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From Consultant to Customer and Back: Crossing The Great Divide

Since the beginning of this century, I had the opportunities to switch between being a consultant and a permanent employee of the SAP customers. The experience of being on both sides offers a unique perspective that I would like to share with you.

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My career in the US started as a mainframe consultant. It was not simple to be both a relative beginner in the mainframe world, in an unfamiliar consulting role, and a newcomer in the country. In the first projects, I had a privilege to observe and learn from effective managers and seasoned consultants. One of such occasions left especially lasting impression on me.

I was called into the manager’s office together with Kevin, more experienced and mature consultant. We were summoned to provide input on potential solutions, so that the manager could make an important project decision. I already formed a strong opinion on what that decision should be and was ready to defend it with arguments.

In our mini-meeting, Kevin got to speak first. He calmly and confidently explained pros and cons of both available options and then simply sat back and smiled. I was befuddled. Wasn’t he, the expert, already sure which way we must go? Why didn’t he just say that? Still puzzled, I chose to agree with Kevin and just add more information to his input.

What Kevin knew better than me at the time: we were not invited to make a decision. It was not our role. Our role was to do exactly what our title implied: to consult, to provide information that would assist manager’s decision-making. Even though we might sometimes feel passionate about a particular choice, it is important for every consultant not to confuse these roles.

“I Don’t Know but I’ll Find Out”

After 5 years and 3 states (one of the side-effects of the nomadic consulting lifestyle), I crossed two divides: from a consultant to a permanent employee and from a mainframe to SAP developer. Finally, it was my turn to be a fussy, always right customer!

It was the company’s first SAP implementation and our team had to rely heavily on the external consultants. But as we came to realize, for some consultants, the level of expertise did not commensurate with level of confidence in their presentation.

Janet, an ABAP consultant, quickly became everyone’s favorite on that project. Not only was she always friendly and ready to help anyone with technical advice, she was the first consultant I have heard saying
“I don’t know but I’ll find out”.

It is great to be confident, but trust cannot be built on confidence alone. There is no shame in not knowing something and it is impossible to know everything about the vast world of SAP. It is OK to be like Janet and just say “I don’t know but I’ll find out”. In fact, the customers would prefer that.

Do No Harm

The main difference between the consultants and the customer’s staff is that the latter will still be around for a long time after the project go-live. This team will need to keep running and maintaining the solutions that the consultants proposed and implemented.

My personal philosophy is that any solution needs to be first and foremost practical. No matter how cutting-edge or elegant or “best practice” something is, if it is too expensive to implement and too difficult to deploy and maintain, then it will not go well. The stark contrast between the simple solution created by our internal team after receiving a rather convoluted design from a consulting company has been the subject of my many SAP event presentations. This is something I am acutely aware of and hope never to forget in the newfound consulting role.

There is no equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath in SAP world but the commitment to be cognizant of practicality and long-term effects of our solutions must be given to the customers.

Customer Deserves the Best
Few years ago, I had to get a root canal done. I was in terrible pain for two days already, I was confused and scared when I sat down in the dentist chair. The doctor assessed the situation and then said the nicest thing: “I’ll take good care of you. You are my patient and you deserve the best!”

Isn’t it what everyone would like to hear, all the time?

Thankfully, not all SAP projects are as much fun as a root canal but, no matter what, the customers put themselves in our hands and we need to take care of them the best way we can. I might not always succeed in this endeavor, but I hope to be the consultant that I would like to work with myself, as a customer.

Jelena Perfiljeva is a Lead SAP Developer at Mindset. She is an experienced SAP generalist with focus in development and system integration. Jelena is an SAP Community influencer and a recipient of many awards, including Member of the Month and Community Hero. She is an international SAP conference speaker and author of the books What on Earth is an SAP IDoc? and ABAP: An Introduction. In her spare time, Jelena enjoys baking and playing Civilization.

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