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Quite often in our careers we will come across the decision to specialise in an area or generalise across the SAP Solution. It’s always difficult to know which is the best path to go do down. Much of it comes to career opportunities and being in the right place at the right time. But a lot then also comes down to personal preference and the interest & willingness to learn more.

What has hit home more recently is the risk to your skills if you specialise too much. And it was the following type of conversation that took place to realise this risk.

Customer: Is it possible to configure that initial screen and let and embed a link or company picture instead of the default?

Consultant: That would be the job of the portal consultant. I would have to check with him.

Customer: Is it possible to add an extra workflow approval step as we have this business requirement xxxx?

Consultant: That would be the job of the workflow consultant. I would have to check with her.

Customer: Is it possible to have a report that pulls together those overview screens so we can get one central view?

Consultant: That would be the job of the developers. I would have to check with them.

Customer: Is it possible to integrate your system with the system over in the cloud?

Consultant: That is would be the job of the cloud consultant. You would have to check with them.

In some cases I’ve found myself crossing paths with consultants who know their product or module very well – you could say at expert level. But they do not know the integration or possible scenarios and options to apply. On large clients it’s understandable that they specialise so much and have a larger network to cover the other areas. But I’m now finding a lot of customers and new projects are smaller in size. And this means less consultants on the ground. Less consultants means those on the projects needs to have both breadth and depth to the knowledge and skills.

As a result, the Functional consultant who used to keep to the IMG is now providing guidance to the customer on Fiori. The application security consultant is now being asked to look at database due to HANA. The developer is now being asked to cover languages beyond ABAP. And everyone, at some point, is now being asked questions of integration as all these products have to communicate with each other.

I’m not saying the conversation should have resulted in the consultant telling me they could do all of the above and more. It would be wonderful to have the one person who could cover the end to end but it’s unrealistic to rely on that as a common skill combination. But as the customer, being told it’s always someone else’s skills isn’t good.

The Generalist

You start your career and try your best to obtain as much information as possible. You don’t have a specialty (even though your job title may imply you do). You are the sponge and will absorb anything you can get your hands on. You will naturally gravitate towards areas of interest – or be placed there and introduced as the expert for that area. At the same time, you may take great interest in continually increasing your breadth of knowledge across different modules and components. Your resume and skill do not point to any one area but you have this “all-rounder skill”. This general skill can be great as you get variety but it could also mean you don’t fit a particular area or struggle to apply for certain jobs as there is no one job description that you meet.

The Specialist

Over time your knowledge has increased. You are assigned or you start seeking out roles for a specific skill set. You build reputation around having knowledge and skills in a specific module(s) or technical area. You’ll learn different ways within that area (one form of diversification) but you remain within a specialty. You now have a depth of expertise in a certain area.

Depending on your specialty it can result in a niche skill that is sought out and well paid. But it can also pigeon-hole you to certain roles. You might find after a while the work is all the same with the only difference being the people and systems. You might also find that your specialty is no longer niche as the demand has slowed or competition has increased. You might even find your specialty has become a bit outdated and struggle to compete in the market.

The Diversificationist

This area is where you take the best of generalising and specialising to branch out and increase your skills and knowledge. The idea is you might start as a generalists and move towards a specialty.

However, whilst specialising you seek out complementary skills or products and generalise in them. Learn that such products and areas of the solution exist. You might read up on articles or do some course work. You might even shadow a work colleague or teach yourself.

As someone who diversifies, you are both a generalist and specialist as well as an expert and a beginner at the same time. And in doing this, you can find yourself becoming the FICO consultant who can discuss Assets and Maintenance. The Procurement consultant who knows ECC and Ariba. The HR Consultant who understands (and can explain) how SuccessFactors products integrate with SAP. Or the Sales Consultant who can discuss mobility and CRM. The options and combinations are infinite.

So next time you find yourself being asked for help from your customer or your boss, which person would you rather be – The generalist, specialist or diversificationist?

Would love to hear your thoughts below

Regards

Colleen

P.S and on that note it’s time I force myself to learn Single Sign-On instead of telling everyone that’s the Basis person πŸ˜‰

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27 Comments

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    1. Matt Fraser

      Jurgen, I’m not sure whether to take that as a compliment or a cautionary tale. πŸ˜‰

      Colleen, this is a really good insight into the issues that we all tend to face as we get a little further down the path of our careers. I think from the tone of your conclusion it’s pretty clear what you think is the best path, and from a mid- to late-career employability perspective I think you’re probably right. Of course, being a diversificationist (did you coin that term? I like it) is both the best and worst of all worlds, since it leads to a richness in career opportunities, but also without doubt requires the most ongoing work to maintain relevance and skill.

      Of course, we Basis types are used to being the ultimate dumping ground for everything everyone else either doesn’t want to or know how to do. You know that’s why so many projects had their entire authorizations concept developed in isolation by the Basis consultant…. πŸ˜‰

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      1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

        Hi Matt

        Yes, it is a double-edged sword. The more you expand your knowledge then the more training and skills updates you need to focus. It’s impossible to be an expert in everything but it’s too much of a risk to only know one area.

        I think I might have coined the word. Red squiggly line for spelling encourgaed me to Google for the word and I had not hits. Ego boost if #diversficationist takes off. Always awesome that blogging is one of the few opportunities to make up your own word in a professional environment.

        Basis and other tech areas naturally diversify – need components and hardware, etc. I’m finding (both in the workplace and questions in SCN) that many people know one module (MM, FI, etc) but not the process. Companies take process-orientated views to implementation yet resources are supplied based on modular knowledge. A bit of a disconnect and an opportunity to diversify.

        Regards

        Colleen

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      2. Joao Sousa

        since it leads to a richness in career opportunities, but also without doubt requires the most ongoing work to maintain relevance and skill

        Not only that, I becomes harder and harder to manage expectations, because people assume you will do almost everything.

        I agree with you that the best way to avoid getting stuck in a corner is to know the processes. When you know the processes it’s “just” a matter of knowing which buttons to push.

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        1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

          Hi Joao

          When you know the processes it’s “just” a matter of knowing which buttons to push.

          You are 100% right on that one. Many SAP consultants think they earn the $$$ as they can push buttons. In reality, without appreciating the end to end process how do they know they are press the right buttons. The combination of all those buttons really make or break how SAP works.

          In being in a tech background, I have little choice but to diversify to deliver security. However, I can appreciate a functional person would tend more to specialise in a specific module – or even sub module if the company is large enough.

          Regards

          Colleen

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          1. Joao Sousa

            I live in Portugal which is a small country, that tends to have smaller projects. It’s very hard to find a project where you have one person dedicated to doing just FI-AA or FI-AP (for example). Usually MM/SD consultants know a bit of FI because of integration, FI consultants almost always know CO, etc.

            When people go to larger international projects and they have to do just one specific sub-module, they don’t like it very much. If I was doing the same thing for over 10 years, I don’t think I would still be working in SAP.

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            1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

              I’d be in the same painful spot if I had to do one thing for 10 years. But I have been at a site which was large enough they had Basis specific teams – some people were really good at just ALE or just batch management.

              They knew it inside out for a complex landscape but stay there too long and it’s a challenge competing in the marketplace without other experience.

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            2. Matt Fraser

              Ours is quite a small shop, so our analysts have to cover fairly large swaths. Our business units are fairly siloed, but our SAP analysts are very end-to-end process-oriented. So, one person covers “procure-to-pay,” for instance, meaning he is a specialist in SRM, MM (Purchasing, Warehouse/Inventory Mgmt, Goods Movements), and FI-AP. In the HCM space we have a bit more specialization across extra people, as our setup is fairly complex, so there’s someone pretty much dedicated to Payroll, another to Time, and one for general PA. And so forth.

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  1. LuΓ­s PΓ©rez Grau

    Very interesting topic, I guess the way to go is…I really don’t know…or maybe Is because I don’t have the right word, give me 5 seconds I will check with my marketing team……………..no luck either, sorry.

    Diversification is fine as far as we include the simplifcation and the colaboration on the equation.

    If you want to know a little of everything, each topic should be simple, make things more simple can mean creating and destroying jobs and that’s are some steps that no all the companies/sector wants to do. Is like what is happenining with the smartphones, each year you can do more things knowing less, why? the app/sensors combinations does for you, simple easy. I know…I know…Business world is complex, excluding my non realistic opinion of try to do the things simple, for that scenario you need to connect the profesionals/team like if it was a brain, so the specialization of each profesional can be shared, distributed and accessed when it’s needed and I believe is what IT industry tries to sell, right? <IRONIC mode = on> I have my super dupper team, you can ask me whatever you want, I have a specialist who can solve every problem, question, you busines have </IRONIC>, so what’s wrong in asking questions? annoying? some times, but if the things are not simpler, you must colaborate, because probably you are on the “simplifying” team. anyway In both cases  shouldn’t be an excuse to stop your passion/hungry for learning and become a robot. what a wonderful era!

    Cheers!

    Luis

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  2. Gretchen Lindquist

    Colleen,

    By virtue of all the myriad authorization concepts among SAP solutions, security professionals don’t have much choice: we really must be diversificationists. Those who aren’t can really struggle. Just here on SCN I have seen any number of questions posted in the GRC discussion space by people who did not understand security or internal controls, and if you don’t have an understanding of the business processes, your qualification to recommend security designs, or recommend ways around SOD conflicts, for the business users in those functional areas is on shaky ground.

    Thanks for sparking a good discussion!

    Gretchen

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Absolutely. Security have to diversify. Every component pretty much has a different security model now. Too many security people think SU01 Maintain Users is for Junior Security and PFCG is Senior Security and that’s how far you go.

      So much depth and breadth to security. It’s why I love my job!

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  3. Stephen Johannes

    I might be talking about something different.  But I remember reading about SAP Skill depth in either I , T or bar-shape. As you pointed out a lot of us are either the I or bar shape and might have several I’s or have a few wide spots in the bar shape.  The combination you are talking about is the modified T-Shape(which may have multiple legs to prop up the narrow bar) which sometimes is hard to achieve in larger organizations as work is split up across various boundaries.

    I agree there are definitely advantages to having your skills fit the dirversificationist or modified T-Shape profile.  I always think you should have one or two deep areas of knowledge of the SAP world that serve as a legs supporting the a wide but narrow depth of the overall big picture.

    Take care,

    Stephen

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  4. Ekaterina Bondarenko

    I like this.

    But no surprises for BI. Important note before the next part: I am not blaming anybody! πŸ™‚

    Developers often say that everything regarding BI is not their part (we need not only ABAP, but also VBA and sometimes Java Script), Basis often says that BI-related transports, authorizations, notes and all those errors you find in st22 and sm21 in BI system are not his business… One colleague of mine even had to install BI system himself and keep it until customer found a good basis outsource, fortunately it lasted a couple of months only.

    Though pure BW is not interesting anymore the knowledge of BW 3.5 is still an advantage. And of course a successful candidate needs to understand functional modules to make the extraction: one from FI-CO or logistics (MM-SD…) is OK, both better, HCM and other systems e.g. CRM additionally make you almost perfect.

    It is not bad to be experienced in several things all named BO now. And BPC 7.X as well as 10.X. Oh, XI/PI is also nice-to-have. And “HANA 5 years experience”, I really saw it in one job description! πŸ˜†

    And didn’t you know that language(s) of your country + English are not enough? πŸ˜‰

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  5. Jelena Perfiljeva

    For some reason this reminded me about the good old ‘What if drivers were hired like programmers’ joke. πŸ™‚ Sometimes there is also a huge gap between the employer/client expectations and reality.

    I tend to be Generalist but try to be Diversi… Difersi… err… that other person with impossible spelling whenever I have an opportunity. As others pointed out, it immediately comes with some challenges because the bar is also moving up all the time. One day you change a printer setting in SPAD and a week later you get a casual request to install a third party add-on. Because now that your vast Basis knowledge is out you are the designated expert. Why pay 3 different people when one person can do their job for just one salary?

    At the same time when you try to leave (because doing 3 jobs for 1 salary is not that appealing) you find, ironically, that job market has much more demand for the Specialists. And HR people can’t for their lives figure out what to do with your very diverse resume. Are you an ABAPer? Do you specialize in Vistex? Or Banking? Or PI interfaces that run on Tuesdays? Do you have 15 years of experience doing just one thing? No? Oh, too bad… 😈

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    1. Simone Milesi

      Always talking about Job Market, i translate here last job offer i received

      Skill required:

      • At least 7 years ABAP Development
      • At least 3 years SD functional knowledge
      • At least 3 years MM functional knowledge
      • At least 3 years WM functional knowledge
      • PI/XI experience
      • DB Admin experience would be a plus

      Diversification? Focus skill? Generalist? Slave?

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      1. Ekaterina Bondarenko

        My favorite from July (usual HR-spam) from one British agency

        We are currently searching for an ABAP professional to join one of our clients based in Madrid, we are looking for a Spanish speaker on initial 3-6 month contract duration.

        The client has left rates open to market rates and experience so please get in touch if you meet the below spec regardless of you rate.

        Job Description

        The programmer should have at least 10 years of experience of ABAP programming and at least 5 year’s in Webdynpro programming.

        He should be willing to work off hours, as its more than possible that he has to work some weekends.

        If he has experience with SAP GRC module it will be weighted most positively.

        I would like to remark that we need a more than very experienced programmer with a exceptional knowledge of ABAP, ABAP OO and Webdynpro.

        The customer is from the banking sector so he should follow the corresponding dress code.

        Please respond with an updated CV if this role interests you, we also offer referral fees so if you know someone who may be interested please let me know.

        Regards

        There are several more in Russian, it’s very hard to translate keeping all those long expressions with genitive, but I tried with the main point… The example from 2014 (they looked for one person!) πŸ™‚

        Senior SAP Consultant

        SAP ERP (SD, FI), SAP PI, SAP BW experience – architect/system analytic level, ABAP developer experience is an advantage;

        Change managment in SAP Systems using Solution Manager;

        SAP ALM experience, ChaRM, TAO is an advantage;

        Project management and Quality management software experience (HP QC, BMC Remedy etc).

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        1. Steffi Warnecke

          we need a more than very experienced programmer

          So… is one of the creators of ABAP available? You only need to work on weekends a lot in your best suit, speak Spanish like it’s you mothertongue and they will probably pay you in experience (which you don’t need, because you needed to be more than very experienced in the first place).

          Does such a person even exist? πŸ˜•

          I guess I am a Diversi*mumbles the rest* … is that the complicated word for allrounder now? ^^

          It’s not just a thing of having a more secure career, but being able to see and understand the bigger picture can only help you in your work, even if you are responsible for just one module/application/whatever.

          Since I started my career as a system/network/backup/telecommunication/software/hardware/you-name-it administrator with user support/training as a cherry on top, I could and needed always to see and understand the whole puzzle. And I love it, because this way, you can follow an issue through the whole place that is IT and smash it where it hides. Of course, that kind of exposure to EVERYTHING only happens in smaller to mid-sized companies (and I can only urge anyone who starts in our profession to try to go this way, because you can learn sooo so much and then can always start to specialize in some of these areas more and more, if you want to or there is some need).

          And now this experience and knowledge helps me a lot in my “new” role (some years going now ^^) as IDM and portal administrator, because those are systems that are always connected, are always part of a bigger network of systems to unlock the full potential. And I can tap into my experience as somebody who has worked with the AD for years to know what the system administrators could need in IDM. And my experience in SAP helps me the same way (because I’m not just an IDM and portal admin, come one! πŸ˜€ ).

          And my experience with user support (which I still do now, too) helps me to design the portal navigation in such a way, that people don’t get lost. And of course the same thing is true for IDM masks.

          So I think, any experience you gain in the IT world is good experience. Even if you change your career to another path this grasp you have of other areas will help you be better in your new field of work and if it’s just because you understand what the heck the others are talking about and have a kind of empathy for their needs and concerns, because there was a time you were one of them. πŸ™‚

          Well, I hope, there is some kind of red line in there you can follow and understand what I’m trying to say. πŸ˜†
          If not, here is the TL;DR: Yay for Diversificationists!

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          1. Jelena Perfiljeva

            Steffi, I agree – it usually happens in small to medium size companies or maybe rather privately owned vs. public. In large / public companies the “red tape”, government regulations and office politics effectively prevent most people from getting any exposure to other areas. While at smaller / private companies it’s “just get this done yesterday!”. It is a very different environment. πŸ™‚

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      2. Jelena Perfiljeva

        In reality such ads could only attract the Resume Creativists. [in a low husky voice] “For you, babe, I’ll be whatever you want me to be”. πŸ™‚

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        1. LuΓ­s PΓ©rez Grau

          I don’t know why but next thing it comes to my mind is <BuddyHolly>It’s not my fault</BuddyHolly> if doesn’t work, you allways can try <Chicago sparkling_eyes = “on”>Hard to say i’m sorry</Chicago> meh

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    2. Ekaterina Bondarenko

      Until you asked to find out the problem… no, even not in the printer as a physical device, but the company’s boiler, and you successfully do it, you still can improve your diversification. I really love this amazing logic: “”computer (wo)man”->technical knowledge->can repair any devices”, why pay for service? πŸ™‚

      And then you can proudly say HR people that you specialize in hot topics.

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  6. Henry-John Giddy

    Thanks for penning those thoughts Colleen.

    It is such a important aspect of each SAP persons career and should in fact be a carefully considered process when decided to skill up and not be the accidental direction set as in the case of most consultants who go where the work takes them as it were.

    Diversification I think is inevitable with the expanding product offerings across a single business process but it needs to be controlled as there is also the very really danger of a becoming to much a generalist that your skills will be viewed with suspicion. Example – a application consultant in MM may well gain experience in APO and acquire essential knowledge in terms of integration and design patterns relating to integration which will serve them well, but for that person to try and learn basic PI and market themselves as a PI consultant as well would likely be overextending ones ability to know a product well enough to be a effective consultant and also harm your “package” of skills your are marketing.

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    1. Colleen Hebbert Post author

      Hi Henry-John

      Thanks for taking the time to comment.

      You’re right about packing your skills. I think in the example of MM/PI I would either be approaching it as an MM Consultant and then list the PI as a skill area OR have two resumes that are tailored (assuming you have enough experience to do PI only/across other modules). But yes, if you were to send out a resume with diverse skills and call yourself an expert people may not believe it.

      I have seen resumes sent my way when someone markets themselves as an expert and they are not. It’s worse when you’ve worked on the same client site and they have claimed expertise because they did something once. Just yesterday I recorded two LSMWs – I won’t go as far as marketing myself as a Data Migration/LSMW expert but I would consider adding that as a sub-item to my security skill set.

      Regards

      Colleen

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