Organizational Damnation 53: Engineering

So far in our series, we’ve addressed Marketing, Legal, Logistics, and Human Resources. However, as you might have guessed, these are just a few of the organizational damnations Sourcing has to deal with on a daily basis.

Today we add Engineering to the list of organizational damnations that Sourcing has to deal with on a daily basis.

Why Engineering? Why is a department staffed by Engineers and Scientists who, unlike Sales and Marketing aren’t inclined to stretch the truth beyond all recognition; unlike Legal, are inclined to speak plain English; and, unlike HR, are not inclined to find new and innovative ways to suck the life force out of you, a source of eternal Procurement damnation?

Engineers are rigid stubborn perfectionists.

Let’s break this down.

Each engineer has a process, a design, a set of approved raw materials, and that is the process, the design, and the set of approved raw materials. Trying to convince them that there is another process, an alternate design, or other raw materials that might be usable is like trying to force molasses to flow up a glacier. Like doctors, who only want a specific operating tool from a specific supplier, they are rigid.

This is because they are also stubborn. In order to accept new processes, new designs, or alternative raw materials, they would have to accept that there are better processes, better designs, and better raw materials, and that they exist today. If they believe that they are at the top of their game, they will believe that better processes, better designs, and better raw materials have not been discovered yet and even if they are discoverable today, it won’t be by Procurement or the supplier Procurement is bringing for joint innovation, at least not without a lot of time and effort on their part — that they don’t have. Don’t read this to imply that they are arrogant, because they don’t mean to be (unlike ivory tower PhDs), it’s just that good engineers and scientists invest the majority of their time keeping up with their field and honestly believe that they have a much better idea than you, and they are usually right in that assumption. Since it’s not often that Procurement will actually stumble across a better way, and, moreover, since the past track record of Procurement and suppliers — before Procurement was seen as a strategic department and top talent brought in to staff the department — was poor, Engineering will naturally assume that Procurement’s zany idea of the day will be another dead end and will be stubbornly resistant to it.

And, finally, they are perfectionist. The cost model might say 98% reliability is good enough because, in practice, only 1% of units will break down before the warranty period expires and the cost of flat out replacement will have little impact on profit margin, but Engineering will say otherwise. They will insist on selecting the supplier with 99% reliability even though that will increase costs 30% and it makes no sense because it is a consumer electronic device which will cause no injury when it fails and which will have little negative impact beyond temporarily inconveniencing the consumer who will have to call in, get a replacement shipped, and send back the defective unit in the box that arrives. An Engineer takes pride in producing the best quality product possible, even if that would bankrupt the organization in the process.

Their insistence on being the best will be one of the worst damnations Procurement has to face. After all, how can you fault someone for wanting the best? And you can’t even dislike them because, unlike some departments, Engineering is not filled with blood-sucking leeches, sociopaths who figured out how to screw people legally, or evil creatures that take pleasure in your pain. But yet they will cause you anguish in every sourcing project you undertake.

As each and every post in this series explains, Procurement is truly corporate damnation.

For those of you new to the profession, welcome to hell. (And enjoy the archive knowing that we’re only halfway through our journey.)