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Lessons Learned from Epic SAP Failures: Avoiding Costly Mistakes

In the realm of enterprise resource planning (ERP), SAP has long been regarded as a leading provider, offering comprehensive solutions to streamline business processes and drive efficiency. However, despite its widespread adoption and proven benefits, SAP implementations can sometimes go awry, resulting in costly failures that impact organizations both financially and operationally. Let’s delve into some notable examples of epic SAP failures and the lessons learned from these experiences.

1. Waste Management Inc.:

In the early 2000s, Waste Management Inc., a leading waste management company in the United States, embarked on a multi-million dollar SAP implementation project to modernize its business processes. However, the project encountered significant challenges, including billing errors, financial misstatements, and customer service issues. As a result, Waste Management filed a lawsuit against SAP, alleging that the software was not capable of handling its complex business requirements. The lawsuit was settled in 2010, with SAP paying $68 million to Waste Management.

Lesson Learned: Thoroughly assess the compatibility of SAP software with your organization’s unique business requirements before embarking on implementation.

2. Hershey's:​

In 1999, Hershey’s, a renowned chocolate manufacturer, faced disruptions in its supply chain and distribution operations during the critical Halloween season following the implementation of an SAP ERP system. The new system encountered issues with order processing and fulfillment, leading to delayed shipments and inventory shortages. Hershey’s reported a loss of $150 million in sales and incurred additional costs to rectify the situation.

Lesson Learned: Plan for potential disruptions during the implementation phase and ensure adequate contingency measures are in place to mitigate risks.

3. Lidl

Photo of Lidl Building

Lidl, a German supermarket chain, experienced challenges during its attempt to implement SAP’s ERP system in the mid-2000s. The company encountered delays and technical issues with the implementation, leading to disruptions in its supply chain and operations. Lidl ultimately decided to abandon the SAP project and develop its own customized ERP system.

Lesson Learned: Properly assess the readiness of your organization for SAP implementation, including evaluating internal capabilities and resources.

4. Woolworths Holdings Limited:

In 2004, Woolworths Holdings Limited, a South African retail chain, embarked on a major SAP implementation project to upgrade its supply chain and distribution systems. However, the implementation encountered significant challenges, including delays, cost overruns, and operational disruptions. These issues impacted Woolworths’ ability to meet customer demand and resulted in financial losses and a decline in stock price.

Lesson Learned: Prioritize effective change management and stakeholder engagement throughout the implementation process to mitigate resistance and ensure smooth adoption.


While SAP implementations hold the promise of increased efficiency and competitive advantage, they also present inherent risks that must be carefully managed. The failures highlighted above serve as cautionary tales, underscoring the importance of thorough planning, rigorous testing, and effective change management in SAP projects. By learning from these experiences and adopting best practices, organizations can minimize the likelihood of costly failures and maximize the benefits of SAP implementation.

In the dynamic landscape of ERP, success often hinges on the ability to navigate challenges with resilience and foresight. Let these epic failures serve as valuable lessons in the journey toward SAP excellence.

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