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SAP project manager without hands-on SAP skills

I have been working in SAP since 2001 in a project manager role. I have not had any formal SAP training since we migrated from a GEAC (mainframe) to SAP. I did lead the team to a successful launch in March, 2002 implementing FI/CO, MM and EBP. Today I am managing the launch of BW and SEM-BCS. My question is that I feel confident from a project management standpoint of implementing SAP, but I don't have a solid understanding of the software since I have not had formal training. Nor have I worked in Basis or as a developer. Is this going to affect my opportunties of leading SAP projects elswehere if I were to leave the company? If so, what are your recommendations?

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A very good question, I am glad you asked this. I am sure there are other readers in your situation, and you've raised some critical issues that they should all consider. An SAP project manager without hands-on SAP skills is in a vulnerable career situation. The majority of SAP project managers have their roots in hands-on SAP work, but not all. Project managers without the hands-on skills may find that they have trouble appearing marketable to other SAP users. There are two reasons for this: (1) the lack of hands-on SAP skills is often perceived as a drawback, and (2) most companies define project management skills a bit differently, so project management experience is not as easily transferable as hands-on technical experience. Someone in your situation wants to rectify this, as you do not ever want to be vulnerable career-wise in today's volatile job market. There are two main ways of addressing your skills gaps, and both of these ways involve using the goodwill you have (hopefully) built up with your current employer. The first tactic is to find ways of getting more hands-on skills in the areas you supervise. Some companies really appreciate this desire and will help to accommodate you if you are willing to put in the extra time, as needed. Another equally viable option is to just keep moving up the "management food chain." On the technical side of things where you are, the highest level is usually CIO, but underneath that, there are usually at least two, if not three, levels of technical management. Therefore, sometimes the best way to address a lack of hands-on skills is to move even further away, or "onward and upward" as they say. Either of these tactics can work, and the right one ultimately comes down to your long-term career aspirations. This is a fundamental choice and once you make it, you'll need to see it through. Of course, not every company will give you these choices, and in that case, you may have to seek opportunities elsewhere, and then you can continue to pursue one approach or the other from within a new organization. But if at all possible, it's good to take advantage of the "time served" and see if you can enhance your skills while you are in a position of strength within a company. Good luck!

This was first published in October 2004

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