Agile Procurement Can Work in the Private Sector … but the Public Sector?

A recent article over on the Public Spend Forum on Agile Procurement for the Public Sector – A Primer noted that Agile Procurement might just be what is needed to solve the complex challenge of public Procurement and solve the problem of the myriad of rules, processes, policies, and templates that became more and more complicated over time in the public sector.

According to the article, the answer is to adopt the best practice of agile development and move away from contract-oriented competitive Procurements to approaches that provide more flexibility for competitive dialog and negotiation (allowing requirements to be discussed, clarified, further defined, developed, and improved) using the iterative, collaboration, and change-oriented aspects of agile development.

This sounds great in theory, but we have to remember why we have a i>myriad of rules, processes, policies, and templates that became more and more complicated over time. As the author notes, Procurement mistakes would lead to trade complaints and lawsuits, and so more rules would be added, more contingencies, more processes layering on top of one another to reach where we are today.

Just imagine what would happen if all the rules were dropped in a flexible environment where the requirements of the contract could change each round. Since the changes would likely always favour one bidder over another, or at least be more aligned with the suggestion of one bidder over another, imagine the trade complaints and lawsuits that would arise. It would be chaotic! In order for an agile Procurement process to work, we’d need to revise not only our procurement principles across all levels of government, but also our legal system that made the requirements for filing trade complaints very restrictive.

In other words, agile Procurement for the public sector is a great theory, but the doctor doesn’t think it will be a reality for quite some time. However, there’s absolutely no reason to avoid it in the private sector. It’s a great way to get the best proposal(s) for the organization, and as long as your organization is open and transparent about the process it intends to use, quite resistant to legal challenges, as private organizations, unlike public organizations, can pretty much do what they want, especially if they are transparent about it and don’t break any laws. (And being collaborative vs. combative, in most jurisdictions, does not break any laws.)

So, if you’re private, be agile. If you’re public, be careful. You can be agile in your market research, but once you start the formal Procurement process, you better be traditional … at least for the time being.

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