A procurement process transformation can be extremely challenging, particularly when resources are scarce. During my 27-year career as a Chief Procurement Officer and later as a Procurement Transformation Consultant, I have developed three steps I have dubbed my “ABC Strategies” for transforming a procurement process successfully. By employing this approach, I am able to achieve progress early in the process to help initiate much-needed momentum and to garner critical support for requests for resources down the road.
Most, if not all, of the transformations I have led, have shared a similar vision: for the procurement team to become a trusted partner in the entity. This vision is a lofty one when considering the dismal starting points of most transformation initiatives. In large part, the procurement team is seen as a roadblock in the organization. My role is to substantially improve the performance of the department with staff the organization already has in place.
A is for Automation. One of the first strategies I implement is to automate repetitive tasks and shift brainpower to procurements. I often see as much as 80 percent or more of a team’s efforts are being directed toward activities that do not add value to the process. This translates to 20 percent or less of staff efforts focused on more complex solicitations. In other words, personnel are busy taking care of repetitive, low value add work, while large and/or complex projects sit idle, waiting for procurement expertise and attention.
The objective is to first maximize any existing technology to reduce manual work and repetitive tasks. In most cases, I am able to win approval for a lower dollar plug-and-play strategy to make significant impacts on speed and/or quality. This strategy varies from agency to agency as it is dependent on what is already available. There is a short window to obtain resources in a transformation process and time is of the essence. Note: Any investment is looked at more favorably when it is presented as an opportunity to “enhance the buying experience of the end-user.”
Automating repetitive tasks is a short-term fix that fosters goodwill that will be critical when seeking funding support for a long-term comprehensive technology solution.
B is for Belief in the Capabilities of the Team. When a team charged primarily with executing tasks is first empowered to think critically, it can be a major shift. Routines can be disrupted, and people often must unlearn and relearn their jobs. During this transition, it is not uncommon for personnel to feel alone or to experience self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. The team leader must believe in their people and encourage them through the growth period by offering training, personal development, coaching, and mentoring. The leader cannot be indifferent to the struggle of each person on the team. Some are going to struggle more than others of course. Once the first person breaks through some of the barriers that kept him or her performing at the task executor level, others will also be encouraged to do so as well. In the end, critical thinking will help in the quality of the interaction with end-users. Trust will start to develop one project at a time fostering a more collaborative relationship with the end-user and enabling better customer service. This approach, along with training, also helps improve the quality of solicitations, which enables higher quality responses from suppliers. There is a high rate of return on training and empowering the right personnel.
C is for Consistency. Part of the reason why there can be distrust in the process is because end-users often receive contradictory information from procurement personnel. This can be a result of people working like “islands” instead of as a team. A strategy for consistency is necessary upfront. It requires a sequence of internal communication, the progressive standardization of processes, and the implementation of best practices learned through professional training. The adoption of best practices is an opportunity to get everyone on the same page and to work as a team. As end-users begin to receive consistent guidance, their trust in the process will increase.
The three issues I focus on early in the transformation process are speed, quality, and consistency. Utilizing my ABC strategies from the onset allows me to gain quick traction and achieve early buy-in that pays off when recommending long-term solutions.
By Lourdes Coss, MPA, CPPO – Sept 2020
Procurement Transformation Blog – www.lourdescoss.com
About the Author: Lourdes Coss is a former Chief Procurement Officer living her purpose. She’s the author of “Procurement Methods: Effective Techniques” and is using the lessons of her 27 years career in government procurement and transformation to coach, train, and provide consulting to leaders and aspiring leaders in the profession. Post-Pandemic, you may find her in a café writing her next book.