How Networking Led to the Writing of an SAP PRESS Book
Writing is a commitment of time and reputation. The thoughts you commit to paper (hard or soft copy, either one) take time to be midwifed so to speak, and later on when your written words are running around amok, they can either find you bitcoins or leave nasty bytes.
And then there are the puns. The worst ones are unintentional.
In February 2020, I was minding my own business. I had just started a new ERP project helping a company manage an acquisition by merging their SAP systems. There was a lot of testing and support to do, and as the new man on the team I had a lot of knowledge transfer meetings to attend (and documentation to pore through).
But I also devoted myself to my professional writing on all things SAP. Together with an active contract to write articles for hire. Let me explain.
LinkedIn and Eursap – from One Network to Another
Online networking is important for several reasons, and I had taken care over the years to build an online presence, or as my friend and colleague Jon Simmonds likes to put it, my “brand.” More about Jon in just a moment.
Firstly, networking is important to see what other consultants are up to. We have an unusual life and career. Only other consultants fully understand each other—and sometimes not even then! Secondly, you need to identify what it is in this world that you can possibly contribute. The only way to do this is to wander into the cacophonous marketplace and take part in the buying and selling. Thirdly – and this follows from the last point – whatever it is you have identified as sellable must in fact SELL. Your market research must be rentable. For hard currency. Welcome to the world’s oldest profession, in a manner of speaking.
For SAP consultants, there is one great place to start. And that would be LinkedIn. They host a great community of SAP consultants who selflessly share their knowledge, contacts, and expertise. Probably the greatest out of all of them is Mr. Wouter van Heddeghem – based in the Netherlands and India – the single most followed SAP consultant on LinkedIn. If you follow him, he’ll tell you an interesting story (or two) about his career. And he’ll teach you many things about the Hindu religion.
Another doyen of the LinkedIn SAP community is Mr. Daniel Patel, SAP delivery director at Eursap, Ltd., one of Europe’s largest SAP recruitment agencies based in London. A recruitment firm is nothing but a network at its very essence, so Daniel is kind of the beekeeper of the network’s network, if you know what I’m saying. At the center of his hive is the Eursap SAP blog, a great meeting point of relevant, well-written articles about SAP consulting.
Over the last several years I had joined Daniel’s stable of writers, opining on this and that in the SAP ecosystem. And by reading other posts, I had gotten to know several of his prolific and knowledgeable authors, like Ravi Srinivasan for example.
That February, I had just finished a couple of articles about recruitment for the blog and had gotten the go ahead from Daniel to write an article about leadership in SAP projects, with a particular focus on S/4HANA. As we worked together on the new article, Daniel had insisted that I add some detailed content about the new SAP Activate methodology into the text. This was beyond my reach; at the time I had only participated in one Agile-based project (though that was to change with my next SAP S/4HANA project). In any event, I was a sceptical waterfall kind of guy.
Daniel offered to get some additional input on this from one of his project managers. I immediately agreed as I thought such a perspective could enhance the article (the editor is always right in my world, anyway). And that resource turned out to be the aforementioned fellow blogger Jon Simmonds.
Jon’s contributions were welcome and on point. I added in the conclusion requested by Daniel to wrap up the article. Daniel was delighted and the article was published later that month.
Little did Daniel know that he had planted the seed of a future collaboration.
James – The Beginning of the Book Project
One of my other contacts on LinkedIn was a lady named Emily Nicholls, an editor from an outfit called Rheinwerk Publishing. Rheinwerk turned out to be parent organization of SAP PRESS, the leading worldwide publisher of SAP software manuals. In partnership with the high house of SAP in Walldorf, Germany, their mission is to “to create the resources that help accelerate your SAP journey—whether you’re a beginner or an expert; a consultant or a business user; a developer, an administrator, or an IT manager.”
Emily was pitching me that February to write a book for SAP PRESS, a study guide for a certification exam. I was flattered to be chased in my chosen marketplace. Something was working right.
Remember the bit about “writing is a commitment” that I wrote above? Starting a new project, I just didn’t feel that I could undertake an additional heavy commitment.
I chose to be as tactful as possible, given the circumstances. “This is really interesting,” I wrote Emily in an e-mail, “but I just will not have the time while I am on a project. May I reach out to you when I am in between and have the time necessary to devote to this?”
Emily shot back, “Sure! If I find another author before then I’ll move forward, but there may be other SD projects I’m looking to publish [later] that are up your alley.” Clever lady, I surmised. The old “you’re not the only fish in the sea” argument. No matter. This was the correct response. She did, nevertheless, leave me in a state of intrigue.
Within a matter of weeks, something called Covid-19 happened. For those of you who have been away, it was a worldwide epidemic and one of its casualties was my very project! So instead of finding myself enveloped in work that summer, I was out by the pool in the June heat on my own time penning articles on SAP topics and even composed an art review for a completely different web site.
My e-mail lights up and it’s Emily again.
“I hope this email finds you well! How the world has changed since our last correspondence,” she writes. “I’m coming back because I’m starting to look for an author/small team for a new book that gives step-by-step instructions for sales business users operating a live SAP S/4HANA system. This would be in our Business User Guide series. Is this kind of user training in your wheelhouse?”
Yes, it was! And this time I was not on a project. I had no excuse. In our very next telephone call I was hooked, and she reeled me in like a slippery catfish, dorsal fins extended, into her editor’s net. She had me!
The only consideration at the time was some pending negotiations with a top-shelf recruiter to join a new project as part of a national consulting company. The discussions were moving along, albeit slowly.
Again, remember what I wrote above? “Writing is a commitment of time and of reputation.” What if I accepted a contract to write a 400-page manual and then got rolled into a heavy time-consuming project? My reputation was at risk!
Emily and I continued our e-mail and phone chats while I reflected on the potential risk that my negotiations to join a project later that summer could soak up too much time and threaten my book commitment. We hashed out a table of contents as to what such a Business User Guide to SD in SAP S/4HANA would look like. I also needed to find an SAP S/4HANA system for rent somewhere at an affordable price.
By the end of July, Emily’s editorial board approved the proposed table of contents, and I was presented with a contract to sign by early August. This is where I needed to accept the risk of a potential project taking up all of my free time. Or not. A contract is a legal document where I am committed to do something – in this case, write a 400-page manual! If I failed to deliver the required document, Emily and her band of editors had the right to break into my apartment and steal my television! Or worse. (Just kidding.)
In the meantime, my discussions with the recruiter and consulting company were moving along in a positive direction. I had passed a number of interviews and was informed that an employment offer was in the works. The prospective project was going to be a heavy SAP S/4HANA implementation – all in the French language, a second language for me. It was going to be a heavy lift. My concern about risk to the book deal was apparently very prescient. What to do?
I did what I could to get an extra day by asking a lot of contractual questions. Emily had heard them all before and answered reasonably to each question in turn. I had no way out. I needed to accept the contract as I was ideally suited for the project. But how to mitigate the risk?
At this point, I recalled my collaboration with Jon Simmonds from earlier that year. Jon had added some key details to the leadership article to compliment my bits. I noted that he was an accomplished SD consultant and had even self-published an SD guide all on his own. Although we had written the article without any personal contact – Daniel had blended our texts together – he certainly had the props for this kind of work.
I had to ask myself if Jon might be the co-author help me with this responsibility?
So, based on our mutual association with Eursap, I took one risk to help mitigate a different one. I suggested to Emily that I get a co-author to help with the project, and mentioned Jon’s name as a possible candidate. She got back to me quickly with an all clear on her side (I suppose she did her own online vetting) so I rang Jon up to scope him out.
Human beings are infinitely complex. You never know what you’ll get by initiating a new contact, either professionally or personally. Jon was at once easy going, very relaxed, and extremely knowledgeable. I knew before calling him that he could write. But could we work together on a major piece of writing?
In life, you need to go with your gut and an ability to size people up quickly. My intuition immediately informed me that I was speaking to a kindred spirit in terms of our professional experience of SAP software. After introducing myself and the book project, I asked him point blank if he could conceivably be interested in writing half? Jon, being easy to speak with and brimming with good ideas, said yes right away. His enthusiasm carried across the undersea phone line loud and clear. And I felt confident that I had made a good decision.
The next step was to inform Emily of the new addition. A new contract was drawn up for both co-authors and a new timeline agreed to.
As it came to pass, I did receive that employment offer and the project work was intense! Bringing in a co-author turned out to be a lifesaver.
My role in the book partnership was to write roughly half the chapters, and to configure a generic SAP S/4HANA box for our use in taking screenshots. We rolled out a sample chapter by the end of October. And once that was approved, we divided up the rest of the chapters and then pushed them out from November through March, mostly on weekends. It was still a Covid lockdown on both sides of the Atlantic. I did have the benefit of a ski slope next door to me in upstate New York. I would torment Jon with an occasional sunny trailside picture.
Our SAP S/4HANA system suffered from outages which threatened our project. This was the greatest unforeseen risk that we had to overcome. Through a combination of cunning, guile, and legal threats, we were just barely able to avoid losing all our work at least once.
Jon and I proofread the other’s respective chapters. It was a true collaboration in every respect.
Jon – Another Perspective on the Book Project
Back in August 2020, I was coming to terms with my new five-second commute to work, whilst dabbling in my spare time with writing SAP blogs for Eursap. The blogs were useful to me too – they kept me on my toes, and I was starting to enjoy coming to grips with the new SAP S/4HANA innovations out there. The additional time-savings afforded by various UK lockdowns gave me a good opportunity to use the time to write. As James mentioned above, I’d even published a short e-book on SD in SAP S/4HANA.
All this meant that my online presence on sites like LinkedIn was increasing significantly. I was getting connected to more and more like-minded people all the time. This had good and bad points. Mostly good, but one issue I was facing was that I was getting a lot of contact from people after free consultancy advice or asking for free advice on training and courses. I don’t mind helping my fellow SAP consultants at all, but the requests were growing and eating significantly into my spare time. Therefore, I have to confess, it was with a little trepidation that I agreed to a short call with James, who I didn’t know. Yes, we had collaborated on a previous Eursap blog. But what did he want with me?
James was a good guy though, so surely, I thought, this would be a beneficial call for both of us. Indeed, it was! I was pretty taken aback when James floated the idea of an SAP PRESS book. I think it took me all of about two or three seconds to agree to this – probably before I had even heard timelines or royalties or anything like that. I think it was Richard Branson who said, “If you get an opportunity and you don’t know how to do it, say yes and then find out.” Sounded like an opportunity to me.
James is no slouch. Not only had he already been through the contract with a fine-tooth comb and agreed on a draft table of contents, he had also even sourced an external SAP S/4HANA system we could use (for a ridiculously reasonable rate) and almost completely configured it for SD already. This was surely too good to be true?
After a few minor tweaks to the table of contents, and then helping to put the finishing touches to the configuration of the SAP S/4HANA system, the plan for my weekends over the next four months was set in place. We shared out the chapters evenly and got down to writing.
Now, I thought writing a book would be as simple as downloading all the information from my brain onto virtual paper. Little thought did I give to formatting, publishing house-styles and several rounds of editing. By the time I wrapped up the last chapter, James and I were both experts in the use of the Rheinwerk Publishing house style and the SAP PRESS editing process.
Epilogue: Networking Midwifes a Book…
After months of write-ups, edits, template weirdness, and PowerPoint diagrams – did we say time consuming? – SAP PRESS released our tome Sales and Distribution in SAP S/4HANA: Business User Guide this past May 26, 2021.
To sum up, we carefully examined changes in the latest version of SAP like enhanced business partner functionality, SAP Fiori UI, data handling changes, new data tables, and more, together with a detailed walk-through of the standard sales flow, from master data and inquiries right up through the accounting document and pass off to the FI module.
We even included a step-by-step guide to reversing your order to cash transactions in a detailed matrix outlining the exact steps to take based on your level of completion! No extra charge!
SAP PRESS author Divyendra Purohit generously contributed a chapter on rebates and settlements.
Our intent was to produce the definitive work on SD in SAP S/4HANA written for business users in concise English, eschewing jargon at every step. This will be the reference book you will come back to, time and again.
You can order your copy at https://www.sap-press.com/sales-and-distribution-with-sap-s4hana-business-user-guide_5263/. As a special gift to Eursap blog readers, you can use discount SDEUG15 to save 15% on check-out!
1 – Rheinwerk Publishing — Publisher of SAP PRESS | SAP PRESS (sap-press.com)
Stay tuned for more insights on Eursap’s Blog…