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Learning & Development Blog

The Snowball Effect: Weathering the ERP Implementation Storm

Once upon a time, a major manufacturing company implemented SAP to handle all of their North American operations. As the years went by, the company continued to implement new modules and fine-tune existing modules. Everything was working well and they were getting a good return on their system investment. Finally, it was time to bring the wonder of SAP to the company’s global operations.

Thankfully, the company was smart with a solid ERP implementation plan, phased out globally over several years. First they went to countries south of the border where a different language was spoken by many.


So, the company scribes (Instructional Designers and Documentation Specialists) and their SMEs created materials in their native tongue and sent them along to another company to translate into the 2nd language. But alas, the screen shots were still in the 1st language! The translators did not know SAP and the scribes did not know the 2nd language to take new screen shots!

So, a third company was hired to run SAP transactions in the 2nd language and place screen shots in the translated materials. Finally the documents were ready for end users…but then there were changes to SAP… again, and again, and again. The scribes were quickly succumbing to the flurry of documents, back and forth, seemingly endless versions in various states of completeness. In the end, the scribes prevailed and managed the storm for this round.


Next came some small implementations in countries across the ocean. These projects added two more languages to the document versions maintained by the scribes, but blessedly few SAP changes. Shiny new digital libraries were built to house the materials.

The next year, five more countries, 2 more languages, and many new SAP processes came online. With the addition of these countries, the scribes were managing up to 12 versions of each document with translation and screen shots. They were dealing with almost 1200 documents in the 1st language alone, and quickly losing the battle. But, help arrived in time and once again the battle was won with many extra man-hours.

ERP Implementation Success Stories

Today the company is ½ a year away from bringing 3 more countries online, representing 2 additional languages, bringing the total to 8. This time, the scribes have been challenged to provide as many of their documents as possible, fully translated, 6 months before Go Live to be used by system testers. The scribes shudder…6 months is an eternity of testing and update cycles that will force changes to the “completed documents” over and over…how many hands must touch these documents with each change? The scribes are despondent. How will they cope? This time, they may just lose the battle.

Unfortunately, that little fairy tale is based in real life…my real life. My client and I are fully encased in the Snowball Effect.

The Snowball Effect: An uncomfortable state in which constraint after constraint has been layered on top of what was once a fairly simple process until the process is almost paralyzed by said constraints, but the project keeps rolling relentlessly forward.

The effort involved in managing document updates, documenting new transactions and processes, and then managing the screen shots and translation or retranslation of those documents is simply overwhelming. The point of paralysis is close, where the management of the process will take up so much time that the progress on new material halts. The snowball becomes unstoppable.

So, what to do? First and foremost, we are finding compromises in the erp implementation plan. Here are a few we have made with the project to mitigate the snowball effect and continue forward progress:

  • Instead of delivering thousands of pages of printed materials for the testers, we are delivering the documents electronically on a local print server via a simple web page. This compromise resulted in 3 additional weeks of development time since that time was no longer needed for printing and shipping activities, and the ability to update date the print server with newly translated versions on a daily basis. This compromise saved the company a significant amount on printing costs as well.
  • We have compromised on translation timelines for the other languages not directly related to this implementation. These will now be handled after the bulk of the work for this implementation phase has passed. This has drastically reduced the volume of documents to be managed at one time and has allowed us to focus forward instead of backward.
  • We are compromising by providing limited access to secured network sites and systems for the translation and screen shot companies in order to expedite document transfer. This represents an additional expense, but saves an enormous amount of time as documents progress through screen shots and translation.

So what is the moral of this story?

While an ERP system has an amazing potential to globalize business processes, we can’t forget that the people using the system will always have specific local needs. As the number of localizations increases, it is easy for the snowball to start rolling and eventually mow down everything in its path. In order to stop the snowball, we must compromise and find paths that we might not normally take.


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