Let me split this question into two parts. On the one side there are students or business users who want to start or change their career into SAP. On the other side consultants who want to grow and become better for themselves and market. Except first several steps the remaining approach is the same and there let’s be honest to each other, there is no easy way how to become a SAP consultant. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t mean it’s impossible, but like any other profession it takes time (from my experience it’s about 5 years). Let’s dive into it.
First of all you need to understand consulting is a tough profession. You must deal with people everyday. You must travel to different cities or countries. And the most important you must learn something new everyday. If you are up to this, than follow me and see what applies to you. Sometimes you need to not only to learn but to keep your sap certification up to date.
So, what does SAP consultants do? They consult other people, companies in either way: how to change business processes or how to implement a new IT system like SAP. Ideally you should do both – these people are SAP functional architects, cause they know how to change business to make it better and support these changes with IT system.
There are functional and technical consultants. Functional are these boys and girls who know business, not IT. They understand legal reporting, business requirements, best practices in specific areas. Technical people are these nerds, who install, support, update IT part of SAP implementation. In 99% cases you can’t be both. And the worst news are you can’t switch modules (areas) because just one module would take you 5 years to learn to be a good SAP consultant.
Step 1. Find a business area
It’s really important. Some people are good in communications, others in math, third in coding, etc. It’s about what you like to do most, because once you in, be ready to stay there at least 5 years. Yes, it takes minimum 5 years to learn just one modules, one functional area in SAP.
Idea is to stick with something general and then become more specific over the years. General I mean finances, sales and distributions, controlling, human resources, material management, logistics, etc. It’s a good idea to do some preliminary research what this business area is, what do people do there, how it looks like.
Step 2. Learn this business area
Once you made up your decision with business area, start learning. You need to find books, courses and law. It’s very important to learn business language for this specific area to communicate on the same page. You’ll always hear ‘business process’ words. What’s that? Saying short it’s a sequence of steps one after another to accomplish something. There are inputs like information or documents, which you need to learn, understand how to read, how to process and how it influence the final result of this specific process in business overall. Every sheet of paper has meaning you need to understand. Don’t learn them by heart, but try to build some logical explanation in your mind why somebody needs this. Maybe it’s a part of taxation process or some bank transaction to refer to specific agreement?
Step 3. Read the documentation
The most difficult part for beginners, because they don’t know where to get this documentation or how to read it right. In 99% cases your first door would be https://help.sap.com website. It’s free. There are very few details how to setup the system, but a lot about best practices and processes. It’s better to have some sandbox to play with. Just start keying in something to practice. You’ll get errors, messages – that’s fine and we’ll cover this in step 4. You just need to get used to screens, wording and sequences.
Next step would be SAP Courses or SAP Learning Hub. This is expensive (SAP Learning Hub not that much expensive today though), but there are details how to setup the system. Today anybody can buy these SAP Learning Hub subscription and play with SAP.
Step 4. Learn how to search for answers
It’s the most valuable step in your career. You need to know where to find an answer and how to ask. Yes, it’s Google, but not 99%. Simple solutions, usually covering processes and specific scenarios are easily found in google on specific forums like https://scn.sap.com or any other custom forums with SAP topics.
For technical issues https://support.sap.com/notes is your friend. Usually errors, software bugs or workarounds could be found there, on official SAP Marketplace. But you’ll need specific access which could be requested by your company administrators. It’s free.
And again, google and google carefully. Read not only the first google page, but 10 next pages. It’s valuable.
Step 5. Think ahead
Once you grow in consulting, usually after first couple projects, they can give you some management role like a lead of a small team or something. Or write a blueprint, or setup something. Before you touch the keyboard think how your solution impacts other functionality, other people and tomorrow company growth. Don’t code lists with a random values, but think what if you need to add several companies more tomorrow because your customer would acquire some start-ups?
It’s really important to build a mindset of architect who thinks ahead and knows how his today’s decision would affect the solution tomorrow or a day after. Bad consultants solve issues, code in ABAP. Good consultants build tomorrow’s solutions with standard techniques. They understand what is a TCO (Total Cost of Ownership).
Here is a trick. Imagine tomorrow the customer hires you as a manager of the solution you’ve just implemented. Would you live and work with that? Would be satisfied?
Step 6. Learn Information Technologies
Sounds silly, right? But half of consultants don’t know how to work in MS Excel or MS Word. I’d say 80% don’t know how to google. Some IT background helps you to solve tasks much more quicker, thus more efficiently. There is no specific way to learn IT or become an IT guru, just be curious. If you doing data migration it requires a lot of data. How to process large data volumes? How to handle 500k rows in MS Excel? What is VLOOKUP, INDEX, MATCH, PivotTable? These are basics.
Learn how to debug and read ABAP code. Very basic skills help you a lot in SAP, really a lot. Sometimes, frequently, it’s quicker to debug report or transaction then to find why it’s not working properly in google/sap notes/forums. When I started my SAP HCM consultant career I had spent almost a year just debugging HR in SAP R/3 version 4.0B. It was a nightmare, but it made me a good consultant.
Step 7. Rethink your solutions
If you have some projects behind your back it’s a good idea to write down lessons learnt. What was done right or bad? How would you run these projects today with all knowledge and hands-on experience you have? It’s important because on every new project you learn something new. It’s your best practice which you bring as a value to the table and analyzing whether it fits current requirements or not. Customers value these consultants who explain solutions with examples from real life. No need to share customer names but approaches, similar situations and issues/benefits is a good way to develop a sense of a best solution for the current customer.
Step 8. Ask other people
Yes and No. Yes because they can share their experience which could save you a lot of time and efforts. No because there are type of people who only wants to ask and not to think. Ideally it should be something like 80% of your homework and 20% of asking other people. Best to ask personally, because on these forums people usually hide context and you can get it wrong.
The most valuable answers I received from customers, from end-users who were actually working with the systems (legacy or SAP – doesn’t matter). Even if there is a law, there could be an exception or specific treatment of the same law in different companies. Don’t hesitate to ask business people – they are more than happy to help you. The better you ask, the better solution you’ll implement for them: Win-Win.
Step 9. Teach others
They saw if you want to be an expert in some topic, teach this topic other people. When you teach other you need to prepare for the lecture and students will ask unusual and uncomfortable questions. having answers to these situations would make you a better SAP consultant. Teaching is a process when you share your knowledge in exchange of a different sights of view to the same topic from your students. Why not to try to be a SAP mentor or SAP Train
Also, when you teach somebody it develops your communication skills. Consultants with strong communications grow much faster on the career path. Try to teach with different tools. Like show the system, prepare Power Point presentations, write questionnaires and test questions.
Step 10. Manage others
Even if you don’t like it, it worth trying. Management skill puts you above other consultants in this specific situation and makes you think differently. Not from some table in the system perspective, but as a whole solution you’re responsible for. You’ll see how managerial work differs from consultant’s, and it will help you to make right decisions as a consultants. You’ll understand both sides of a battle field. I’m for periodically changing chairs between managers and direct employees. It helps to extend points of view.
Practice and practice. Remember, first half of your life you work for a reputation, the second half it works for you. Hire your reputation today and work hard on it even outside of your normal work schedule. Tired of SAP in the office, fine, learn coding or finance while commuting. Whatever works for you and makes your brains circle around finding solutions and solving tasks. The more your work, less your read and more you do. It’s a best practice to become a SAP consultant.