Michael Doane's tips for building effective super user networks (Q&A transcript)

Insider Learning Network recently held an online Forum with ERP expert and consultant Michael Doane of CGI and moderated by Project Expert editor M.S. Hein.

Michael took questions in a  one-hour Q&A on super user networks posted in the Project Management Forum on May 8. Michael and attendees covered topics based on his  recent super user case study, such as super user recruitment and incentives, costs of a super user program, pros & cons of centralizing your super user network, and succession planning for your network.

For the complete discussions, see the Forum archive here, or read the handy, edited transcript below:

M.S. Hein, SAPexperts: Welcome to today’s Q&A on building super user networks! This is Michael Doane’s third Q&A on Insider Learning Network, and today he’ll be talking about building super user networks that last.

Michael Doane is an Executive Consultant with CGI, and a well-known expert on post-implementation best practices and Centers of Excellence, and just recently published a study, with Julie Stokes, on how he field-tested some practical steps and best practices for building a super user network that truly supported end users and had measurable successes.  (If you have registered for today’s Q&A , you can download the report from your confirmation email.)

Welcome, Michael!

To start, do you want to introduce the work you did in the study – which you’ll also be presenting at SAPPHIRE NOW next week – on rebuilding a super-user network and the biggest challenges super-users confront and that make it difficult to keep a super-user program going? 

Michael Doane: Much of today’s interview will necessarily center on a case study that I have completed with Julie Stokes of Fluor “Drivers at Work: Building and Sustaining an Effective Super User Network.”  This case study is available through Insider Learning Network.

[Note: The case study download is available by registering  here. Look for the download link in your confirmation email.]


rsjanis:  My organization has utilized a Power-User network to support readiness and organizational change for our initial SAP implementation.  We are at the end of a 3 phase implementation– phase one went live last July 1, 2011, phase two early this new year and phase three completing July-Sept 2012.  Our Power User network played a key role in assisting to build readiness locally, helping with 2-way communication, assisting with training, building local awareness and understanding, etc.  We are now thinking through transitions ahead and at the close of our initial implementation charter. My questions:

1. Post Implementation:  Do most organizations end the network after implementation and rely on the formal manager, leader and organizational structures to provide inputs and involveme nt into continued work improving business processes and related technology competency and utilization?

2. Motivations, Accountabilites and Rewards for the Organization: What are some of the quanifyable organizational benefits for maintaining a Super-User/Power-User network after initial implementation?

3. Motivations, Accountabilities and Rewards for the Super-User: Do any organizations use a train-the-trainer approach where Super-Users train users?  If yes have there been risks of reliablity and sustainability?  What formal rewards have organizations provided for ongoing Super/Power User sustainability.

Thank you!

Michael Doane:  1. Post Implementation – most organizations don’t know what they are doing after implementation and tend to rely on the fact that they have identified top users, or super users or whatever they call them and hope that they will carry on helping out others. When they don’t, companies either shrug and move on or attempt to re-create a thriving network.

2.  We now have black-and-white, clear evidence that super users, when properly utilized, have a direct correlation on business improvement.

3. Motivations – Rewards for Super Users:  There are many ways to reward super users but the most important is simply to recognize their value.  A second way is to be sure to include them in business process improvements.


rsjanis: What are some of the examples of the variables correlated to business improvements?  Thanks

Michael Doane: How about the speed with which a sales order is completed without errors?

How about an invoice being sent out on a timely basis with all of the details correctly entered and even some helpful comments added by an end user who knows what to say?

How about when a client calls in to ask about the status of an order and gets someone who cannot help but, being competent, knows who to transfer to the call to? (having been properly trained to business process not just functions)

You get my drift…

rsjanis: Yes, thank you!

mconnor: How does the gearing of super users-to-end users vary during and post implementation?

Michael Doane: During, every user starts out equal and the “better” users (i.e. super user candidates) are then identified. At this point, it is wise to institutionalize them and the network but, as already mentioned, few firms do so.

Later, firms discover that some form of sustainment is required as well as some form of motivation/reward. At this point, clients begin to move toward maturity (or not). Further, existing super users may leave or get promoted and firms have no means to replace them. That was the case at Fluor that Julie and I had to confront.


rsjanis: Very good study, content and measures!  We’re at a point of putting in black and white – for leadership support -the organizational benefits to maintaining (which has a cost).  We could decentralize so that functional areas have unique super users (e.g., Finance, HR, Procurement) or potentially keep more centralized, as a part of the ongoing work a small team of people will do with ongoing maintenance and the implementation of future modules.    

Michael Doane: I would not over-centralize, even if you have an organization that tends to centralize. Deployment of applications software is usually more of a tribal activity (group s of people with similar activities and goals).  Fluor, for example, organizes according to key business area. Because of this organization, Julie was able to find out how to help out 13 users in one Asian country that did not have a viable super user. The solution came through the social networking of like-minded (tribal) super users.

rsjanis: Clarifying: Julie/Fluor re-started the super-user program, which groups super users by key business areas.  What role do the business leaders and managers play?  Are they responsible for driving the interactions, recognitions, involvement… or does Julie help facilitate?

Michael Doane: Julie works closely with 15 global business process owners. These people hold sway over their super user and user population. As Julie advises these people, they make decisions that filter back down through middle management and right back to the super users. Thus, there is a powerful business driver in support of the super user network and it is not at all viewed as simply IT.


M.S. Hein: What are the biggest impediments you find to sustaining (not just starting) super-user programs?

rsjanis: On a current initiative I am working the impediments we faced (pre and during the first months of being live on SAP) were:
* getting leaders across organizational units to provide resources to help become stronger users who could assist others locally

* prior to implementation, getting these people trained in advance to assist locally

* providing them recognition for their assistance

* After implementation, re-identifying the people who are in actuality the stronger users who use the system regularly, understand the business processes, give inputs on continued process improvement… 

Michael Doane: Impediment #1:  Authorization:  Wherein supervisors tell super users to go do their “real” job and stop helping others.

Solution:  Provide a “license” that defines the role of super user and the time allotted to fulfill that role and is signed by both the supervisor and the super user. While such a “license” is not particularly “legal” we found that 98.5% of the licenses were being respected at Fluor after one year.

Impediment #2:  Attrition: i.e. a super user leaves and is not replaced.

Solution:  Each super user has on file 2 potential replacements at all times. When a new super user replaces an outgoing super user, he/she must file two potential replacements. Works. I refer to it as badging.


Dave Hannon: Michael, the results of the Fluor survey on user engagement are enlightening. Any tips or suggestions on how “deep” such a survey should be? Or how to structure the survey and questions to get the maximum response with the minimal effort from respondents? 

Michael Doane: First, all surveys are anonymous or they will fail.

And any survey that takes more than 15 minutes is not going to get answered.

Structure of the survey is that they get to mostly check boxes and do not have to write. Remember, in Julie’s case, 90% of the respondents have English as a second or third language. Also, ask questions that the respondents would like to know the global answers to. In that light, it is advisable to share results with super users.

As a rule, ask all questions in the “same direction” meaning that scales will be consistent (i.e. 1 is always low and 10 is always high).


M.S. Hein: Michael, It sounds like Fluor had some very specific ways of getting super users to network with each other for training purposes, but also ways of networking super users to end users. Is that right?

Can you describe how this worked, and what the benefits were to both users & super users?


Michael Doane: With 4500 users worldwide, Julie Stokes could in no way determine who should or should not be a super user.

We solved that problem by sending out a brief survey in October of 2010 asking each user to a) self-assess across four criteria and b) nominate up to 2 people to be a super user -and they could nominate themselves.

The output that Julie had showed a number of people getting multiple nominations and she simply chose from there, sending nominees an invitation to become a super user. The invitation described the role and the goal.  Those who agreed received a “license” which repeated the role description and was signed by both the newly-minted super user and their direct supervisor.


LindaTerrien: I am very curious about the rewards/incentives for folks to participate. We currently have 17 different networks but find the participation varies by network.  Senior Management does not formally “recognize” the program so folks put their other work first.  I like the license idea that you described – but how are these people rewarded for doing what they consider  “extra” work?

Michael Doane: As you will see in the results of our case study survey (after one year of rebuilding the network) both users and super users report a strong rise in morale, understanding of their career path, etc. Super users also find that they are now involved in business process change and this leads to a rise in self-esteem and continued learning.

Recog nition is the most efficient means of motivating these people.

Rebranding them as business process drivers is a free and easy step in this regard. No one, and I mean no one, likes to be referred to as a “user”.


M.S. Hein: Michael, It sounds like Fluor had some very specific ways of getting super user to network with each other for training purposes, but also ways of networking super users to end users. Is that right? Can you describe how this worked, and what the benefits were to both users & super users?

rsjanis: Excellent question.  I am also interested in helping to make this happen.  Tnx!

Michael Doane: For years, Fluor had had a super user group that, through time, decayed. By resuscitating it, people a) remembered how good it had been and b) were impressed that the network was far more institutionalized. What Julie found most rewarding was the effect of social networking.  They used Chat software to start and that did a great job of putting geographically disparate super users into a virtual “room”.  Everyone loved it. We are now looking at more sophisticated knowledge capture means that still retain a social networking environment. As it happens, Joshua Greenbaum has build a wonderful model that we are expecting to be the full answer moving forward.


 M.S. Hein: Fluor offered some incentives to avoid super user dropouts… What were the most surprising motivators / incentives that they found effective?

Michael Doane: The social networking aspect (i.e. super users in Malaysia communicating with super users in North Carolina regarding best practices) is one of the most surprising and powerful motivators for Julie’s network.

Beyond that, as mentioned, is quitely simply recog nition from superiors as well as peers. “I am a super user” is a powerful sentence.

As seen in The Avengers.

M.S. Hein: This wraps up today’s Forum with Michael Doane!

Thanks again to Michael for taking the time to respond to these great questions.

A full summary of all the questions will be available here in the Project Management Forum and in the Project Management Group on Insider Learning Network. 

You can also listen to a recent interview with Michael Doane, and get more information about the new SAP Green Book, as well as a new edition of the SAP Blue Book, also from SAP PRESS.  

I also encourage you to join the Project Management group for ongoing information and additional resources, including tips from Project Expert articles and SAPinsider’s  conferences, details about future live Forums, and more.

For those of you attending SAPPHIRE NOW next week, you can join Michael Doane at a book signing  for the  SAP Green Book at 10:30am  May  14 & 1:30pm  May 15, and hear him discuss the super user report at SAPPHIRE NOW as well.

Thanks to all of you for joining the discussion today!