Welcome back to Nerd Exchange, a new ASUG column from Jelena Perfiljeva and Paul Modderman, The Boring Enterprise Nerds. Helping subscribers stay on top of SAP, AI, Cloud, and enterprise software news through their hit Boring Enterprise Nerdletter, Jelena and Paul are funny, cynical, and always interesting—a breath of fresh air for the enterprise software landscape. Below, the Boring Enterprise Nerds offer their take on the topics of reskilling, upskilling, and continuous education for the SAP ecosystem.

Jelena Perfiljeva: Over at our Boring Enterprise Nerds’ secret lair, we've been talking about how important communication is between business experts and IT folks who support SAP systems. We both have seen the negative effects of IT vs business “tug-of-war” games and have stories to tell, don’t we?

Paul Modderman: Once upon a time, I was running a design-thinking session for a company that was evenly attended by business experts and internal SAP nerds. About halfway through, people got excited about an idea for an app for employee engagement. Think Pinterest, but with "Great Job!" buttons employees could give each other. They were pumped to make it happen.

At lunch, the leader of the internal SAP nerds in the session pulled me aside and said, essentially, "Stop giving the business ideas like that! They will want things we aren't equipped for." In that moment, I achieved enlightenment. Business and IT were completely out of sync.

Like a reveal in a mystery movie, I recalled that the room had been split down the middle: business on one side, SAP nerds on the other. And they never directly interacted. You could have drawn a line with black tape down the middle of the room. Nobody crossed it. The IT team believed that the business was an unreasonable partner who always asked for things that IT wasn't budgeted to deliver, and the business believed that the IT team couldn't deliver.

Jelena: I'm picturing the meme where two Spider-Men point at each other. Caption: "You killed the app idea!"

Paul: The end of the story is that something much less exciting ended up being built than what had been proposed initially, and everyone felt disappointed. We were doing a design thinking workshop, but the idea was dead before the workshop even happened. It was killed by the pre-existing culture between these two groups. I think it stemmed from two things: they had stopped sharing information, and because of that they failed to develop a common perspective.

It was kind of like a Shakespearean farce. If the main characters would just stop and tell each other their motivations, there'd be no need to sit in a theatre for three hours trying to follow old-timey iambic pentameter. But let's not stay in Sadsville too long. Tell us about something completely different!

Jelena: “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,” I worked for several years at one company as their only in-house ABAP developer. I was brought in because there was some dissatisfaction with consulting services and they wanted somebody permanent to watch over the company’s interests.

Upon surveying the landscape, I found not only a big pile of ABAP tasks but also a lot of finger-pointing, much like in the same Spider-Men meme. The shipping department allegedly didn’t read sales notes, and IT had to do something about it. (True story!)

We sorted out the pile by priority, and I went to work. Pretty soon, as I consistently delivered on business requests, I gained allies across the organization. The business folks stopped looking at me like I was an “IT enemy” who just wanted to tell them “no,” and they started to actually listen to me. I found myself invited to business project meetings where, historically, only functional consultants were welcome.

It is so awesome to say things like, "That's a nice idea, but it will be very tough to implement. What about this 80% solution?" and have your colleagues trust your analysis. And this trust allowed us to replace the typical “give me your requirements, then wait” flow with a real dialogue. (I think it’s called “Agile” these days, or something like that.)

Paul: That would never have happened at the company in my story. Boil it down for me: what made it possible for you to communicate effectively with your business counterparts?

Jelena: Here's Jelena's Three-Part Plan for Effective IT-and-Business Communications. (This plan works no matter which side you're on.)

  1. Approach the conversation assuming good faith on the part of the people you're talking to.

  2. State any issues as matter-of-factly as possible. Don't be angry, be specific.

  3. If possible, offer up your first thought on how you'd like your issue resolved. It doesn't matter if that's not the way it actually goes down. It matters that you've taken the time to think about potential solutions and to share your expectations.

Paul: I love it. And I agree that, if you come to a conversation expecting duplicity and bad intentions…well, expectations seem to breed outcomes.

Let me add in Paul's Appendix A: empathy. The ability and desire to put yourself in the shoes of the person you're working with is the secret super-power that charges up every point of your plan. Empathy extends to weird places, too, when you're an SAP nerd. Sometimes the most empathetic response you can have to a request is to say, "I truly wish I could do exactly what you're asking. But if we do it that way, it will cause you pain next quarter. There is a complexity monster I'm trying to protect us from!"

Jelena: Truly, SAP consultants are noble knights, protecting the realm from complexity dragons. All kidding aside, I think that's our ultimate wisdom nugget. Effective business-and-IT communication is the single biggest factor that can make or break any SAP initiative.

For more Nerd Exchange, check out Jelena and Paul's first column, previewing ASUG Tech Connect, second column, offering their predictions for 2024, and third column, prescribing their strategy for upskilling in the SAP ecosystem. And don't forget to subscribe to both ASUG First Five and the Boring Enterprise Nerdletter.

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