By Graham Robinson
I am always interested in discussions about SAP skills.
Aside from the specific subject of SAP certification, there are ongoing discussions around issues such as:
- How do I identify the skills I should acquire?
- How can I best acquire these skills?
- Where can I best acquire these skills from?
- What role can the online community play in my skills acquisition?
- 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. Investing in skills
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 (http://sydney.edu.au/science/uniserve_science/projects/skills/jantrial/interpersonal/interpersonal.htm) by the Science Faculty at Sydney University. They see interpersonal skills as anamalgam of networking, teamworkand 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 total cost of ownership 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’.
Time vs. money
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 requires 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. So I determined that, over the course of a typical calendar year, I would work towards spending 60 per cent of my time on client work and 20 per cent on professional development. The remaining 20 per cent would be for living! Recreation, vacation, time with family, and so on.
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 full-time 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.
Breaking down the work
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, and so on. 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 SAP Community Network (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 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent and it would not surprise me if it is over 40 per cent.
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 per cent of my time– plus a fair bit more as well. Suddenly I find I don’t have time to check the latest SAP Developer Network (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. 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 that I see them. And I am missing it.
Restoring the balance
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?
Graham Robinson is an independent SAP technology consultant with Yelcho Systems Consulting and an SAP Mentor. This column first appeared as a blog on the SAP Community Network. Visit www.sdn.sap.com/irj/scn/weblogs?blog=/pub/wlg/19855 to read the comments on Graham’s original article.
This article was also published in Inside SAP December 2010.