Avoiding SuccessFactors bad practices – field views from Marson and Pazahanick


Two recent podcasts with SuccessFactors experts bring clarity to good – and bad – cloud consulting practices. Here’s some keepers from the talks.

man-scratching-headSuccessFactors consultants Jarret Pazahanick and Luke Marson are part of Steve Bogner’s well-regarded SAP HCM Insights podcast series. Recently, Bogner and gang taped an erudite podcast on SuccessFactors “good practices.” After that, Pazahanick and Marson joined me for a not-so-erudite video chat where we flipped the script and discussed HCM cloud “bad practices”. (Audio version embedded below).

With the SuccessConnect user conference a month away, now’s the chance to frame issues I’ll be digging into in Vegas. For the first piece, I’ll break down some of the bad practices Marson and Pazahanick warn customers about.

SuccessFactors “bad practices”

1. Assuming that SAP HCM practices that work on-premises will translate to the cloud. Marson:

For those customers that come from an SAP background, it’s natural for them to always think, “Well, what did we do in SAP?” Although you can do some of that in the cloud, it just doesn’t always translate, because that’s not how SuccessFactors was designed… A lot of customers think that the technology’s going to solve their problems for them, so they don’t do all this HR work up front. Simple things like, “Let’s look at our grade catalog, or our job catalog,” or “How we do salary gradings and leveling and what not?” Then they’re trying to fit this very crazy way of doing something into the cloud. Yeah, you can [force] it in but it shouldn’t really be how you’re doing things.

2. Getting lured by a “cloud washed” services firm that isn’t an excellent partner.

At diginomica we’ve poked fun at software vendors for cloudwashing their product offerings. But as Pazahanick warns, services firms can also cloudwash their capabilities:

Some partners have put up a shingle to say, “We are a cloud consulting firm.” They have all the official cloud partnerships. They are not doing cloud implementations. It’s a challenge for some companies to do cloud implementations. With cloud implementations, there’s more business involvement. Some of the stuff Luke just talked about – you might not even need a consultant for that. You don’t necessarily need a consultant to look at every one of your business processes and bring what they call a “best practice.”

3. Loading up on too many consultants. Pazahanick and Marson contend that SuccessFactors projects require not only a different type of HCM consultant, but less consultants, period. Pazahanick shared this update from a recent SuccessFactors analyst event:

There are plans to start holding partners more accountable… One thing SuccessFactors promised to do was – and they’re just starting this – is to start to keep an eye on which partners are having more problems with their implementations. Which partners are maybe bringing too many resources for this project? You do not need as many consultants to implement cloud HR as you did in the on premise world.

Data migration and change management still matter

Ultimately, what Marson and Pazahanick recommend is a mix of new cloud consulting skills, and overlooked tactics that smart customers have always used. Some old favorites take on new flavors, such as data migration and change management. As Marson said on SAP HCM Insights:

Just because a cloud solution might be easier to use, it’s still not the most simple thing to use in every case. There are still certain complexities… I think customers shouldn’t be underestimating the change management effort required, especially if they’re going to be pushing out more self-service capabilities to managers or to employees, or even to HR business partners.

Data migration isn’t easy either: ”Even if you’re migrating from SAP to say Employee Central and you use the data migration package that SAP provide, there’s still a lot of effort around that, and there’s still certain elements that have to be manually done.”

Which brings us back to the consultant’s role in change management, helping customers to grasp the new system without overstepping:

Of course, there’s education that goes along with that, because the client knows their data best. They know their business best, so we have to work to constantly educate the customer as we go along, to help them be able to build a change management strategy to help with data migration.

“There’s no competitive advantage in core transactional HR”

The bad practices outlined by Marson and Pazanahick are informed by the view that there’s no competitive advantage in core transactional HR. On the Bogner podcast, Pazahanick cited this example:

There are some big customers that are moving from SAP to Employee Central. There’s hundreds of Infotypes – it’s a global company… There’s not always a corresponding place to put them in Employee Central. Of course, you can create custom fields and do all that, but you have to step back on some of these things and say, “There was a field for it. We put data in there fifteen years ago. We’re not running any reports on it. Even if it’s there, we’re not doing anything actionable with it. Do we really need it in our new system?”

With cloud projects done right, Pazahanick sees a welcome shift from exhaustive requirements gathering to an agile, collaborative approach:

Look at your business. Understand where you want to go. One thing I really like about cloud projects is the more agile methodology of getting requirements, building, getting requirements, building. That’s the way you lead yourself down a road to easier success, rather than “Let’s gather all the requirements and walk away and come back.”

Marson brought up Den Howlett’s warning about “legacy thinking”. One huge change from old to new: working on multiple, remote projects. Marson:

Just because someone was a great on-premise consultant, there is a different mindset [in cloud consulting]. One of the big things is being able to work on multiple projects. Being able to work remotely. Not every consulting firm is set up with that business model either, to be able to have their team working on two projects at the same time.

The wrap – changing consulting is a work in progress

A new cloud consulting model is emerging, one that works for SuccessFactors but applies to most projects that are agile, leaner in cost structure and business-focused. Some of the finer points are debatable, leaving customers to find the right mix. Example: the ideal combination of remote versus on-site consulting time.

Marson believes that time balance should vary based on the nature of the project. In the case of Performance Management, which is easy to configure, perhaps you could handle four or five projects at once. But for core HR projects, Marson cautions against that:

When it comes to a core HR implementation, you’ve got multiple processes. You’ve got lots of complexity. Even working on two projects at once can be challenging, depending on what the projects are.

That’s why Marson pushes back against a remote-heavy model:

I don’t agree with the on-premises model of this 100% on site, but I don’t think five or ten percent is good either.

He sees a project management complexity that would strain even the savviest project lead:

I’ve come across consultants doing six or seven projects, and I just think, “How can they do that? How can any project manager be able to manage the part of the project that involves them when they’re doing so much else?”… I just find it remarkable that systems integrators are managing the people like that.

For now, Marson advocates 40-65 percent on-site/off-site:

40 to 65 percent seems to be the right level. Because ultimately you have to have a lot of interactions with the customer. You have to do a lot of problem-solving and process design and rework.

On our video chat, we also got into a passionate/detailed view of the state of SuccessFactors certification – a topic I’ll return to. If you don’t want to wait, check out the full audio, or play it below.

Get the HCM podcast on iTunes.

End note: some of the podcast quotes in this piece were tweaked slightly for reading clarity.

Image credit - male mistake concept - confused young dark man pouting, holding his head, embarrassed, having regret, texture effects in studio © STUDIO GRAND OUEST - Fotolia.com.

Disclosure - SAP is a diginomica premier partner.

    Comments are closed.

    1. says:

      Good article. I agree with much of what Luke and Jarret have said here. But I have to disagree, to an extent, with the remote-onsite numbers and the number of projects that Luke cites. The remote-onsite percentage will vary based on the modules being implemented. Obviously, EC implementations are generally more complex and may require more onsite involvement of consultants. If its a large, global implementation, 40-60% may be the right percentage of onsite time. However, smaller, less complex implementations don’t require that much time onsite. Consultants experienced with delivering SuccessFactors in the traditional remote model can manage nearly 100% remote project delivery very well if the client is of a certain size and complexity. Now, if you look at other modules such as Performance and Goals, these projects are faster, they are less complex and can be very easily delivered remotely.

      Many times, its not just the client that needs to adjust to the remote delivery style, its the consultant as well. As a former HCM on premise consultant, it was definitely a change for me to adjust to working with clients strictly over the phone and web conference, but I adjusted quickly to the different interaction and now deliver most of our projects remotely. Most of my consultants come from this background as well and we are well versed in this delivery model.

      As for the number of projects consultants juggle, again you need to look at the modules in play. I agree with Luke that 4-5 or more EC projects just doesn’t seem manageable to me on any level! But Performance and Goals is completely doable, again if you have a skilled and experienced consultant. Working on multiple projects at one time is something that is very different from SAP HCM on premise, where consultants work full time on one project for months on end and then move to the next. Again, its a change for the consultant as well. Given how cyclical SuccessFactors is implemented, multiple projects at one time can be well managed. But it all depends on the consultant involved! That consultant needs to adjust to working with multiple clients at one time and get into the rhythm of doing so. Resource project planning is important here as well. You can’t expect a consultant to manage 3 or 4 kick off meetings and deliver an Iteration 1 configuration for those customers at the same time.

      It always comes down to the individual consultant(s) involved, their experience with the product and what their workload is. Customers vetting partners need to ask specific questions about the bench of any partner they are speaking with. Don’t worry whether someone is “certified” or not, certification has become so watered down its nearly meaningless, in my opinion. Ask how many projects they’ve delivered and how many other projects they are working on.

      Just my two cents from 10 years delivering SuccessFactors.

      Amy Grubb
      Cloud Consulting Partners, Inc.

      1. Jon Reed says:

        Thanks Amy – useful views from your side and thanks for taking the time. I don’t think you disagree with Luke as much as you might think on the remote consulting side. I didn’t get into the nuances of that as the article is long enough as it is, but in their SAP HCM Insights podcast, the guys discuss some of the variations in remote needs based on the nature of the cloud HCM project. And while there is not total agreement between the podcast participants, the variation in remote consulting needs based on the modules implemented – and other factors, is considered in-depth. I didn’t get into that as much here but you bring up a key point.

        As for certification, you say: “Don’t worry whether someone is “certified” or not, certification has become so watered down its nearly meaningless, in my opinion.”

        I would agree with that except for the professional level certification, which doesn’t strike me as watered down, check the embedded podcast for more on that. The issue there is more educating customers on that certification.

        Finally, to your point about balancing multiple projects and the difference between EC versus multiple Performance and Goals projects, don’t disagree, but that IS addressed in the article above.

        – Jon

    2. Jarret Pazahanick says:

      Some great topics and two that I am pretty passionate about so thanks for joining the conversation Amy.

      Luke and I have differing opinions on remote consulting and I can definitely see where he is coming from, but at the same time I have seen first hand a 20% on-site 80% off site work even in the more complex areas of SuccessFactors and EVEN in the old school SAP Payroll world (which is complex) as I have personally done both. It takes a certain type of consultant and customer and important to note over 18 years I have seen “consultants” spend 100% of time on site and add very little value to customers. What if a big SI has 4-5 EC consulting team members (crazy I know but happens), is there value in all 5 being on site 100% of the time (answer is NOT for customer) 🙂 I am biased as I go over an above on remote engagements as I value the work/life balance it provides me after spending 15-16 years in the 75-80% on site model. There are SO many tools available these days to be able to effectively communicate that remote consulting is easier than ever. On a side some “consultants” can handle 1 project while others can handle 3-4 with a majority remote which is why it is SO important that consultants and SI’s are vetted by customers. Even though these are for SAP HCM many still apply in the cloud world (I should really update) 🙂



      As far as certification, I agree with Jon that the SF Professional Certification does has some “value” but unfortunately 98% of customers dont know that difference between Professional and Associate which does “water down” all the certification unfortunately. There are many public stories of “consultants” getting SF Associate certification without even having access to a SF system which definitely “waters” it down as well. It is important to note that an area in the SuccessFactors world that I “play” Employee Central Payroll doesn’t even have a certification.

      Great to keep the conversation going and one of those topics that is not black and white.

      1. Jon Reed says:

        Good stuff Jarret and I think the certification part is a bit semantical, it comes down to value versus perceived value. That’s why there must be education with customers if the value is to be realized (at the professional level). At the same time, I believe that the Associate level would also have to be strengthened for the certification system to be impactful. You can’t have one level with value and one that has questionable value. But then that’s a very old saw at this point. 🙂

        However it does make me want to go back to the topic one more time before SuccessConnect so that SAP can look forward to that discussion once again…

        – Jon

    3. Peter Lowe says:

      A nice perspective on how to run a SAAS project and I can’t fault these comments and some of the replies as context and balance is king when it comes to staffing projects, in my practice management days I would agree with the customer up front, lets agree the work break down and delivery model that we see will achieve success and then if we are going to fight over costs let’s do it on day rates and not compromise on the quality or the risk profile. I would however add another dimension to your thinking which is to watch out for your integrations. If you undertake a legacy data exchange type integration the workflows and the control data needed to drive the accuracy of the output will cause workflow constraints and likely data import requirements that will significantly compromise the flexibility and often the usability of the new system just to drive the requirements of legacy one. The only options that I see success from is either doing real time API based integrations or cutting down the number of integrations to ensure that the program objectives can be met rather than constrained due to these legacy overheads. The last thing you want to do is build your workflows then find out your integrations keep failing.

      1. Jon Reed says:

        Thanks Peter – agree that the comments on a post like this add a lot of invaluable context. To your point on integrations, definitely. There is only so much you can cover in one post but integration is a factor in these projects. As “data gravity” shifts to the cloud there is a whole new set of integration issues between cloud-based systems. APIs are useful but just like standardization is important for SaaS, so is reducing fussy integrations in favor of a simplified environment. Easier said than done in many cases, but it does provide an impetus to re-evaluate legacy systems.

        – Jon

    4. says:

      Some great comments here. I’m not going to respond to all comments, but a couple of points I’d like to make based on some of these:

      1. Professional Certified proves experience and is definitely the benchmark for consultants. I do agree that Associate Certified doesn’t really prove anything on its own; it only works in conjunction with experience, which ultimately leads to Professional Certified
      2. I do agree that non-Employee Central projects can be juggled much more easily and performed remotely with much more easy. However, in terms of remote vs on-site for EC I tend to see greater success for projects with more on-site presence.
      3. Vetting is under-performed but is of huge value. Customers need to vet their partners and the partner consultants