I have been with SAP R/3 around 5 years, primarily working with ABAP with little bit of MM, PP, FI and more focused on SD of late. I would like to know which is the strategic direction I need to focus myself for a SAP managerial career path.
I addressed the future of ABAP programming in other questions this week, so in terms of your question, I'll focus on the path from ABAP programmer to technical project manager and beyond. Let's break down the career path you want to follow to become an SAP manager. The first step is to move into a hands-on team lead position, a role where you continue to develop your hands-on skills but also begin to manage other team members. From there, you might have several hands-on team lead projects in a row, each time managing a larger team but retaining some hands-on capacities. Your next move is into a project manager role.
During your first technical project manager gig, you'll still have the ability to "roll up your sleeves" and do anything your team is doing, but soon you'll face a crossroads - you'll need to let go of the hands-on role in order to progress further up the "IT food chain." If you decide that you want to continue to manage projects, and perhaps work your way up into the CIO realm someday, then you'll say farewell to the hands-on work that has been your bread and butter. From that point on, you'll be more and more focused on the intersection between a company's technical and business objectives. Believe it or not, you can accomplish most of this evolution without leaving SAP environments. But once you climb high enough up the ladder, the SAP aspects of your skills will be less critical than the overall e-business product and process knowledge you've obtained.
It's important to keep in mind that there are risks associated with leaving hands-on skills behind. Many SAP folks that are project manager or director level have had an even tougher time finding work than hands-on consultants have lately. One major reason: Once you get to the project manager level, you're pretty much looking at full time positions only. That's because after you leave hands-on SAP work behind, there won't be many contract positions available to you. And a project manager's perm job options are limited mostly to SAP customers right now. Consulting firms, scrambling for engagements, just aren't looking for SAP project management skills at the moment.
My final comment is that to make this career transition, you need to commit yourself to developing your communication, leadership, and business process knowledge. The SAP "techies" who do the best in lead roles are those that really thrive on addressing the "big picture" of SAP's impact on the customer's bottom line. If that's you, and you feel you have the style and savvy to be a highly visible presence on SAP projects, then go for it!
This was first published in June 2002