In manufacturing terms, “Make to Order” refers to a type of production where products are manufactured for a particular customer or sales order. These tend to be specialized items that are costly or highly customized, such as an airplane or a piece of heavy machinery, but the category also includes commercial goods like custom windows and blinds.
When properly configured, SAP is a great solution to tackle the Make to Order process, but getting started with it can be a bit complex. That’s why we asked one of our SAP experts, (one with over 20 years of experience), to share some wisdom with us regarding common challenges clients often face, as well as some best practices to overcome those issues.
Here’s that advice.
Common Challenges with the SAP Make to Order Process
We’ll begin by covering some of the challenges we’ve seen organizations face when setting up the SAP Make to Order process.
Too Much Data
Companies that have been operating for many years accumulate lots of data. But more data can lead to more problems, especially if that data isn’t exactly…useful anymore. Your data needs to meet a certain level of quality for any enterprise resource planning (ERP) system to use it, SAP included. We suggest taking data cleansing, validation, and transformation steps before getting started with Make to Order.
Even when you’re talking about good data, when it comes to the actual make to order process, lots of data can add layers of complexity to your configuration. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing—you should just know what you’re getting yourself into.
Lack of Process and Training
Another area where we often see companies struggle is with training opportunities. Far too often, folks think that they can skip training throughout a project (such as configuring their SAP Make to Order process) and then just tack it on at the very end. Let’s call that a “less-than-optimal” strategy.
The purpose of training is to be an ongoing effort to help reinforce the new skills and tools your employees will need to succeed. After all, you might have the most powerful tech in the world, but if the people who are supposed to use that tech haven’t been trained on how to do so, you’re only in for headaches.
Similarly, years of experience have taught us that building out your new processes is critical, and it’s best to start early.
Best Practices for SAP Make to Order Success
Next, our consultant shared these best practices for organizations that want to successfully configure their SAP Make to Order process.
Understand the Business and People Processes
In a project like this one, it is critical that you understand not only the business processes of SAP Make to Order, but also the people who are doing the job on a day-to-day basis. Understanding the business processes ensures that everything happens correctly in the system—which is absolutely important. But don’t forget to look into user pain points and work on ways to alleviate them.
For example, if a report crashes regularly, check to make sure there’s not too much data overloading the system. Bringing human empathy into the process will make for a win-win for everyone.
Outline Business Process Mapping Early
Once you’ve got a good grasp of the business and people processes, it’s time to create a good business process map. It’s important to do this early on in the project for a number of reasons. First, the best business process maps are those approved by multiple key stakeholders within the company, so you’ll need to give them time to do so. Secondly, outlining a business process early gives you a roadmap with milestones to complete along the way.
That way, when you start establishing certain SAP transactions, you can think about alternate paths you may need to ensure those transactions get approved. A better understanding of the business process early will help improve the SAP Make to Order process delivery overall.
Another way to improve your business process mapping is color coding. Specifically, we recommend color coding the different businesses that will be touching each other in your business process mapping document. Color coding will make it much easier for integration testing between quality and production planning to work out any of the issues you discover.
Perform Integration Testing
Like most ERP systems, if you do something in one SAP module, another SAP module either receives or sends back information. (For example, your production planning module configuration will affect quality, warehouse, sales, and distribution.) Here’s how that comes into play vis-a-vis testing.
Testing should be done in phases, first by the consultant doing the configuration, and then by a group of end users who will be able to identify specific issues in their day-to-day workflow. Just like with mapping your business processes, you should test early and often with the most up-to-date system you can use. Specifically, you should focus on how an individual module will affect the others it touches.
Don’t Leave Out the Finance Team
We find the most successful (and profitable) organizations align with finance through the entire project. You have to consider cost, pricing, margins, and more, all of which are critical to make sure the process you’re implementing is profitable. So it’s very important to have the finance team with you as much as possible when developing your documentation and business processes.
Find a Strong Partner in a Quality Consultant
Finally, some clients have this vision of consultants as someone who comes into the organization and says what you have to do, but that’s not the case—at least when you find the right consultant. At Surety Systems, we believe a consultant should be your partner and ally, someone who’s there to help you see the things you might not be aware of and offer new solutions to your problems.