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What Do You Think of SAP Project Management as a Consulting Niche?

I wanted to say, "not much," but that’s not very helpful. In truth, it depends. So let’s look at the different approaches to SAP project management. I’ll tell you which ones I think highly of and which I think are questionable.

Being a successful SAP project manager is tougher than hands-on areas because your options are more limited. For example, most hands-on consultants have the option of "going independent" at different points, and that provides more flexibility in terms of which types of positions to take.

  But I’ve been working with SAP consultants for more than a decade, and I’ve only known a handful of project managers who succeeded as independent consultants. And in recent years, I’ve seen less of them. I suspect that’s because the independent project management model has not worked, and SAP has also made strides with a proven implementation methodology and approach that companies take seriously. SAP customers are less likely to "wing it" than ever before.

So I don’t like SAP project management as an independent consulting niche. I also don’t like it as an end-user role. Let me be clear on this: most SAP projects have a "dual project management approach," with one project manager from an outside consultancy and one project manager from the inside. Sometimes companies try to do without the project manager on the inside, but that seems to be a problematic approach. In my recent podcast with Dan Lubin of Abiomed, he said that one of his biggest regrets on their project was not funding an internal project manager.

So why don’t I like the internal "end-user" project management career path? Because I think companies vary greatly in what they define and expect from project management. For that reason, I find that project management skills are "less portable" than other SAP skills.

There’s one SAP project management career path that I do like, which is working as a project manager for a large (or small) SAP consultancy. Good SAP project managers can do very well working for a firm that has an established client base and methodology.

If you develop a track record of successful projects brought in on time and under budget, you can have a great career in this role — though I do find that most project managers in this situation eventually tire of the road and the long hours and look to leverage their reputation by moving into equity and/or practice lead roles.

The reader who asked me this question raised a couple of additional points. First, he asked whether project managers get scapegoated sometimes and whether this is a risk to consider. I would agree with that. I have definitely seen project managers scapegoated for projects that have gone awry.

Of course, these days, SAP projects tend to be more successful - companies have a much better handle on how to go about installing SAP, and SAP can now provide a battle-tested methodology companies can rely on. But there’s no question that project management can be a little like coaching a sports franchise: maybe you get too much credit when things go well, and too much blame when things go wrong.

Finally, our reader also asked me, "What are the traits of a good PM?"

As I have stated, I’m not sure that it’s easy to point to universally agreed-upon characteristics of great project managers. We could always go with that clich?��, "brings the project in on-time and on (or under) budget." That’s the ultimate criteria of success. I also feel that the best SAP project managers usually have a deep background in hands-on SAP work, either functional or technical, that informs their work and allows them to roll up sleeves as needed when team members are out of pocket or need additional support. They should also be good motivators, able to achieve the "buy in" of those who touch on the project from above and below.

But beyond those characteristics, what other traits define a good SAP Project Manager? That would be a good question for other members to comment on. For example, some project managers are expected to handle the financial management of the project, and others are asked to focus more on the technical timelines. So how important are the financial management skills? Perhaps it varies from project to project. And how important are general (non-SAP) project management certifications?

Here’s a list of a few more key traits I would look for in a good SAP project manager:

  • has expertise in SAP’s ASAP implementation methodology, and preferably additional consulting methodologies as well.
  • has been through multiple rollouts for different companies (as opposed to simply multiple rollouts for the same company).
  • understands SAP’s technical evolution and how the NetWeaver platform can add value to ongoing SAP implementations.
  • has excellent communication skills, and knows how to relate well to three constituencies: SAP users, corporate executives/leadership, and SAP project teams (functional and technical).

    To me, those are the key traits, but I’m sure there are more. Perhaps members can add to this list.

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