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I am always interested in discussions about SAP skills.

This includes the fantastic work done by the SAP Certification: The Certification 5 Report and others. For me I think the direct output of the C5 is less important than the phenomenal amount of discussion and debate they have helped initiate.

Aside from the specific subject of SAP Certification there are ongoing discussions around issues such as…

  • How do I identify the skills I should aquire?
  • How can I best aquire these skills?
  • Where can I best aquire these skills from?
  • What role can the Online Community play in my skills aquisition?
  • What role should I play in the Online Community to exercise and promote my skills?

These are important considerations for any professional no matter what field they work in.

There is, however, one more issue that I would like to add to the debate – How much should I invest in my skills?

Actually I would argue that the term “skills” is a little narrow because it seems to me to cause people to focus just on technical skills. As an independent consultant I own and run a Small Business Of One – a SBOO if you like. So for me it is not just SAP specific skills or technical skills I need to have.

Some of the other skills I need for my SBOO – and I – to be successful include…

  • Marketing Skills – so my potential clients are aware of my brand, my capabilities and my talents.
  • Public Relations Skills – so my clients, and potential clients, always see me and my SBOO in a positive light.
  • Interpersonal Skills – this is more than being able to establish and maintain good working relationships. I like this breakdown of Interpersonal Skills by the Science Faculty at Sydney University. They see Interpersonal Skills as an amalgam of Networking, Teamwork and Leadership skills.
  • Project Management Skills – even if I am the only person working on a project – especially if I am the only person working on a project – proper organisation and control helps to minimise the TCO for my clients and maximise the profitability for my SBOO.
  • Presentation Skills – this includes speaking in front of large and small groups, producing correspondence and documentation and simple things like understanding appropriate dress and behaviour
  • Business Administration skills

There are plenty more but you get the idea.

Of course investment in my skills is also investment in my business – and vice versa.

So back to my question. How much do I invest in Professional Development? Notice I have dropped the term “skills” for “Professional Development”. 🙂

I know “time is money” but for me measuring my investment in time rather than money makes sense. It is of little difference to me if the time I spend on professional development is on behalf of a client – and therefore possibly billable – or not. Sure some time is more expensive than others – SAP TechEd is a week away and therefore more expensive than if I was researching a particular problem for a client – but time is the unit of measure that works for me.

I started my SBOO about seven years ago. One of the reasons I chose to leave the joys of employee life for the joys of an SBOO was that I felt I needed a better work/life balance. ThisThe Fine Art of Balance touches on some of the reasons for this.

So I determined that, over the course of a typical calendar year, I would work towards spending 60% of my time on client work and 20% on professional development. The remaining 20% would be for living! Recreation, vacation, time with family, etc.

These were notional numbers that I thought reasonable at the time. I felt it was important that I didn’t set my expectations – or those of my bank manager – too high. I didn’t want to plan for fulltime work when the truth was I had no idea if anyone would want to engage me. I also felt it important that I specifically plan for professional development as I knew it was vital to my long term success and that of my SBOO.

So my Business Plan, if you want to call it that, was that I would aim for an average three billable days in a five day work week. One day would be for professional development and the remaining day would be for me.

My professional development investment covers many activities.

Obviously formal and informal training is included, as is reading technical journals, articles, books, etc. Seven years ago the majority of this reading was paper-based – now almost all of it is done using online resources.

Attending conferences and events is clearly part of my professional development investment. No matter whether I am presenting or in the audience these are opportunities for learning, networking and keeping up to date with industry trends, what my potential clients are up to and what my competitors are up to. They are also marketing opportunities for me.

I count my networking time as part of my professional development time. Whether it be interacting with people online or offline, participating in the SCN forums, keeping in contact with my peers using social media tools, or just making time for regular catch ups with people I regard as intelligent and influential it is all an investment in myself and my SBOO.

At times I can spend a lot of time tinkering with and understanding pieces of technology that I think will be of value to me. It might be investigating little known or understood pieces of the SAP technology stack to see how I can use them at my clients. Maybe it is just satisfying myself that a certain piece of software works the way SAP says it will. All of this is investment in Myself and my SBOO.

So how do the numbers stack up? Is my budgeted 20% professional development time enough? Is it too much?

My experience tells me that I must have been mad to think I could only spend 20% of my time on professional development. The reality is that it is considerably more. How much more? Well I don’t actually know because I don’t count it accurately enough. Maybe I am afraid to. 🙂 I suspect it is above 35% and it would not surprise me if it is over 40%.

I have really come to understand and appreciate how much time it is because for most of this calendar year I have been booked solidly by a client that is taking 100% of my time – plus a fair bit more as well.

Suddenly I find I don’t have time to check the latest SDN blogs regularly. I can’t get up at 4am for SAP Mentor calls and have to rely on finding time for the replays. (Guess what? – listening to replays takes just as much time as the original call.) I have had to totally drop the Friday Morning Report – sorry Craig. Enterprise Geeks podcasts – usually compulsory listening – are sometimes played out of order weeks later. My SDN forum activity is almost at a standstill. The only tweets I read are the direct ones to me and then it might be a day or so later I see them.

And I am missing it.

I have been reminded that investing in Myself, staying current with the latest news, spending time to properly understand new technology, making regular contact with my peers, and all the other things that I have been doing is an amazingly positive personal experience. And it is very valuable to me professionally, to my clients and to my SBOO.

So last week I did something I never could have believed I would do. I turned down some work in favour of using the time for professional development. That’s right! I rejected money, income, dollars, financial gain, profit, in favour of my own professional development.

I’ve got to say it was hard. It is extra hard because I know many people who are struggling to get enough work at the moment. But I am sure I did the right thing.

So? How much do you invest in You?

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23 Comments

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  1. Stefan Koehler
    Hello Graham,
    i am a permanent employee, so i don’t need to invest in reputation or any business stuff.

    My invest in professional development consist of 2 things:
    1) Some of my spare time
    In my spare time i try to learn new stuff, explore and looking behind things. try to figure out how it really works internally, reading specialist literature and help others to solve their problems.

    2) Some of my money
    To build up test environments you need the corresponding hardware. So i invest some privat money in server hardware from time to time to be able to run different cases.

    Until now i never regret these investments, because of i always get something back of it.

    Regards
    Stefan

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    1. Martin English
      Hi Graham,
        As always, a thoughtful and useful view of the world.

      Hi Stefan,
        I work as a permanent BASIS person for a large multi-national SI.  I think its a fallacy to assume you can get by without ‘reputation’ or ‘business stuff’.  Even within your company, do you want to be the first person or the last person that people got to when talking about SAP ? Given my personal motivations, I just have to ask which of the two is likely to get the interesting assignments ?

      While I’m as much a geek as any else, at the very least I need to keep the business imperative in mind on any project I work on.  It’s not just finding ways to do thing cheaper for yourself and the company, and our customers; it’s knowing the customer’s business as well, so I know the best time to approach them with the appropriate suggestions, so that the ‘fix’ hits their brain at the same time as the pain-point.

        And don’t forget, permanent jobs just aren’t as permanent as they used to be.   My company laid off quite a few SAP people earlier in the month.  Some of them will have no problem getting another job in SAP, based purely on their reputation.  However, there are other people who haven’t had the time (because they’re relatively new in the industry) or the inclination (because they didn’t believe it was necessary) to build a reputation. 

      In fact, I know some SAP developers who have been looking for jobs for over a year.  Average at their job, certainly not incompetent, but they got lazy in their learning, so they are waiting for the next 3.x ABAP contract (because that’s what they are best at :))

      I think the short form of the argument is that, wherever you work, whoever you work for, no one is looking after your career except you.

      HTH

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    2. Graham Robinson Post author
      Hi Stefan,

      thanks for your interest in my post.

      Your comment that “i am a permanent employee, so i don’t need to invest in reputation or any business stuff” concerns me a bit.

      I think you are wrong – but more than that I don’t accept the premise that there should be any different thinking between permanent employees, independent consultants, or anyone else for that matter.

      While I am currently an independent consultant I can look back to when I was a permanent employee. In retrospect I did not place enough emphasis on acquiring and improving the types of skills I mentioned in my post.

      I think this was a mistake. Not because I value these skills more now – but because I should have valued them more then.

      The motivation for my post was to advise others not to make the same mistake.

      Cheers
      Graham Robbo

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  2. Susan Keohan
    Hi Graham,
    This is a very thought provoking blog!  I would guess that the time spent on professional development leaks into ‘real life’ quite often – whether it’s work time or non-work time (there is usually a lot of seepage there too). 
    I wish it were easier to separate out – so that I would be able to focus maniacally on Prof.Dev (as I would on Work and Life).
    Sue
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    1. Graham Robinson Post author
      Hi Sue,

      thanks for your input.

      I too find that professional development time leaks into my real life to a considerable degree.

      It is a hard – but important – balance to get right. I haven’t mastered it yet but I am better than I used to be.

      Cheers
      Graham Robbo

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  3. Tammy Powlas
    Great blog post…and food for thought.  For myself, I probably spend way too much of my own personal time on professional development.  I spend it on SCN, ASUG, and try to keep up with the webinars.

    I am fortunate to be a full-time employee and my employer rewards these efforts.

    You are right, we do learn a great deal when we present and at face to face meetings.

    I am very impressed you turned down money for professional development.

    Great post!
    Tammy

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    1. Graham Robinson Post author
      Hi Tammy,

      thanks for your feedback.

      You are fortunate to have an employer that supports your professional development efforts.

      Keep up the great work on SCN and ASUG. I always value your contributions.

      Cheers
      Graham Robbo

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  4. Chris Paine
    Graham – an excellent blog post.

    It is clear that your presentation skills are not lacking! An informative and relatively objective look at quite a subjective area.

    I’m interested how you breakdown your development and especially how/if you dedicate much time to the “softer” skills, such as how to network successfully, how to present, how to engage an audience, etc. As with these skills although it is possible to hone them during day to day work, getting learning opportunities is much harder than with perhaps how to implement a new BAdI…

    Working for an SI there is supposed to be time for PD within my role, but perhaps I don’t have quite the control to say no to billable work that you have!

    Thanks for an excellent post.
    Chris

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    1. Graham Robinson Post author
      Thanks for you response Chris.

      There is nothing like actually using a skill to get better at it. Practise makes perfect – as someone once said. Probably several times before they were happy with the delivery. 🙂

      So my best advice is to seek out and grab any opportunity to exercise your skills – the ones you are good at and the ones you are bad at. The bad ones will (hopefully) become good one – the good ones will become great ones.

      Presenting to an audience is a great way to exercise a lot of different skills. That is because effective presentation is not about how you deliver a message – it is about how the audience receives it. So active listening is important to detect audience reaction. Peripheral vision so you can see fidgeters out of the corner of your eye. Quick thinking so you can change the way you are delivering if its not working for you. Body language techniques to reinforce a point or just to reacquire the audience attention. And lots more.

      Everyone can benefit from honing the skills that get others to listen to what they are saying better – especially parents. 🙂

      Cheers
      Graham Robbo

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  5. Michelle Crapo
    I love this blog.  It highlights the softskills that many people don’t develop.  It’s amazing to me how you can get by without them.

    I am an ABAP Developer.  I only spend about 75% of my time developing.  The rest is on the softer skill set.  

    When looking to hire – and we still are – skilled SAP developers, we found some that were technically VERY good.  However, they had trouble with the soft skills.  We did not offer them jobs.

    I like that you turned down income for training.  It is so hard to keep up with the technical “stuff”.  Everything changes so fast.

    Great blog!  I strongly agree with it.  🙂

    Michelle

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    1. Graham Robinson Post author
      Thanks Michelle.

      I have met too many people like the developers you describe.

      It seems to me that it is easier to teach a person with strong interpersonal skills how to be a technician, than to teach a technician interpersonal skills.

      I know, and my clients know, that they can find a cheaper ABAP developer that me. However the non-ABAP skills I possess differentiate me, and make me more valuable. The message I hoped to get across in this post was that this is not luck. I continue to invest time, money and effort in those skills to make it so. I hope it continues. 🙂

      Cheers
      Graham Robbo

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  6. Alvaro Vidal-Abarca
    Hi Graham.

    As you suggested in by blog post on June 15th, I’ve had a look at yours (sorry for not reading before 🙁  ).
    It’s very interesting the focus that you give to time management. I can only agree with that idea, but the point is – can you manage your time when working for a company? Or do you have to settle on your own?
    I’ve asked myself these questions, and compared all pros and cons… And as long as I keep thinking about it, I stay the same. So no change so far (which is quite disappointing for me).

    Congratulations for your blog.

    Kind regards,
    Alvaro

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    1. Michelle Crapo
      My 10 cents.  I do both I update skills working at a company – I am not a consultant.  I also update my skills in my “free” time.

      Balance is always a hard thing to do.  And I think it matters where you are in life.  Do you have kids?  Are you struggling with lots of hours at work already?  Those type of questions come up.

      I tend to slow down on learning new things when I am working a lot of hours at work.  I speed up learning them when I am working normal work hours.

      Here’s how I decide when I can learn on company time or on my time:
      1.  Do I have a project that I’m working on where I could use the training.   Am I working on a PP project – and I don’t know enough about process / production orders.  It’s time to learn.  Even though I’m JUST a programmer.  🙂

      2.  Do I have the time?  Is it a needed it yesterday project.  If so, I don’t try to learn, I just do what I’m given in specs.  That tends to come back with rework – so sometimes I wonder if it wouldn’t have been worth the time to learn up front.

      3.  If I want to learn it and it will be something we will use in the future.  Only if I’m not on a project with deadlines will I do this at work.

      “Free time” – my time
      Basically the same questions.  With the excpetion that I may not use the skills until some unforeseen date. 

      Also this is fun for me.  So I don’t have an issue with doing it on my free time.  When it stops being fun, well, then I stop learning on off hours.  And trust me there are some times when it isn’t fun.

      Balance is everything.  And it’s not easy to do.

      Michelle

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    2. Graham Robinson Post author
      Hi Alvaro,

      thanks for taking the time to comment on my blog. I agree that finding time for self-development is difficult.

      There are lots of things we would all like to do but can’t because we can’t find the time. But we seem to manage the things that are really important – like going to the kids soccer games, dinner with friends, etc.

      I guess ultimately it comes down to how much value you put on it.

      Cheers
      Graham Robbo

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  7. Kumud Singh
    This blog is worth taking a printout and reading every day or atleast every week.Wonderful.
    Motivational.

    Thanks,

    With Regards,
    Kumud Singh

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  8. Roger Supp

    Soft-skills are very integral to consulting.

    Consultants deliver measurable value to customer with every hour of a consulting engagement. But, in addition, it is important to communicate well, inspire customer confidence – the intangibles (the perceptions).

    A step further is professional relationship with Recruiters, Peers and cross-domain-contacts.

    Networking (rather than need-working) with peers, recruiters and customers is an essential “exercise” in this tough professional arena.

    Following are some of my thoughts “My best LinkedIn-recommendation ever ….”.

    Thanks for your blog.

    FC

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  9. Ravi Sankar Venna

    For me it does not matter, whether you are permanent employee or a contractor. Every time, you must on your toes to keep brushing your knowledge, otherwise, professional life will be a dead horse 😉 I know it is painful to invest your own money when you are a permanent employee. But, we cannot escape it, if you are really working in recession economic conditions (Sorry, in my opinion “working with miser employers” LOL 😆 )

    Best Regards,

    Ravi

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  10. Thorsten Franz

    Graham,

    Great blog again, and here’s my take: Investing in skills is the best investment one can make. I remember two key points where this became very obvious to me:

    1. As a student, I was permanently short of cash. One time, my phone bill had been overdue so long that the phone company shut off my phone service. Somehow, I got 100 Deutsche Mark – and what did I use it for? A book on database programming, which taught me skills that got me a job that forever rendered phone bills “small money”.

    2. As a young professional, I was lucky to work at a product-oriented software vendor that offered great opportunities to learn and grow in my favorite fields: software development, architecture, and enterprise software lifecycle management. After a while, job offers started pouring in, and some of them were financially extremely attractive, paying twice as much for consulting jobs (and even more money could be earned abroad).

    In the job interviews with these companies, I learned that they were not offering me a sustainable model for personal growth – yes, the pay would be double or even better, but I would spend all the time using my existing skills and have no time to grow new skills.

    I figured that I’d be better off with the job that allowed me to learn and grow, and I’m very happy with the choice I made – both from a job satisfaction and from a salary perspective.

    To sum it up, I made the availability of opportunies for learning and growth a key criterion in my career choices – and it paid off well.

    Best,

    Thorsten

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      1. Graham Robinson Post author

        Thanks for your comments mate – they gave me reason to reread my blog. I am quite chuffed that something I wrote so long ago still resonates. 😎 #ftw

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