Daily Archives: July 31, 2015

There’s Nothing Wrong With Using Upstream vs. Downstream

Only with trying to fix a continuous process to a discrete point in time.

Confused? Let’s back up. Last Friday the doctor‘s co-conspirator in the definition of Contract Lifecycle Management (CLM) went on a rant about the use of upstream and downstream without a paddle in contract management. In his Friday rant, the maverick claimed that if you put supplier management in the upstream bucket, you’ve violated the whole naming convention and that upstream can have a time dimension to it and represent earlier processes, but it can also have a supply chain connotation and represent multiple tiers farther upstream in the inbound supply chain – working back to raw commodities. So, it’s confusing in that regard in terms of time vs. space. However, the maverick‘s biggest gripe seems to be it puts the signature of the contract artifact as the singularity of the procurement universe – sort of like using B.C. and A.D. to define world history to non-Christians.

So what? We need a way to measure time and a milestone against with to measure progress.

As humans, we don’t know exactly when we first evolved (or, if you follow a religion based on a form of creationism, were created), so we can’t choose that date as a reference point for a precise timeline. We barely have decent records back to 0 AD, and if we go back more than a few hundred years beyond that, we don’t really have enough to establish a good date system. So the date chosen is just as good as any other date during that period.

Similarly, if you look at the full contract lifecycle, just when does the project start? When is the first analysis or opportunity identification performed that leads into the business case. Hard to say. We know the date a sourcing project is approved, but just like 0 AD, before that gets a bit fuzzy, but there could still have been significant events that led to approval which are really part of the Procurement process and which should not be overlooked just because a date can’t be fixed. Similarly. When does it end? The date the contract officially finishes? The date the post mortem is done? The date a new contract is signed? The date the switchover actually occurs to a new supplier? The date the supplier is officially retired from organizational service? Hard to say.
So choosing the date of signing as a reference point is a logical choice for dividing up the process and English commonly uses the same word to mean different things in different contexts so there’s no reason it shouldn’t be clear when someone is talking about upstream in the contract/category management process and upstream in the supply chain. (After all, we live with sourcing and sourcing in Procurement is much different than sourcing in HR.)

In other words, the definitions make sense and since they are now commonly accepted, let’s not bicker about how they are defined but about how some providers and analysts tend to misuse them by trying to fix-point activities that actually need to occur throughout the process, like category management, supplier management, compliance management, and risk management. Use upstream and downstream to indicate when particular activities in a process should occur, not to categorize processes that exist simultaneously with the contract lifecycle, and that build off of the primary artifact, the contract, in new and interesting ways (when done right).

Not everything fits in a one or two dimensional model, and we need to be prepared to accept the true complexity of the situation. That’s why many tenders these days are complex and why organizations that don’t have spend analysis can’t identify the inherent complexity and why organizations that don’t have strategic sourcing decision optimization can’t adequately deal with the complexity. Just like the world is not flat, neither is the sourcing model or the necessary execution process that follows. A spreadsheet won’t cut it and neither will point-in-time processes. However, we still need fixed points in time to measure against (forward and back), and at least the date a contract is signed is a point in time everyone across all departments in the organization can agree on.