Projects are the lifeblood of an EDI team. Depending on how your company uses eCommerce, you may devote 75% of your resources to projects involving the mapping, testing, and setup of suppliers, customers, and other partners. Every so often, something big mandated by corporate comes along, like an ERP implementation or a major system upgrade. These projects can really rock your world.
Big projects tend to interrupt your routine. The major ones we had a piece of eventually resulted in our putting all non-production support work on hold while we worked on project deliverables. That was a bummer, and the long hours and intense pressure weren't anything to sneeze at, either. While we were in the middle of the company's huge SAP implementation, it often seemed like we couldn't see the light at the end of the tunnel. We had a monstrous amount of work, some of which we didn't exactly know how to do, along with a dependency on SAP development work that was often not proceeding smoothly. However, with that project along with a later major upgrade, in the rear-view mirror, all of us who survived agree that the benefits far outweighed the costs.
Everyone's interested in WIFM- 'what's in it for me?'. What did we get out of these mega-projects that we felt so good about, and what are some things you can look forward to if you ever find yourself in one that disrupts your routine? Here are a few:
- You learn new translator-based skills. We had to deal with new application file formats, IDOCs, new communications protocols, and we needed to support several entirely new processes. New skills make you more marketable personally, and they also resulted in an extension of the functionality we were able to provide to new partners coming into our program.
- You may get to learn some entirely new skills. Due to the fact that we had more work than we could possibly handle based on current team skills, we ended up with some non-mappers learning to map, project managers learning to troubleshoot production support problems, production support people learning Gentran setup processes, and individuals on the team with no prior experience representing our group as team leads and project planners. If you're like the eCommerce people I'm familiar with, getting out of the routine and actually doing different stuff is very attractive, and we were definitely able to give a lot of the people on the team some new experiences.
- You learn some key aspects of project management. You may currently use MS Project to manage small implementation projects, but understanding how it's used across a large organization for a project that includes many thousands of tasks is an entirely different matter. Understanding dependencies, the impact of deadline misses, contingency plans, project organization, and project phases can help you empathize with partners and even other internal teams as they go through similar experiences.
- You interact with a lot of new people and groups. This was absolutely one of the coolest things for my people. We deal with developers and business-side folk all day every day, but working with people in a development mode as opposed to production support is very different. Indeed, developers and production support are probably not handled by the same people anyway. Developing relationships with the IT developers not only helped us down the road when we had issues we needed developer perspective to resolve, but it also opened the eyes of some of my people with respect to other career paths. For many people in EDI and eCommerce teams, the back-end system seems to be sort of a 'black box' that we don't know much about. Once the team was exposed to the development process and the different roles on the SAP side of IT, that became another potential direction for a career path.
Those are just a few of the benefits the individuals on my team experienced. Certainly, your 'mileage may vary' based on the type of work you do, the scope of the project, and so on. I'd be remiss, though, if I didn't tell you what I was able to get out of our projects from a management perspective. Here are some of the nuggets I was able to pull out of my experiences.
- I learned who I could count on. When in the throes of a mega-project with a timeline in front of us, I found who I could depend on to stay late if needed, who was good at brainstorming and resolving problems, who was creative enough to think 'out of the box' for a solution.
- I discovered 'hidden talents' among the team members. As with any team, you have processes and roles in place and any capabilities beyond those often aren't utilized. Based on the amount of work we had and the overhead associated with the project organization, certain people were thrust into roles and absolutely excelled. That allowed me to not only use those talents once the project was completed, but to also think in a different way about career paths for them.
- I was able to better identify who had communication issues on the team. Projects are all about communication, and those people on the team who were unable or unwilling to provide transparency into their activities introduced unneeded stress into our situation.
- I learned who among my peers were straight shooters, and who was willing to throw us, or any other team, under the bus when push came to shove. As with any project, even one as successful as ours ended up being, everything isn't necessarily smooth. Some team leaders and business people worked cooperatively with other teams on issues, others began with the assumption that the problem was in your shop, not theirs. Since we interacted with the same groups and people after project completion for production support, their behavior during the project helped us identify how to deal with them later.
- I learned, the hard way, not to bite off more than we could chew. We did a major translator upgrade concurrent with a big SAP upgrade. Fighting through issues that popped up on both sides was extremely difficult, and although it would have taken longer to have implemented them separately, that would have been the way to go.
Again, this was just a partial list of a few things I picked up that helped me with my team. As you go through your career, you'll often look back on something you went through and realize that it actually helped you in a way that you couldn't have anticipated while 'in the moment'. That's how I've felt about the major projects we supported. They didn't kill us, so they made us stronger! That's why I think you should look at any big effort that your team gets pulled into as a golden opportunity to learn.