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Ross Barnes-Moore05-Oct-2022 12:17:5410 min read

Create a culture for success on your SAP S/4HANA migration project

Project Culture on S/4HANA Migrations

One of the best compliments I ever had as a consultant was being nominated for a client’s employee award by the client’s own staff.

They thought I worked for their company.

But this wasn’t just a fluke — I worked hard to fit in with their culture, and I helped them deliver a great project.

Recently, I joined Resulting to work with a group of people I’d worked with more than 20 years ago, but that had left a lasting impression on me.

I remembered this group of people because they created a great team and the culture the last time I worked with them — so I knew Resulting would be an environment I could deliver in.

And, whether you’re working on an S/4HANA project or any other kind of project, creating the right culture is vital to the project’s success.

My friends and mentors at Extraordinary Project Management (EPM) are experts when it comes to creating a great project culture - and they’ve been kind enough to write this article so you can create a great culture on your SAP and S/4HANA projects.

So here’s Sarah from EPM to show you how it’s done.

How to create a culture for success on your SAP S/4HANA migration project

In this article we are going to explore the concept of project culture and how it can help your SAP S/4HANA projects be more successful.

I look at project culture through the lens of a framework we developed here at EPM — the 5Ts of Extraordinary Project Management:

  • Target
  • Terrain
  • Tribe
  • Time Mastery
  • Taking care of Yourself (TCOY)

This framework will help us cover the many facets of a project that contribute to developing a positive project culture.

Why does project culture matter when you’re implementing S/4HANA?

There is much evidence that good company culture underpins increased performance — so it makes sense that a positive project culture will be beneficial when working on SAP and S/4HANA projects.

The culture on a project shapes behaviour, collaboration, alignment, engagement and ultimately improves results.

SAP and S/4 projects often have their own mini-ecosystem within the larger corporate they are serving, which means the project or programme leaders have an opportunity to build their own project culture.

What that means is that even if there is a challenging or negative culture in the wider business, you can still foster a positive culture on your specific SAP project.

Intentionally creating a positive project culture will help your Tribe work well together. But who’s in your Tribe?

When we talk about your Tribe we’re talking about everyone who influences the success of the project. Yes, it’s your dedicated project team, but it is also the stakeholders plus the “Business As Usual” staff that need to participate in order to deliver the project.

Improving the project culture helps your Tribe perform by:

    1. Creating an environment that people want to work in.  This enables you to attract the best resources, particularly staff who are not dedicated to your project.


    1. Building a team that is engaged and values diversity of skills and perspectives. It also attracts people who are collectively aligned around the Target — e.g. delivering your business case for S/4HANA.


    1. Establishing ways of working and communication that are collaborative and supportive.  This includes encouraging mistakes to be celebrated as learning opportunities and speaking up about issues (the elephant in the room) without fear.


    1. Accelerating priority setting and decision making.  When people are aligned around a Target it’s easier to debate problems. While there can still be difficult conversations, ultimately everyone knows they’re working towards a single goal.


  1. Limiting the impact of any cultural problems in the wider business. Even when a business is a generally hostile environment, a positive culture on your specific project can give your Tribe a bubble of safety to perform at their best.

Provided this culture is maintained throughout the duration of the project, you can create a high performing team that remain focused on delivery and don’t waste time on non-essential activities.

Deciding to stop those non-essential activities is one of the key elements of Time Mastery where we focus on effective use of time. Having a high performing team will help you attract the people with the skills you need to succeed.

But how does the wider organisational culture affect your SAP S/4HANA project?

If you want to provoke a vigorous debate, start a conversation on organizational culture.
While there is universal agreement that (1) it exists, and (2) that it plays a crucial role in shaping behaviour in organizations, there is little consensus on what organizational culture actually is, never mind how it influences behaviour and whether it is something leaders can change.

Michael d. Watkins

As this quote implies, company culture is a difficult thing to pin down. One definition of culture is, ‘The underlying beliefs, assumptions, values and ways of interacting that contribute to the unique social and psychological environment of an organisation.’ But what does that mean in reality for you and your S/4HANA migration?

You may know what your company culture is, but when you try to articulate it, the perfect words seem to be constantly just out of reach.

In reality, most people only notice their company culture if it’s really good or really bad.

A good company culture is demonstrated by the fact that people are generally happy to come to work, seem to like the people they work with and have a ‘can do’ attitude.

A bad culture is one where people are unhappy as demonstrated by frequent absences, a diffidence to do anything outside their usual activities or a general atmosphere of lethargy and obstruction.

A negative culture can also be evidenced by martyr syndrome where people are going the extra mile in their work as though they are personally responsible for the success of the whole organisation.

All this really means is they don’t trust anyone else to get the job done — and then they feel aggrieved when the organisation doesn’t value them appropriately. 

In simple terms a good company culture results in increased performance whereas a bad one delivers the opposite.

So how is Project culture different from organisational culture?

A good question is: ‘Can a project have its own culture separate from the organisation in which it is operating?’

Terrain, the second “T” of the 5Ts framework — which means understanding the context and environment your project exists in — would suggest that you have to operate within the Terrain of the business.

However, if you use Wikipedia’s definition of culture “The outlook, attitudes, values, morals, goals and customs shared by a society,” then a project has to have its own culture if the project team is to truly have the same Target. It’s as if your project team — your Tribe — becomes its own mini society within the business.

This is borne out by the fact that projects can become all-consuming. Sometimes you really do feel like you are on a desert island fighting for survival.

Successful SAP projects tend to be the ones where everyone is supporting each other in their quest for survival (figuratively speaking) rather than ones where everyone is competing with each other.

The challenge of creating a positive culture on SAP S/4HANA projects

Given that creating a positive organisational culture is a challenge for most businesses in general, how on earth can you create a positive project culture?

Not only will your project team be a mish-mash of different people from different places - internal people, independent contractors, and consultants — but you are constantly battling the twin challenges of change fatigue within the organisation and delivery demands from the sponsor and project board.

It can seem like an impossible task.

First you have to acknowledge that your project has a culture whether you have set about creating one or not.

Big consulting firms have their own organisational culture, and if you let them, they will enforce it on your project. That’s why it’s important to be intentional about your project culture rather than just letting one develop from the behaviours of the team.

Creating a project culture should be easier than trying to create or change the organisational one.  

An SAP project has a finite start and end point (although obviously your SAP programme continues to run after a project goes live).

It has a clear Target — going live and delivering the benefits outlined in the business case — and it has a smaller team with fewer competing priorities than the whole organisation.

However, unless you work with the wider Tribe (project team, stakeholders, business-people and all) to define your project culture, you are likely to get stuck with something that is less than ideal.

How values influence SAP S/4HANA project culture

Culture is about shared values and beliefs.

Every person within the Tribe will have their own unique set of values which they bring into the mix. We talk a lot about values and boundaries when it comes to Taking Care Of Yourself.

We work on getting to know your own values and understanding your personal boundaries, but we also work through techniques to understand and manage your response if one of your values or boundaries is breached.

Generally people are unhappy when one of their core values has been trampled.

Think of a time when you have been deeply disquieted or felt powerless on a project - it was probably because one of your core values had been violated.

Although creating a positive project culture does not require everyone to share exactly the same values, it does require sufficient commonality for people to get along.

This is why any statement about organisational or project culture needs to be simple, focusing on how people should behave to honour key values. People need to be able to answer yes to the question ‘Is this something I am comfortable with?’

However, commonality of values does not mean lack of diversity.

For a culture to thrive there must be challenge and the ability to disagree, otherwise there is no evidence of a healthy project culture, just a lot of ‘yes men’ reinforcing each other.

The difference between words and actions in SAP Project Management

Having shared values and beliefs doesn’t amount to a culture if they are just statements. They have to be followed through with actions.

I once worked for an organisation that had a very clear and positive set of values — in other words it had a good culture that people signed up for when they joined the organisation.

For a while it was a great place to work, but then times got tough.

A couple of non-core initiatives and a shifting market place meant the organisation became less profitable. The staff became unhappy and started leaving. The organisation’s values had not changed, but the management actions were no longer aligned to those values.

The real problem was that the managers still held the same values, but they could not see that their actions were no longer consistent with their own value set, so the trust had gone and the culture had changed.

Although it is quite unusual to have a stated culture on a project, all projects do have their own culture – created by the actions of the project manager and the whole Tribe, where the Tribe is bigger than just the dedicated project team.

However, the dedicated project team members probably have a bigger influence on the project culture than people who are dipping in and out. And, the leadership style of the project manager is probably the biggest single factor in defining a project culture.

The critical thing about creating a culture is that all actions are aligned to it. Actions really do speak louder than words, so you need to show from the top down that you are truly dedicated to the culture you want for your SAP S/4HANA project.

In summary, having the vision and courage to create an intentional culture for your project will help your team to thrive and your project to succeed.  You can intentionally create a positive project culture by:

  • Aligning your team and the wider Tribe around the Target you are aiming to deliver
  • Engaging your team with the wider Tribe by being explicit and intentional about how you are going to work together
  • Being mindful of the values you collectively hold and being clear about how they will help you all deliver your Target
  • Creating a safe space where you and your Tribe can communicate openly and supportively about issues and risks including naming any elephants in the room
  • Contracting with one another to call out where actions and words are not aligned with the explicit project culture you are trying to build

*The project Tribe includes the dedicated project team, all the stakeholders plus the “Business As Usual” staff that need to participate in order to deliver the project.

Sarah Walton
Extraordinary Project Management