Skip to Content

Many articles have been published about the importance of education for SAP consultants. These mainly focus on the “newbie” consultant who is looking at embarking on a long and successful career using SAP technologies and solutions. The common message is to select a focus area where you have an interest, obtain relevant qualifications, and seek experience. However, this is just the starting point. If you look around your office, or examine your SAP project, you’ll see a blend of consultants with different skills and experiences. Some might be the “newbie” and others will be more seasoned. Both can benefit from ongoing education.

Education is Key Throughout a Career

Let’s be clear: once you’ve passed the relevant certification (if that’s the route you’ve chosen), your education in the world of SAP is far from complete. I’ve been working with SAP for 15 years, and within other business settings for another 5 years. During that time, I’ve attended training courses (non- SAP courses, but those that were consulting-specific).

Why? A good consultant does not rest on his laurels. SAP is so vast, and the offerings so wide, you can never know everything, even if you have configured or built a solution 5 or 6 times. There are always local differences in terms of legal requirements or business processes. Clients will use different components of SAP solutions, and interface data from different systems, some of which will be unique.

Every day you should learn something new.  It does not have to relate to SAP specifically, but it should engage you with business users.

What Does an Employer Seek when Advancing Consultants?

I have been fortunate to work for a well-respected SAP consultancy for nearly 8 years now. Over time, I’ve seen what an employer looks for when promoting a consultant. One of the main skills is the ability to solve problems. I believe this is a basic skill that is required for the “newbie” consultant.

But that’s not all. When reviewing candidates, I want to see a level of inquisitiveness. They should want and enjoy to bechallenged, and like working outside their comfort zone. Having a logical brain and a thirst for challenge will enable a consultant to grow and progress. Having certifications in multiple areas of SAP demonstrates the ability to learn and pass exams; however, passing exams won’t be part of their day job as an SAP consultant.

Having a clear understanding of business processes is just as valuable as SAP certification. Over time, the actual certification, or formal SAP education, is less relevant, and experience is the main factor for promotion.

Becoming a Complete Consultant

On a recent engagement, my company trained a consultant to perform a specific role within a large project.  Due to time constraints, the scope focused on the technical solution and he attended an SAP-run training course. The consultant was quick to pick up the technical steps over a short period of time, and became comfortable with the scope of the project that he had to manage.

The training had just focused on the technical implementation. So when the consultant played back the solution to the business users, he was not equipped to answer the business process questions. It was clear we needed to invest further in his training to provide him a detailed overview of the process – that meant filling the gap in the consultant’s knowledge.

A mixture of internal support, private research, and shadowing the business users provided the consultant with the skills he needed. With all of this information, the consultant was much better able to support the client and identify issues and challenges — before the client even noticed. In the end, the consultant was seen as the “go to” person for this area and was a valuable asset to both the project team and the customer.

What Do I Need to Do?

This is a question I get asked from all different levels of consultants. It’s a question I like to hear, as it shows the consultant has the drive to progress and better himself or herself.  It means he/she is also willing to listen and learn from others. Some of the common answers I provide are:

  • Identify your weaknesses – Where do your peers believe you could improve?
  • Identify your strengths – Ensure you don’t fail to build on your strengths.
  • Focus on softer skills – Work on listening, understanding the client’s language, understanding why  you’re making the change you’re working on, and
    learn how to articulate the benefit of the piece of work you are engaged on.

Knowing Your Weaknesses Is Powerful

Everyone is unique and grows both physically and mentally at different rates. What could be easy to you could be more complicated for another person. I am certain that I’m not a technical consultant, but do rely on good technical consultants to ensure my functional designs are successful.

Over time, my technical skills have improved and that has helped the engagement with technical consultants. When you identify a weakness, you need to plan how you will tackle it. Don’t ignore it, as it will impact your progression. In some cases, a course is the right answer; in other cases, it is not. Seek out “one on one” sessions with other SAP consultants; these sessions could fill your knowledge gap. Make sure to reciprocate and up-skill your peers too. Sharing knowledge is powerful – SCN is a wonderful example of this – and so, don’t always take.  Give something back!

 

Expanding Your Strengths

No single SAP consultant can know an SAP product all the way through; each product is too detailed. It’s fair to assume you’re working in an area that interests you; you may even be passionate about a new SAP product or business process.

Having an interest in something will enable you to improve yourself. I have worked with SAP Financial modules for 15 years, and before that, I was working in a finance department using SAP in my day job. I’ve been lucky to use SAP to perform my day job, and later on, switch and build SAP systems as my day job.

I can use my experiences as an SAP user when building systems, because I have a clearer view of business processes. It’s easy to say, “This is what I did on my last project, I will do the same on my next.” But no two clients are the same; each has different reasons for the implementation and different expectations. Being inquisitive and looking beyond what you know today will enable you to challenge a design and work out solutions that are more innovative.

You should not neglect your core skills and focus points, as they’re your selling points. However, don’t be fooled into thinking a single skill will get you to the top. A consultant needs to be well rounded. I’ve seen consultants who are very strong technically, but lack certain basic skills. So they cannot progress as far as they believe they should.

Softer Skills

“People buy people” is a favourite saying of mine. The SAP talent pool is massive and clients have plenty of options when selecting the right resource. People will pay a premium for a premium service, and if they believe an individual will make a significant difference, they will go the extra mile in obtaining him or her for the job.

A number of my clients will ask for consultants by name directly:

  • “I want Mr. X for my project as he understands my business processes”.
  • “Mr. X seems to understand my problems and I want him to resolve them.”
  • “I was inspired by Miss Y’s passion to work for us – please make sure she is part of the team.”

We have all heard similar comments from clients. However, if you read them again you will see the client has not referred to their technical or SAP skills, but their attitude and personality. Core SAP skills are a given– it is assumed you can do your day job.  But passion for the work, personality and flexibility are also critical.

A common progression of a consultant might look like this:

Education growth

Focus point

Consultants role

Acquire basic knowledge of a SAP product or module.

Follow instructions – shadow consultants (for the newbie).

Understand what you are doing.

What did the change actually do?

Multi projects – widen SAP knowledge

(consultant).

Understand why you are doing it.

Why did the client want the change – and what was the benefit you provided?

Stream lead – coach others

(Senior).

Advise the client of how they should make their change.

Provid various options to the client and make a joint decision around approach.

Own the solution design and manage the stream leads

(Solution Architect).

As you progress in your SAP career, you’ll become more reliant on your softer skills. Working with business users means you must advise them on how to design a solution to meet their business requirements. You’ll also be expected to draw out subtle business benefits that may have been overlooked, as well as identify risks around certain options.

Summary

“The day I lose the fire to learn, I will give this in” – that’s my motto. I’ve been lucky to have had such a great SAP career. But there is no end to this road, as the great SAP guys in the product labs are always making new products, solutions and amendments.  So I’ll always be learning and growing.

Clients want specialists and finding a niche area will enable you to progress. But hiding behind certifications and qualifications will only get you so far. Each SAP career journey is unique.  You have to follow your heart to go where you want to go.

Delivering great projects and working with great consultants keeps me going, and it also keeps me fresh and challenged. Not everyone can climb to the top – but you should use your abilities to your best ability . I hope this blog has provided some insight and will inspire you to use all forms of education to grow as a consultant.

Check out Some Useful Links

Ramp-up Knowledge Transfer

Valuable Lessons  to Make the Most of Your SAP Career

How to Become a Great Consultant

Career Center in SCN

To report this post you need to login first.

23 Comments

You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.

  1. Om Awasthi

    A very good write-up . The article focuses on individual growth in learning
    and also how the business can get the best from the competitive environment .

    (0) 
  2. Sagar Mahesuni

    Hello Mark,

    Superb blog, I enjoyed to read this blog. In previous I’ve never read like this one.

    Thanks for writing and sharing.

    Regards,

    Sagar

    (0) 
  3. Ravi Ekambaram

    Hi Mark,

    Beautifully you have put down your experiences in this blog..

    I liked the below part.. its true.

    We have all heard similar comments from clients. However, if you read them again you will see the client has not referred to their technical or SAP skills, but their attitude and personality. Core SAP skills are a given– it is assumed you can do your day job.  But passion for the work, personality and flexibility are also critical.

    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Regards,

    Ravi

    (0) 
  4. Joao Sousa

    I would add one final one, and maybe the most dificult one.

    • Know when to quit – For Diretors, Partners, Project Managers, etc

    The time when you know you’re right, when you question why a customer has paid thousands of dollars to ignore your advice anyway, The time when you need to know where to draw the line and move from giving advice to just implementing what the customer wants (even if it is going to explode in his face).

    If you do it and it “explodes” (like you told them it would), most will say “You were right” (and will even pay you to fix the damage).

    (0) 
    1. Mark Chalfen Post author

      Hi Joao

      Are you talking about walking away from a deal because you feel you cant add any value, or the customer is doing the wrong thing, or are you talking about retiring?

      One of the biggest issues there is within business is to promote high achievers to managers.

      Sometimes this works – however, if you have a good technical person, they may not be as strong as managing people and tasks. They will struggle (and be unhappy) and the quality of the work will dip because you have lost a good technical consultant.

      A consultant should always be able to grow – the skill is finding out where and what they need to do.

      (0) 
      1. Joao Sousa

        The “walking away” was mentally, not physical. The point where you have to implement what the customer wants, instead of what you know it’s right.

        One of the biggest issues there is within business is to promote high achievers to managers.

        I don’t think this is strictly related to managers, because the “walking away” can happen in a process discussion meeting. I’ve seen many technical people keep insisting on the “correct way”, way past the point where the customer starts getting angry.

        I do agree that promoting high achiever to managers is a problem.

        (0) 
  5. Waqar Ahmed

    Hi Mark,

    This is a wonderful blog. I also agree with the point to promote high achiever to manager is a problem. Everyone needs a carrier growth and reward for his value added work.

    Regards,

    Waqar

    (0) 
    1. Joao Sousa

      The problem is cultural. At least my country, the culture”states” that the “boss” makes more maney, being the director is more important that being an excelent engineer, which is a shame since both functions are required.

      Pushing awesome engineers into management positions is not an optimial situation but it’s very common, because engineer feel it’s the only way to make more money and have more status.

      (0) 
      1. Mark Chalfen Post author

        A job should not be simply about pay and status – the most important thing to me is to be challenged and happy at work.

        It is a short sighted person that takes a job based just on money and status as they are losing elsewhere.

        (0) 
        1. Joao Sousa

          It is a short sighted person that takes a job based just on money and status as they are losing elsewhere.

          Of course, but management also has its challenges and few people will be so very sure of what they want to do the rest of their lives, that they will reject higher pay and status.

          Management isn’t some nightmare job and people will make compromise for careers advancement.

          (0) 

Leave a Reply