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How to Build an Automated Agile Workflow in SAP

Discover how SAP-specific automation helps you to implement agile practices for SAP.

Agile is a software development methodology that breaks large, complex software changes into smaller units of work that are quicker to develop. Using shorter development cycles and a smaller scope enables faster and more frequent delivery of value, and enables software delivery to be more responsive to changing business requirements. Agile contrasts strongly with the waterfall approach, where large projects frequently over-run, and there is no value delivered until everything is complete.

There are twelve guiding principles of agile, but we can view them through the lens of three themes. Those themes are team and culture, value delivery, and continuous improvement.

Team and culture

The first theme is team and culture, and it encompasses four principles of agile:

  • Break the silos of your project
  • Build projects around motivated individuals
  • The most effective way to communicate is face-to-face
  • Self-organizing teams generate most value

Traditionally, SAP experts are organized into separate functional, technical, testing, authorization, and training teams. Achieving success with agile development requires a different way of thinking. Scrum, the most popular way of doing agile in SAP, brings together experts from those silos into one team, together with the product owner, business process expert, and scrum master who enables and supports the team. If the rest of the business is already using agile, there’s a good chance they are organized into scrum teams.

Even before the events of the past few years, many SAP teams were scattered around the globe, making collaboration more challenging. Modern tooling and automation can play a vital role in enabling geographically dispersed teams to cooperate effectively.

Value delivery

The theme of value delivery is seen in five of the agile principles:

  • Satisfy customers through early and continuous delivery
  • Welcome changing requirements even late in the project
  • Deliver value frequently
  • Maintain a sustainable working pace
  • Simplicity is essential

SAP change is often hampered by slow, manual processes that make it impossible to achieve a continuous flow of working software. Given the unique nature of SAP development, SAP-specific automation tools, such as ActiveControl, are required to drive agile development and continuous delivery of SAP change.

There are seven areas where automation can be used to improve value delivery:

  • Agile backlog: The agile approach means you’re working with many more, smaller requirements, so it’s essential to be able to manage those requirements effectively, including having visibility into their current status. The backlog management tool might be Jira or ServiceNow, and is used to store and manage the change requirements. Unfortunately, Jira and ServiceNow can’t connect directly to the SAP development environment. With ActiveControl, SAP teams can automate the movement of transports through the SAP pipeline and integrate that environment with Jira, so the overall backlog stays automatically updated as transports are moved. It makes it much easier for business owners to see what’s going on, and eliminates the error and lag associated with manual rekeying.
  • Quality control: With the short development cycles of agile, there is no time for rework. The shift-left concept is all about identifying problems early in development, to avoid the wasted time and delay that result from QA attempting to test things that won’t work. You could try to build a culture that encourages developers to use unit tests or SAP Code Inspector before passing work to QA. However, it’s far more effective to use automation to perform those checks and alert teams to issues and enforce governance, increase visibility, and spare developers the work of manually running the tests.

  • Approvals: A two-week sprint doesn’t leave much time for SAP changes to await approval. Automation can be used to streamline the process. In some cases, checks can be run automatically, and the changes can be approved without human intervention if the change passes the checks. In other cases, checks can be run automatically, and the approvers can be notified of the results to make a manual approval. Notifications and reminders that are tailored to the approval process for each type of change can help to cut the delay. And if all these approvals are being processed and managed by a single source of truth, generating audit reports becomes a matter of a few clicks.

  • Deployment automation: If people have to send emails to get transports imported into QA or production, there will be delays that make agile untenable. Using automation, it’s possible to eliminate manual handovers and checks. You can deploy as soon as transports are confirmed ready or schedule them to deploy at the right time, while guaranteeing the right sequencing, and with notifications of any errors. Automation simplifies a complex landscape of deployments that might have different frequencies and span different applications.

  • Agile toolchain: A number of best-of-breed tools are used to manage the software delivery life cycle outside of SAP, including for version control, requirements management, Change Advisory Board approvals, and document management and these tools don’t natively integrate with SAP. Using manual processes and handovers risks errors, out-of-date information, and delays that are incompatible with agile timescales. Using ActiveControl, you can integrate SAP change delivery with your non-SAP toolchain, to align SAP development with the rest of your IT landscape. See our ebook: Streamlining Software Development with SAP Toolchain Integration.

  • Flexible tooling: The agile approach understands that change is inevitable. User requirements change, and people move within and between teams. IT teams and developers need to be able to pivot quickly. There might be SAP system refreshes and upgrades, as well as non-SAP upgrades, too. Approval workflows or testing requirements might change. It’s important to have tools that can adapt flexibly as the SAP landscape and wider software landscape changes.

  • Multitrack development: While single track development works for many organizations and projects, multitrack development can help to increase the frequency of value delivery and increase the sustainable working pace. Even companies that mainly use single track development will often use a separate development system for large technical projects like an S4/HANA migration. In a multitrack environment, there needs to be a way for everyone to work with full visibility of any conflicts that might occur, and a continuous process to keep projects synchronized. The traditional approach of locking objects would not be truly agile, because it would cause delays while developers wait for objects they need to be unlocked. One of our customers is using ActiveControl to support an N+10 environment, merging changes and synchronizing continuously.

Continuous improvement

The theme of continuous improvement summarizes three of the guiding principles of agile:

  • Working software is the primary measure of progress
  • Continuous excellence enhances agility
  • Regularly reflect and adjust the way of working accordingly

The reality is that nothing is ever 100% perfect. There will always be some degree of human error. It’s important to review successes and failures, so that processes can be continuously refined. Tooling and automation help by exposing metrics that illuminate what happened. We recommend using metrics to analyze throughput, cycle times, rework, work in progress, and approval times. It’s important to make sure teams have tooling in place that enables continuous improvement.

Conclusion

In this article, we’ve outlined how automation can be used to improve team cooperation, enhance value delivery, and focus on continuous improvement. This is more than theory: we have customers that have adopted agile practices, with ActiveControl providing the enabling automation. Vistaprint, for example, uses ActiveControl for automated deployments into QA every 15 minutes, and can deploy SAP change to production every day. (Download the Vistaprint case study here).

To find out more about how to build an automated agile workflow in SAP, watch our webinar.

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