in its final version for the first time. Agile working is all about those short work spurts. Large tasks are split up into small work packages and milestones are regularly presented to the client. Products are optimised along the way and adaptations are made if the market or customer requirements change. This method is exactly what makes the work more agile. By taking into account any changes to the market, you’re making sure that the results you present after months of work aren’t already outdated.
Agile meets SAP: meetup @Unite
Agile methods have become the go-to way of working in the IT industry over the past years, and that includes the SAP environment. Unite held its first SAP Meetup in Leipzig in 2022, creating space for professional discussions and networking. Agile coach Jana Wachsmuth and product owner Lukas Marsoner talked about what agile working means at Unite.
How do SAP and agility go together?
The B2B platform company Unite also uses an agile working style with software giants such as SAP, who aren’t known for their agile development methods. And how does that work exactly? With new, agile scrum processes! Processes nonetheless, but better. For these processes to work in everyday situations, Unite adapted predefined agile working methods. We set a few parameters with enough freedom to work on creative solutions.
For structuring purposes, we work in fixed formats that have established themselves in the agile world: biweekly work iterations (sprints), regular catch-ups (daily), joint task planning sessions (planning), presenting results (review) and reflecting on the collaboration so far (retrospective). Tools like Jira and Confluence help us organise everything in a ticketing system. The product owner is responsible for all aspects of the product. The scrum master makes sure that the team works together efficiently, removing any obstacles they may face. Find out more about each role within an agile working team here.
Mindset is part of the method
Once the structure is in place, you need to ask yourself: why am I doing this and who am I doing it for? Agile working is an attitude with a strong focus on the customer. Rather than presenting a result at the end of a work phase, the requester is involved in the process and shares feedback on partial outputs along the way. Adjustments are much more pain-free and quicker to implement when done in short iterations (2-week sprints). This reduces the risk of working on something for months only to then have the customer or stakeholder reject it. Also, the whole team becomes more valuable to the company and changes it position as a mere implementer to that of an advisor.
You can tell that high levels of communication are crucial in agile working. Regular meetings are set up to share feedback, discuss work packages, uncover interfaces and dependencies, clarify priorities and answer questions. This is quite time-consuming, but it reduces the friction in the following working phase. “We notice that problems become more obvious this way,” says Jana Wachsmuth, one of Unite’s agile coaches.
Each team member takes responsibility for their own contribution. However trivial this may sound, it’s essential to the process. “We agree on a goal that we want to hit within a 2-week period,” says Jana. Once that’s done, the team members can work on their respective contributions autonomously. Autonomous working means finding a solution independently. What that solution might look like is up to each team member. Here’s where an agile mindset pays off: the freedom to think for yourself, be creative, have more fun and even find an innovative approach that you wouldn’t have thought of in a more traditional, predefined way of working.
Assign roles and involve externals
For a long time, SAP consultants weren’t integrated into our agile working world. They were cut off from these types of methods and considered free radicals outside of their meeting routines and roles. Now that we’re involving them, we’ve seen a paradigm shift within IT. Suddenly, many previously unseen intersections became visible.
To achieve this level of change, Jana recommends bringing an agile coach or scrum master on board. The scrum master handles explaining the agile working method and making sure the team sticks to it. They also regularly collect feedback and make improvements along the way.
“We have SAP consultants as part of our development teams. Their roles are very similar to those of a product owner in the agile world. It’s our job to remove any friction in the intersections and distribute tasks as clearly as possible,” says Jana. Both a product owner and an in-house SAP consultant reach out to stakeholders and do an initial consultation on specific solutions. The classic scrum method doesn’t cover this, which is why a more customised solution takes over. Our approach: the consultants focus on content-related work. The product owner connects the team with the stakeholder. Both work out initial agreements with the stakeholders and keep each other in the loop whilst doing their own work in parallel.
Here are Jana’s tips for those who want to give agile working in an SAP environment a go:
Get external employees involved in the agile working method. Invite them to meetings and assign them a role from the agile world.
Split up large tasks into bite-sized chunks. This way, you can always adjust the method within any given task and celebrate the small wins as you go.
If possible, bring an agile coach or scrum master – possibly a freelancer – on board, especially in the first transition period.