Daily Archives: November 13, 2007

the doctor Is Not An Analyst!

Last week, on Spend Matters, Wrong! Don’t listen. posted a couple of great comments that I am thrilled to reprint herein. The first comment went like this:

“What analysts know is what they’ve been told. And what they’ve been told on the product side is coming almost entirely from vendors who are paying them for time and coverage. I do agree that most analysts honestly try to do their best to balance what they’ve been told by vendor X against what they’ve been told by vendor Y, but so what. All that means is that they come up with some bizarre middle position between one marketing spin and another.

In order to understand what’s really going on, [the analyst has] to have a solid background in the industry, [the analyst has] to locate and interrogate innovative vendors and practitioners on [his] own dime, and [the analyst] has to understand the technology behind products so that [the analyst] is not buffaloed by marketing spew.

Someday, perhaps, we’ll see an analyst firm that hires experts and isn’t afraid to call it exactly the way they see it, in print as well as in private. It would be refreshing and different, and I’ll bet that firm would gain instant credibility and an instant following. Until then, all we have is the blogosphere.

The second comment ended as follows:

I’m afraid that the picture I see, for the most part, is analysts who are easily taken in by marketing pitches, who are unaware of new technical developments (and unable to evaluate them when they are aware of them), and who are largely ignorant of leading edge procurement thinking.

I don’t see the same magnitude problem in the blogosphere at all. I see a lot critical analysis and a good dose of solid technical competence. I see mistakes, too — and some chest-thumping from time to time by blogs that everybody knows are company organs — but the information sure is refreshing and a lot more useful compared to the homogenized pap that comes out of the analysts firms.

This was one of the best explanations of why the doctor is a blogger and not an analyst that he’s ever seen! About the only thing I’d add is that in order to truly be an analyst, you have to be able to do the job you’re ultimately analyzing. It’s the only path to true understanding. Analyzing a software vendor, then you should be capable of actually writing software. After all, how can you analyze something without truly understanding it. And how can you truly understand it if you couldn’t do it?

I’m not saying you need to be a master programmer to be able to analyze a software product, but you should know the basics of how software works, how it is built, what good architectures, standards, and protocols are, and why. Being able to turn on your computer, boot windows, log-in, fire up Excel, and write a macro just doesn’t cut it. On the other hand, if you could build an excel-like spreadsheet tool in a reasonably modern computing language, then that’s what I’m talking about! I’m not saying you have to know the language it was written in, but just understand what modern languages and development paradigms allow you to do. (For instance, if you know C++, then you have a reasonable understanding of OO and what people are doing with Java, Ruby, etc.) Otherwise, how do you know if what a certain program does truly is hard and difficult to duplicate, or if you’re being sold the snake oil of the week?

That’s why the doctor is different. the doctor can actually build very sophisticated software systems – and has built a number of them in his day. He may not code everyday, or every week, anymore but he fundamentally understands what modern languages and platforms can – and can’t – do. He understands technology, and understands when something is truly difficult, and truly isn’t. It’s also why the doctor is not impressed when a vendor wastes his time with a pointless powerpoint presentation. Any slick salesperson who has mastered consulting doublespeak and the print-screen key can put together an impressive sounding presentation – which doesn’t necessarily have any correlation with what the product can – or can not – do!

(Consider this fair warning – the next vendor that wastes the doctor‘s time with a powerpoint “demo” will be mercilessly shredded! As will the next vendor who refuses to answer any question not already answered in the press release! As regular readers know, I’m more than happy to give you a fair shake, but I expect one in return.)

Now, when you also consider that the doctor has a solid background in the industry and seeks out, interrogates, and strives to understand vendors on his own dime – and pass that knowledge on to you, you’re probably wondering why this doesn’t make the doctor the perfect analyst. And you have a very good point – but I don’t want to be associated with an industry that allows any MBA or journalist with no real experience in the industry to become an analyst solely on the fact that they can ask a few questions and write. I’d like to think that being an “analyst” means more than that. But maybe I’m asking too much.

Are Your Team’s Procurement Skills Up To Snuff?

Are you a supervisor, manager, or executive struggling to get the same performance out of your team that leading purchasing departments appear to be getting out of theirs? Are you wondering why this is the case? Then maybe you should consider getting your team profiled.

Although there could be a dozen reasons why your team is not performing at the level you think they should be (skyrocketing raw material and energy prices are significant components of your spend, inappropriate unbreakable multi-year agreements, lack of proper tools to get the job done, etc.), the reality is that you’ll probably never know which is the right reason until you start investigating different hypotheses. And the hypothesis that you should start with is that your team may not have the skills they need to compete against the leaders in today’s procurement landscape.

The skills an average procurement professional needs today are not the skills that an average procurement professional needed ten years ago. It’s not anybody’s fault, but that doesn’t mean you get to sweep the potential problem under the rug. It means you investigate the possibility that maybe your team, including you, could use a bit of polishing and, if it turns out to be the case, do something about it. The leaders are leaders for a reason – they recognize that in today’s world, you can’t ever stand still and you can’t ever stop learning, and they take steps to identify their weaknesses and improve them all the time.

So start by getting an independent third-party skills profile to find out where you are and where you should improve. One possibility is Next Level Purchasing‘s Purchasing Assessment of Skills for Success (PASS) Program, which they offer for free to qualified companies. Although it is, of course, based on the seven dimensions their Senior Professional in Supply Management (SPSM) program is based on, it’s still a good measure of whether or not your staff have the basic skills they need to do well at their jobs.

The PASS program uses a Web-based skills assessment based on 56 multiple choice questions designed to assess competence in seven key skill areas:

  • Purchasing Fundamentals
  • Analysis & Spreadsheets
  • Contract Law
  • Project Management
  • Purchasing Best Practices
  • Sourcing
  • Negotiation

Once your team completes the test, Next Level Purchasing creates a color coded report for each employee across the seven competency areas that indicates whether each employee is highly skilled in the area (green), moderately skilled in the area (yellow), or under-skilled in the area (red). From this, you can put together a custom improvement plan for each employee, which can be based upon standard SPSM courses or custom courses developed for you specifically by Next Level Purchasing. Considering the SPSM is a very affordable industry certification, chances are you’ll be able to upgrade your team’s skills in a very cost effective manner if it turns out that is the appropriate thing to do.