Change Management in SAP Activate: the Human Factor of Digital Transformation


In line with best practices, SAP system implementation projects, conversions, or migrations from older versions of SAP S/4HANA to the latest version are carried out according to the guidelines of the SAP Activate methodology.


Each phase, from initial discussions to go-live, is described in detail with this project framework. You know exactly what part of the system will be handed over at each phase. But is there room for people alongside the technology? In this post, I’d like to talk about the tools available for organizational change management with the practical use of SAP Activate.


Without Change Management, We Are Doomed to Fail

Basic project management textbooks focus primarily on the implementation of specific technologies. They talk about using knowledge, skills, tools, and a variety of techniques to deliver value by implementing specific solutions. Organizational change management, which is about guiding the users through this process to change their habits and behaviors to effectively use the technology provided, has always been a bit of an afterthought.


Of course, a company that decides to implement a project expects some positive effects from the implementation. Unfortunately, history is littered with stories of projects that fail—when the efficiency of employees (and even the entire organization) declines after implementation. Technology is not everything: you have to know how to use it. Just giving someone a trowel does not make them a bricklayer.


Without some element of change management, we are doomed to fail. Fortunately, this is starting to change.


Difficult Beginnings

In the SAP project environment, this change has been most visible over the past ten years. The awareness and value of organizational change management is growing. Implementation companies and, most importantly, the clients themselves are beginning to take this issue more seriously. More and more often, we also see a willingness on the other side of the project to cooperate and make changes. If I were to list four client-side elements that are the basis for a successful SAP transformation, they would be the following:

  • Understanding the need and impact of the change—at all levels of management!
  • Commitment to the change
  • Communication
  • Readiness to learn

Even the best technology will not meet the needs of users who do not want to use it.


1+5 steps of SAP Activate

With the SAP Activate methodology, SAP met the needs of both parties and unified the change management process by providing recommended actions at each phase of a project. It is a simple, general framework that will work in most cases, but it does not go into too much detail. The methodology is only a guide, and the foundation is proper management and external training.


Let’s go through each phase briefly.

Phase 1 – Prepare

The first phase of the project involves assessing the current situation and the organization’s readiness for change, designing an initial communication strategy, and building a change team. It should certainly include people responsible for communication and a sponsor of the change—a decision-maker, such as a board member, who has the appropriate authority and influence.


Other board members should be involved, and a stakeholder analysis conducted, identifying the most important people from the perspective of the project. However, the resulting stakeholder map is fluid. New stakeholders may be added or existing ones may disappear. Their importance for the change also changes.


The possibility of involving employees in the process as project ambassadors and key users is explored in this phase. Middle managers are a very important group in this process. If they are not involved in the project from the beginning, they may later resist the change and transfer their concerns to their subordinates.


Next, the effectiveness and availability of communication channels are verified and possible training needs are assessed.


It is also worth taking a look back at previous large projects the company undertook. This will provide a ready-made scheme that has either worked well or will help avoid mistakes that have already been made. Finally, it should be asked: do we have a communication strategy? Do we have a change team? Do we have a sponsor?


When choosing the cloud, the conversations start earlier, in the Discover phase that precedes this stage. This is the time to consider what moving to the cloud means for your business. This is when the so-called cloud mindset assessment is conducted together with the implementation partner.

Phase 2 – Explore

It is assumed that in the second part of the project, the finished change communication plan will be implemented, taking into account communication channels, stakeholders, and analysis of the impact of the new technology on the organization. Before this happens, however, the project team will undergo training.


For cloud solutions, in the fit-to-standard phase, the client learns about SAP processes and tests the software. It is worth taking the time to answer all questions, check how ready the users are for the change, see what their training needs are, learn what their attitudes are after the emotion map has been created, and determine whether the communication has been tailored to the appropriate stakeholder groups.


However, the communication itself should start in the Discover phase, where the main vision is created. This is where the priority of the project is communicated.

Phase 3 – Realize

The fit of the new technology for the organization is examined and the impact of the change on the organization is determined. After conducting change impact analysis, you’ll see the changes in business process steps, among other things.


Key users are trained in this phase—and they will transfer their knowledge to others in the organization.

Phase 4 – Deploy

The remaining users are trained, the readiness of the organization to implement the system is assessed, and potential measures to encourage employees to embrace the change are implemented.

Phase 5 – Run

Once the system is launched, users should not be left on their own. In the weeks that follow go-live, their actual readiness to use the system needs to be assessed and workshops be held to fill in any gaps. The key users trained in the previous phases of the project play the main role here.


At this point, the most difficult task is to stay motivated and work in the new reality. The users need to break their old habits and avoid circumventing the changes. To make this happen, it is worth celebrating even the smallest successes and recognizing behaviors that meet expectations. You also need to be prepared for mistakes and increase your tolerance level, at least for a while. As a result, employees will not be afraid to use the new solution, and the collection of recurring errors will make it possible to design workshops for the entire team and eliminate them in the future.


Our experience shows that effective organizational change begins before the project. As a supplier, we also want the implementation to be successful and deliver value. To build the right foundation, we start working in the pre-sales phase. This is when we recommend an appropriate communication strategy to our clients and give them time to convey the information to the people who will be working with the implemented system. This allows them to better define their needs regarding the new solutions and get involved in the design phase—and allows us to create a product that not only meets the expectations of all levels of the organization, but is also fully utilized.


We also try to emphasize the importance of key users, which is not always obvious to the client. This role requires a lot of work and it is worthwhile to distribute the tasks so that they do not exceed working hours. After all, it is important to remember that an employee has daily responsibilities outside of the project and their involvement in the change. Otherwise, it can lead to frustration and resistance.


Shared Responsibility

Can a project manager also be a change manager? Although this was not taken into account a while ago, it is happening more and more often. However, there are a few issues to consider before concentrating the responsibilities on one person:

  • Project size and complexity
  • Culture of the client’s organization
  • Previous operation
  • Need and readiness for change
  • Potential past implementations

From my point of view, these roles should always be treated separately. First, because they are very time consuming and should be performed by two people to be effective. In fact, I would say that especially for large projects, such as implementation or migration to a cloud environment, the split is mandatory.


Man Versus Machine

When thinking about a technological project, you first have to think about the users, the people who will utilize the solution to achieve the expected results. The world is evolving rapidly, so when incorporating digital transformation into an organization’s long-term strategy, people—both the weakest and the strongest link in any system—should always be at the forefront.


A major project, such as migrating or converting to SAP S/4HANA, implementing a cloud-based system, or changing ERP systems, happens once every few years and is a huge investment. Therefore, it is worth taking care of every element so that the investment is not wasted. Decision makers need to ask themselves whether they can afford to manage the change now, or whether they prefer the lower efficiency and ROI of their SAP investment. However, experience shows that investing in organizational change management pays off in the long run.


SAP Activate
SAP Activate

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Michał Sarna
by Michał Sarna

Michał Sarna is the head of the project management office for Hicron. He has over 15 years of experience in the SAP environment, serving as a consultant, Basis team leader, manager, and more.