Tozer Seeds started a project to replace their present outdated business systems. They selected SAP Business One as their new ERP system.
In this article we describe how Agri Information Partners supports Tozer Seeds in their ERP implementation project. Initially AIP was only asked to help them with reviewing the blue print documents produced by the ERP supplier. During the session with the Tozer Seeds project team it became clear that AIP could offer more.
Key elements in this project story are:
- In most information management projects, users of the software are involved in the project. They are specialists in the operational processes of the business but information management and software generally is not their key competence.
- ERP suppliers underestimate the complexity of the seed business specific requirements.
- Information management projects benefit from area specialists who can be the glue between users and software providers.
- The use of the Scrum methodology for ERP implementation facilitates both the ERP supplier and the future users in getting a good understanding of how the software should (or can) support the business.
- With a Scrum approach the ERP implementation can go hand in hand with the necessary change management.
A much bigger challenge…
Tozer Seeds is a mid-size seed company in the United Kingdom (Cobham, Surrey) with offices in Spain, the United States and now also in Australia. Tozer Seeds has its own breeding program for celery, parsnip, kale, sprouts, leek and onions. In addition, they also distribute varieties from other seed companies, for example, there is a long established collaboration with Pop Vriend for spinach.
During the conversation it became clear that Tozer Seeds had a much bigger challenge
At the end of 2017 Evert Keuken, one of our senior consultants, had a conversation at an ESA congress with Steve Winterbottom, the managing director of Tozer Seeds. Initially the conversation was about product management and AIP’s software solution Mercado but during the conversation it became clear that Tozer Seeds had a much bigger challenge. They had recently decided to purchase the ERP software SAP Business One. This should replace their current financial system and their current (seed specific) logistics system, Q-Seed. The cooperation with the SAP B1 implementation partner was difficult and Tozer Seeds had great difficulty understanding the functional documents written by that partner. The Tozer Seeds team had chosen SAP B1 but during the first steps of the implementation they discovered that they hadn’t checked sufficiently whether the requirements for their seed specific processes were adequately covered. Steve Winterbottom asked Evert Keuken if AIP has expertise in ERP solutions and whether AIP could help them.
Independent advisor in ERP projects
Agri Information Partners has several consultants with good knowledge of the seed supply chain processes and different ERP solutions. AIP has a good overview of the seed/agri business specific solutions and the more generic ERP systems like Microsoft Dynamics (NAV and AX), SAP, Infor, etc We have no relation to any of those suppliers and we can give independent advice.
The AIP consultants can support companies in vegetable seed and ornamental seed & cuttings with a wide range of services: strategic business sessions, process analysis, process re-design, solution selection, project management, development of a customised solution, etc. The customer can choose to hire AIP consultants for only one of these services or for a range of services in order to help you improve your business.
Exploratory phase in Tozer Seeds project
Tozer Seeds decided to start small and an agreement was made for just an exploratory phase. Two senior AIP consultants went to the head office of Tozer Seeds in Cobham (a small town south of London, right between Heathrow and Gatwick airports of) for a first session.
The SAP B 1 implementation partner had made little or no effort to really immerse themselves in the processes at Tozer Seeds
The goal of this session was a “high speed analysis” of the current situation. Based on an extensive checklist/agenda we analysed their ERP project to identify the bottlenecks. Very quickly one bottleneck became clear: the SAP B 1 implementation partner had made little or no effort to really immerse themselves in the processes at Tozer Seeds. They had mainly told Tozer Seeds what to do and they had written documents for the customisation they would make, documents that were difficult to understand for the future users of the system.
With the agenda and the questions the AIP consultants prepared, the Tozer Seeds team recognized that the people at AIP have in depth knowledge of the seed business and they were visibly relieved by that: “Finally we have met people who understand our business” was the statement we heard several times that day. With our questions we also confronted Tozer Seeds with many things they had not yet thought about properly. (Objectives of the project, scope, current bottlenecks that needed to be solved, etc.) they admitted that they had been a bit naive at the start of the project. At the end of the first session there was a long list of potential follow-up actions, too many to address all of them. After a “reflection break” in the garden the AIP consultants proposed to challenge SAP B1 and the implementation partner further on two crucial basic elements in an ERP system for the seeds business: products and batches. In a two day follow-up session we first explored with the Tozer Seeds team what the requirements are and on the 2nd day we further analysed them together with the SAP B1 partner. SAP B1 seemed suitable to support the specific requirements of the seed business with regard to products and batches but this was only the beginning.
Proof of Concept, nine Tozer Seeds specific cases
We decided that the SAP B1 implementation partner had to do what they had failed to do until then: demonstrate that their application can support the seed specific processes of Tozer Seeds. Based on cases developed by AIP the SAP B1 solution partner would give two Proof of Concept demos.
AIP’s input in this whole process was really embraced by Tozer Seeds; it was clear that they find it very difficult to organise such a course of action and to write good cases of their own business processes.
We wrote nine Tozer Seeds specific cases and made sets with example data for the Proof of Concept demos. To give the SAP B1 solution partner some more context, a chapter was added to the document with the characteristic processes in the seed business: from breeding to marketing (and everything in between in relation to the supply chain).
After the first Proof of Concept demo of the SAP B1 partner it became clear that there were quite a few gaps between standard SAP B1 and the requirements for Tozer Seeds. The overall solution of the SAP B1 partner for those gaps was: customisation. This did not increase the confidence in that partner.
Selecting a new SAP solution partner
On the advice of AIP, Tozer Seeds then decided to investigate whether another SAP B1 implementation partner could be a good option. At that moment we even considered whether a different ERP system could be a better choice, but at this advanced stage of the project this would not be beneficial for Tozer Seeds.
The documents with the POC cases were slightly modified and sent to the head office of SAP B1 in the United Kingdom. They were asked to make proposals, based on the information provided, for implementation partners who have experience with processes that are similar to those at Tozer Seeds. SAP B1-UK came up with two potential partners who could both, in addition to standard SAP B1, also deliver ad-ons focused on quality management and batch processing, both very important for Tozer Seeds.
AIP was asked to supervise this selection process intensively.
Within a few weeks and based on one document with cases, the other two partners had shown more adequate solutions than the current SAP B1 partner in one year.
We have started a partner selection process where Tozer Seeds would choose from three options: continue with the present SAP B1 partner or switch to one of the two partners proposed by SAP B1-UK. All 3 gave an extensive Proof of Concept demo. After these sessions the general conclusion of the Tozer Seeds team was that the trust in present SAP B1 partner was gone. Within a few weeks and based on one document with cases, the other two partners had shown more adequate solutions than the current SAP B1 partner in one year. Tozer Seeds decided to terminate the contract with them. At the same time AIP was asked to supervise the selection process with the remaining two and to write a project plan for the implementation after the partner choice.
ERP implementation using the Scrum method
After some sparring within our company AIP proposed Tozer Seeds to tackle the ERP implementation with the Scrum method. There were a few important reasons for this:
- The experience with the first SAP B1 implementation partner had taught us that documents such as Requirement Analysis, Functional Design, etc. didn’t give the Tozer Seeds team a clear view of how the SAP B1 ERP system can work for them. Documents were difficult to understand and there was a great risk of wrong interpretation and misunderstandings. With Scrum and sprint demos the solutions in the software are shown to the users and a feedback loop is created immediately.
- Writing those documents would take a lot of time again and after a year without concrete results, Tozer Seeds is ready to really get to work (the right momentum).
- Tozer Seeds did not have a sufficiently clear understanding of where the priorities in the ERP project should lie, what is absolutely indispensable and what can possibly also be done in a later phase. With the Scrum method they can discover what will create the highest business value and adapt the priority accordingly.
- Because the impact of the SAP B1 implementation for the users will be great, it is important that they are included in the changes from the beginning and that actions for change management are taken up right from the start.
To make a good choice between the two remaining implementation partners, the AIP consultant wrote a Request for Quotation document with a detailed description of the project approach (with Scrum), the scope of the project, a rough plan and of course the basic RFQ questions about the suppliers, references, support options, implementation costs, license costs etc.
We reviewed the RFQ answers. Based on several criteria, we unanimously decided what the best match for Tozer Seeds would be and we chose one of two remaining implementation partners.
Preparing the renewed start of the ERP project
We discussed the project approach with the entire Tozer Seeds team and the new implementation partner. Besides the AIP consultant no one had experience with the Scrum Method. The Scrum method has very clear rules and is not difficult to understand but alignment with the whole team was required. We considered doing a Scrum training together but this was difficult to organise.
Besides the AIP consultant no one had experience with the Scrum Method
On YouTube there are excellent 12 to 18 minute videos available that explain the different elements of the Scrum method very well. During a day we did a “self-training” workshop and discussed how to work with Scrum. This provided sufficient clarity for everybody.
The new SAP B1 implementation partner had indicated that they are open to the Scrum approach but during the discussion it became clear that the Waterfall approach is still deep in the capillaries of an ERP supplier.
By extensively explaining the Scrum method and answering all their questions, they definitely see the benefits of it.
All Scrum meetings were scheduled in our diaries
From the Tozer Seeds team we chose a Scrum master and a product owner. The Scrum team will consist of the Tozer Seeds department heads, the lead SAP-B1 consultant and a functional consultant of Agri Information Partners. We worked out a practical timetable for the entire implementation period: all Scrum meetings were scheduled in our diaries. All team members will approximately work 2 days per week on the project. For the time being we have planned 12 sprints of 3 weeks. Every 3 weeks the whole team will work together in the Tozer Seeds office in Cobham for 2 to 3 days (especially for the sprint demo preparation, the sprint review/demo and the sprint planning). The other meetings will take place via video conferencing.
The Scrum execution
For the Scrum execution (Product Backlog, Sprint planning, Sprint board) we will use the software tool Jira. The last months of 2018 were used to create so called User Stories in the Product Back Log: brief descriptions of functional requirements. By interviewing the future users of the SAP B1 system the AIP consultant will start filling the Product Backlog but everyone interviewed is also invited to create User Stories themselves. The collected User Stories will be prioritised in the first sprint planning and then the project will really start!
A small consultancy assignment grew into a substantial role in an ERP implementation project for a seed company. An exciting challenge and a big responsibility. We thank Tozer Seeds for the trust they placed in AIP….
To be continued.