Lessons Learned from a Ground Up SAP Virtual Go Live

08 Dec Lessons Learned from a Ground Up SAP Virtual Go Live

Chuck Segale

Featuring: Apogee Enterprise’s Project Manager, Aga Kadej

How to Navigate through a remote SAP S/4 Implementation

Throughout my 20+ years working on SAP Implementations, the one constant in each of these projects is working face to face with all members of the project team.  This interaction often requires travel from my home to any place in the world.  There are better end results when there is plenty of in-person interaction during requirement gathering. This leads to minimizing confusion and misunderstanding. The usual structure is: the system is set up, reviewed with users, user testing and then users are trained. Then comes the preparation for go-live, the go-live, and finally go-live support.  This face to face interaction is so important to a successful SAP project. In early 2020, this methodology which I had used over many domestic and international implementations went out the window.



In early 2019, a company called Alumicor started an SAP S/4 implementation.  This business operates in a highly customized Make to Order environment that manufactures a wide variety of Architectural Aluminum products.  The business headquarters is in Toronto Canada with other branches in Montreal, Halifax, Vancouver, and Winnipeg.

The project plan had the typical project phases: Blueprinting, Realization, Integration Testing, Cutover, and Go Live.  The IT team included consultants and business analysts located in Toronto and in Minneapolis. My role in this project was Lead FICO Consultant. I was responsible for all Finance and Controlling setup and Reporting. Also, helped the Finance team understand how they will do their jobs in SAP.

Project leadership included a blended team of IT Project Managers and a Business Project Manager. Everyone was responsible for separate aspects of the project. Aga Kadej, one of the IT Project Managers, was instrumental in bringing the project over the finish line.

When the project started, no one could foresee the future and how this truly once in a lifetime event would impact the project.  A pandemic known to everyone as Covid-19.


The Story of the Project

From mid-2019 to March of 2020, the team completed a successful blueprint, realization, and tested 2 integration cycles. During this time frame, I traveled approximately 2 times a month from Minneapolis to Toronto.  Each time in the Toronto office, the Finance team gathered for face to face meetings to discuss the configuration and development of important functionality.  There were also many meetings to talk through all data conversions which impact the Finance area.   With all of these project tasks being worked on, it was important to utilize every minute when I was in Toronto.

In February 2020, the spread of Covid-19 was into the US.  On March 6th, the project team had a meeting to reveal that the client had suspended business travel.  At this point in the project, it would be far too expensive to stop and restart the project when it was deemed safe to travel.

As a project team, we quickly drew up a plan on how to successfully bring up on SAP 5 plants…and all of this had to be executed remotely.


How did the Project Team pivot from a Traditional Project to a Virtual Go Live Project

There was still a fair amount of work to be done before the April 26th Go Live date. There was user acceptance testing, a remaining solution build, the final round of conversion testing, and the cutover to production.  All of these tasks had to be done remotely.

Once the no travel message was issued, the Project Team had to make a change.

Project Management went into overdrive and organized the following:

    1. Prior to March 6th, there was an end of the day meeting to discuss issues and open questions awaiting business input. Post-March 6th, there were early morning and late day meetings to make sure everyone knew their daily priorities and resolved issues in a timely manner.
    2. Project Management took over organizing and scheduling every necessary meeting that needed to take place. As a result, the team discussed and resolved all of the imperative topics.
    3. Each functional and technical workstream created a plan broken down into daily tasks so nothing falls through the cracks.
    4. In preparation for remote go-live, we created a one-stop-shop webpage for end-users with all relevant information on it. (i.e. training content, contact information for crucial team members, a form to submit support requests remotely, and quickly reach the support team).
    5. During cutover weekend, stand-up meetings increased to 3-4 per day. Business users were working in tandem with IT in accordance to a carefully outlined plan. The handoff between major events was coordinated over text, phone, and video conferencing instead of the traditional face to face interaction. The IT Project Manager leading the cutover was on the phone constantly, sometimes in on multiple conversations, clocking 17 hours of phone/video conferencing in a day.
    6. As we brought up the plants in SAP and the users started transacting in the system without IT to support them in person. We experienced a couple of quiet days of very little support required. This turned out to be the calm before the storm. Once the users interacted with the system more, we started getting tickets ranging from simple training questions to actual issues. I’d estimate that 50% of those tickets could have been avoided or resolved within minutes if IT support was present on site.


Factors for Successful SAP Virtual/Remote Go Live

In no certain order, here are helpful tips for a successful remote SAP S/4 implementation.

    1. Technology – embrace Webex/Video Conference meeting tools, IM sessions, project document storage tools
    2. Trade E-mails for Phone Calls and Webex Meetings – Content in an e-mail can often be misconstrued and lead to e-mail exchanges that do not end.  Use phone calls and/or Webex to be successful.
    3. Communication – it was important that everyone knew what each other was working on in case there were touchpoints.
    4. Headset – if you don’t already have one, purchase a good headset for all your conference calls.
    5. Find a quiet spot at home – with my family quarantined at home, there was a substantial increase in noise inside my house.  Find a quiet spot in your home.



Don’t get me wrong, a remote or virtual SAP Go Live shouldn’t necessarily be a replacement for a traditional onsite and face to face SAP Go Live.  The expediency of talking to someone in person, seeing their facial expressions, and discussions that may occur after a Webex/video conference meeting is extremely valuable.  However, at the end of the day and in the world that we live in now, we must find different ways to keep businesses moving forward with their initiatives.  This could subsequently lead SAP IT Consultants and Business Analysts to see a new normal for SAP implementations…Virtual or remote Go Lives!

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